Exclusive: Stab Interrogates The Man Behind Australia's First Wavepool
Opening dates (2019), acid drops, and overflowing lagoons—everything you need to know about URBNSURF Melbourne.
Australians have heard it all before: “The Wavepools are coming!” “The Wavepools are coming!”
“To Melbourne! “To Sydney!” The rumors swirl.
There’s been talk, talk, talk for years, of a wavepool on Australian soil. So many announcements and still no pools to surf in.
Understandably our excitement levels began to dwindle. We stopped opening URBNSURF's press release emails. We needed something concrete to rekindle the hope.
Now, in 2018, our artificial wet-dreams are becoming a reality.
Investor wallets have opened, contractors have been hired and the lagoon site is cleared for takeoff. URBNSURF will be building the world's first full-sized Wavegarden "Cove” in Tullamarine, Melbourne.
And construction is starting in one week.
The design of the pool in Melbourne is based on Wavegarden's "Cove" in the Basque Country, where the likes of Kerrzy, Carissa, Kolohe and Filipe have all torn apart the artificially pulsating walls. It might not be as idyllic or picturesque as Kelly’s wave ranch, but it sure as hell looks rippable - with a bonus acid drop section to boot.
What you may not have known though is that the "Cove" in Basque is merely a prototype, a downgraded version to test the practicality and efficiency of the technology Wavegarden developed. Almost like one of those miniature models you whipped up for your school science fair.
URBNSURF's Melbourne facility, once completed, will blow Basque’s bath out of the water, coming in at around five times the size of the prototype Cove; matching the MCG in acreage for you footy fans out there.
Our interests were piqued and we thought yours might be too. We went straight to the source, Andrew Ross, URBNSURF’s Founder and Chairman, to gather as many details as we could bleed about the incoming pool.
How big it is, how it works, the frequency of waves and most importantly whether I can sink a schooner at the bar after I’m done blowing barrels?
The glutes will be burning after an hour on this wave machine.
STAB: How large is the Melbourne wavepool compared to the prototype Cove in Spain?
Andrew: “It’s about five times larger than the prototype in Spain. Our lagoon is 2.1 hectares in area, which is around the same size as an AFL football oval. It’s shaped a bit like a baseball diamond, with a central pier structure running down the central axis dividing the lagoon into two halves, and there are six separate surfing zones within the lagoon.”
The Cove seemed about 6-8 seconds long, how long will each ride be here?
“The full-size lagoon at URBNSURF Melbourne, the ride on the advanced wave - called the “Peak” - will be about 18 seconds in length”
How frequent are the waves?
“If you dial the Cove up to 11, you can produce about 1,000 waves per hour (that’s one 2m high wave every 4 seconds for those without a calculator on hand). I’ve ridden the Cove in Spain at this frequency, and it actually scares the crap out of you, it’s almost too many waves – which is something I don’t think anyone has ever said.
We will likely produce waves in sets of 4 or 5, and then have a 20 second gap between sets to allow surfers to reset. There will be a maximum of 36 surfers in the “Peak” zone, with each surfer getting around 15 waves a session - or 550 per session overall.
The Wavegarden guys have done some testing with GPS watches in the ocean and in the prototype, and they found the Cove was around 8 times more efficient in terms of distance surfed compared to an ocean surf because of the high wave frequency”.
As if you'd turn down this little nugget Filipe is slipping into.
Describe the tube?
“With an elevator drop, and having to surf on my backhand, I was a barrel dodger on my first go in the Cove.
The barrel can be quite open, more-spherical-than-almond, with a foam-balling pit that’s somewhat unpredictable, or it can section and clamp on you, making it more ocean-like than mechanical. It feels a bit like the wedgy barrels produced at D’Bah or Iluka breakwall.
The lagoon bathymetry has been revised a bit over the last year - the barrel now pops up a bit after the take off and is more makeable.”
Tell us about the technology, the domino-like, modular generator which creates variable sections.
“The wave generator the Cove uses differs significantly from existing lagoons that use towed, wave foils to generate waves” (such as Kelly’s pool).
“Rather than using one massive wave foil which is drawn through the water by a big cable, the Cove uses a modular system that moves in a sequence, pushing swells out at pre-defined angles.” - Stab best imagined it as dominoes falling one after the other.
“The Cove produces waves with a trough at the bottom and the wall wraps back towards you, the same way a point break does, and this creates a pocket to surf in. Foil waves don’t have a trough and they tend to bend away from you.
There’s also no secondary wave behind the main wave, the Cove technology produces wave similar to a groundswell. Another important point to make is water movement – when the Cove’s firing, a rip current is formed which runs alongside the pier. This is called steady-state turbulence, and operates similar to how a rip-bowl works at a beachbreak, or how a reverse-sweep works at a pointbreak - ripping you back out to takeoff.”
Moses Le Grice slamming one of the oncoming sections.
How large will the waves get?
“Up to 2 metres, or what we’d call a solid 3-4ft.”
We heard the prototype was dialled back and had to have the walls extended because it was so powerful, can you tell us about that?
“Yeah, that’s true. If you’ve seen footage of the Cove prototype, you might have noticed the wooden panels running along the lagoon wall (the ones that Filipe and Josh Kerr acid-dropped off). These were added by Wavegarden’s engineers shortly after they first turned on the Cove, as the waves produced were bigger than their calculations and testing from the scale models. The waves breached the lagoon walls, and water was spilling out of the lagoon with each wave.”
How many people can surf at a time?
“We’ll accommodate up to 84 surfers an hour, across six different surfing zones – we’ll have rights and lefts, advanced, intermediate and beginner waves”.
If tubes and sections aren't your style, feel free to squat your way to shore in the beginners section!
What about the goofy footers?
“Goofys will definitely be getting looked after.
If you take the prototype Cove, mirror it so there is also a left on the other side, and then doubled the length of the walls - plus a bit extra, you are then up to the size of URBNSURF Melbourne.”
What's keeping the water clean? Chlorine? Salt?
"The water in the lagoon will be fresh water with a residual chlorine level that is about the same as you find in drinking water and is highly oxygenated due to the breaking waves. The water will be crystal clear, just like the videos you see of the prototype in Spain.
“For those that are interested, there is a 2.5% density difference between fresh and salt water. We humans notice the difference given we are composed of about 60% water, but when you consider a surfboard has around 30 litres of volume in a 6-foot plan shape giving it extreme buoyancy and relatively low density, there is no noticeable difference between surfing in fresh or salt water.
One good thing about surfing in fresh water I’ve found is that if you are going for it and are getting thirsty, you can just dunk your face in the lagoon as you are paddling back out and grab a drink!”
"It feels a bit like the wedgy barrels produced at off-the-wall D’Bah or Iluka breakwall.” - Andrew Ross, URBNSURF Chairman and wedge fiend.
How much will it cost to surf? Will you have package deals or memberships?
“We’ll be announcing our pricing later in 2018. “Surf session” and “surf lesson” options will be flexible, with surfers able to book one-off or multiple sessions, or lesson packs, buy gift cards, or join as members for additional benefits and rewards.”
Will boards be available for hire?
“For sure - we’ll have high quality soft-tops for beginners, and a range of performance PU, epoxy and soft-top boards from leading brands and up-and-coming shapers available for hire. We’ll also be offering demo days to test new boards and board ranges.
We’re planning to regularly feature shapers so you can try before you buy, and we’ll also host live shaping, board spraying, glassing, and ding repair workshops so you can learn more about the manufacturing process and how to take care of your craft.”
Any insurance or safety issues posing a challenge for commercial rollout?
“We are working with our designers, safety experts and insurers to ensure we minimise any of the risks associated with the operation of our surf park.”
What sort of events are planned for launch?
“We’ve started planning concept shoots, launch parties, sessions for our foundation members, media events, festivals, surf competitions, board spraying and live shaping – dropping details later this year via our website, Instagram and Facebook.”
What are you most excited about personally with the development?
“Surfing more! You’d think that as the founder of a surf park development company you’d get to be in the water regularly, but having three projects underway means the closest I am getting at the moment is watching web edits online.
Less selfishly, we are hoping to give people more opportunities to get waves at times that are more convenient for them so they can up their wave count.”
Noa's last dart second from the right.
Now that’s all the fun parts taken care of, let’s move onto the more serious, development-specific questions. It’s all fun and games talking hypothetical wave frequencies, acid drops and oncoming bowls, but someone has to build this damn thing if we're going to surf it.
Where is it?
“URBNSURF Melbourne is located on Airport Drive, Tullamarine, three kilometres from Melbourne Airport.”
When's construction actually starting?
“Next month - March 2018.”
What is the estimated completion date?
“We’re aiming to finish construction and wet commissioning of the lagoon by December this year, then after testing the facility host a series of launch events before soft opening to the public in early 2019.”
How many contractors are involved?
“We’ve engaged a large project team – including architects, civil and structural engineers, environmental and geotechnical consultants, hydrologists, surveyors and water treatment consultants – and most of them are surfers (a pre-requisite of ours when tendering work).”
Surfed out? Sit back and sink one while watching everyone else go to town.
What's the estimated construction cost? Who’s paying for this?
“We recently secured Au$28.3 million in equity capital from a range of Australian-based, well-known, high net worth investors and private-equity sources. This’ll fuel the construction of URBNSURF Melbourne, together with planning and pre-development activities associated with our other two developments in Sydney (at Sydney Olympic Park, planned to open at the end of 2019) and Perth (at Tompkins Park, Alfred Cove, planned to open in 2020).”
How many jobs will the park create?
“URBNSURF Melbourne will generate over 300 jobs during the construction phase, plus up to another 100 positions once the facility opens its doors.”
What kind of peripheral products and services will be available at the park?
“In addition to the surfing lagoon, URBNSURF Melbourne will also feature a multi-outlet food and bar precinct, a concept retail store, a fully-equipped surf shop, a surfing academy, high performance and training options, fitness classes, night surfing, surf comps, skateable features and festivals. We'll be looking at adding other elements to the facility over time to meet the needs of our guests (hot tubs in winter anyone?).”
Not your typical point-break location
So, there you have it.
Pack your floaties, boards, whatever your preferred sled is and get ready to tear apart those domino propelled walls adjacent Melbourne’s airport.
About Town, Tullamarine, coming soon?