Heroes make the best entrepreneurs!
Words by Fred Pawle It takes balls to call out the part-time entrepreneurial efforts of an 11-time world champion. But hey, if anybody’s going to do it, it may as well be Greg Webber, an enigmatic visionary who admits he sometimes talks too much. Having had a few days to think about Kelly’s recent, dramatic […]
Words by Fred Pawle
It takes balls to call out the part-time entrepreneurial efforts of an 11-time world champion. But hey, if anybody’s going to do it, it may as well be Greg Webber, an enigmatic visionary who admits he sometimes talks too much.
Having had a few days to think about Kelly’s recent, dramatic wavepool unveiling, and whether it undermines his own grand dreams of dotting the world with perfect inland waves, his response could be summed up with: Heh! Nice try, champ! But you’ve proved nothing.
This was not what I was expecting when I called Greg this morning. Rather, I was expecting to talk to a man with his head hung low, moaning like a WCT surfer who’d just been sucked into wasting priority on the closeout first wave of a set only to turn around and see Kelly swoop on the second, and take the lead on the hooter.
It’s kind of how I felt, at least. Here’s the background: In 2012, I wrote a story for The Australian about the state of the wavepool scene, and its enormous potential. It centred on Greg’s ambitious dreams (which, three and a half years later, remain merely that). In the story, I recounted that there was some crossover in patents back in 2008, and Kelly was forced to withdraw one application that “anticipated Webber”, according to the US patent office.
So Kelly went back to the drawing board, and got some different patents. I emailed him about the idea, and he said: “I highly doubt there will ever be hundreds of them around the world … I just see it as a viable alternative for when the surf is small, someone wants to learn, you want to perfect certain manoeuvres, or even for potential competition so that everyone has an exactly even playing field. It’s just something fun to do that’s different.”
Something fun to do that’s different? That’s not what he said in the video that dropped on the weekend: “We weren’t in a hurry. We could have put out an inferior wave years ago. I’m glad we waited all that time to do the right thing. This is the best man-made wave ever made, for sure. No doubt about it.”
I couldn’t help but feel I’d been a little deceived, in Kelly’s admirably cunning way, by quoting him in 2012. Did Greg feel the same way?
“No,” he says. “I don’t agree. I just think they just got it better. I think they thought, ‘this is good, this is fun,’ and they had to improve on it. They’ve worked on their design. He never lied. He wants to blow someone away, that’s his method. I knew he had broader visions but you don’t want to make too big a statement until you’ve got the proof. It’s like him saying I’m gonna do a 540 one of these days and blow away John John. I’m the kinda guy who will open my mouth earlier, he’s the guy who opens his mouth later.”
Greg has spent almost 10 years dreaming about this stuff. He created a wave off a fishing trawler (which made the cover of Stab back in 2008); he’s employed academics to test waves in pools in Tasmania, and he has studied the dynamics of waves himself for years. So what’s his opinion of Kelly’s wave?
The quick answer to that can be seen at the three-minute mark of Kelly’s video. I’ll let Greg explain: “There’s a moment when there’s a photographer and he’s standing there waist deep, filming Kelly, and the water level on his waist doesn’t change at all before the wave. It does not go down. All it does is gradually go up, and then quickly go up when the wave gets to him.”
This indicates the wave does not have a trough in front of it. Most surfers are only subconsciously aware of this, but it is the thing that gives real waves that extra boost of energy, making bottom turns more powerful, and adding more pitch to the barrel.
“No one knows it, generally, in surfing. No one talks about troughs. For there to be a trough on Kelly’s wave, the water needs to go down a few inches at least. I’m pretty sure there’s no trough whatsoever.”
Greg learned all this from scientific literature initiated by a dude called Lord Kelvin in the 19th century. He’s since become a bit of a zealot about it, as you may have guessed. And all his research and intentions are aimed at creating a wave with a trough, mimicking the best that nature can offer, “including a barrel that’s ridable for the masses, not one that’s difficult to ride.”
So does Kelly have a business model here? Greg’s not sure. The video doesn’t show how long it takes for the water to settle after a wave, which drastically affects the wave rate, and therefore revenue. But Kelly has, if nothing else, vindicated Greg.
“It’s worked beautifully to prove that a wave of this shape is possible. It’s saved my company having to do it. They’ve got the money to prove what I’ve been testing in a lab. He’s just made it at two metres. People would never believe it til they saw it. That’s the sad thing. I couldn’t convince people to part with enough money to do what he’s done. But he’s Kelly, and he’s had that capacity or he’s spent some of his own money.
“No matter how well we depicted it, or used science, or data, or university professors’ perspectives, when it comes to a lot of money, they probably just never felt that this thing would scale up. The thing with Kelly is that he has a mystical effect on people. I can use the same argument, but it doesn’t mean quite so much as it does coming from the 11-time world champion.”
Well and good, Greg, but when are we going to see your pool, mate? “I can’t say. For once I’m not gonna fucking say anything.”
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