Stab Magazine | Interview: Kalani Robb And Cheyne Magnusson On Their New Palm Springs Wavepool

Interview: Kalani Robb And Cheyne Magnusson On Their New Palm Springs Wavepool

“We want to make a Disneyland for surfers.”

Words by stab

Yesterday via Instagram, the Momentum Generation’s token “shit-grom,” Kalani Robb, revealed an exciting secret to the world.

“Yes @redtide83 [Cheyne Magnusson] & I own a wavepool and Yes u are all invited,” Kalani announced to his 135,000 followers. 

A short video accompanied the post, displaying an emptied concrete structure with Cheyne pacing it off for a theoretical turn-count. (He reckons it would be about three per wave.)

Also revealed by Kalani’s post was the relative location of the site, which happens to be Palm Springs, CA – a desert town about two hours inland from Los Angeles, famous mostly for its casinos, golf, and the celebrities that once flocked to infamous parties.

We know what you’re thinking… another wavepool in the middle of nowhere?

Yes, it’s another wavepool in the surf equivalent of the middle of nowhere. But, there are a few key points you’ll want to consider before bashing the joint:

1. Palm Springs really isn’t that far from anyone in Southern California. It’s four hours, max, with traffic.  

2. The more wavepools there are in general, the more the average price point will drop. So even if you live in Rhode Island and will never surf this pool, it will theoretically make your future pool experiences that much cheaper.

3. It’s being spearheaded by two respected professional surfers, and while that didn’t exactly pan out for Occy and Barton, you should remember that Cheyne is more than just a pretty cutback—he helped design American Wave Machines’ Perfect Swell tech and was at the Waco pool for all of 2018. In other words, he probably knows more about how wavepools actually work than any professional surfer not named Slater. 

Stab reached out to Cheyne to hear how this exciting new venture came to be. 

Here, Cheyne slobs in a wave of his own creation. Photo: Sam Moody 

Stab: Cheyne, what happened?! Last time we saw you was at Stab High, and now you’ve graduated to buying your own pool. Tell us everything!
Cheyne Magnusson: Ok, right off the bat, I want to be straight with you. We had a meeting with our partners this morning, who decided that I can’t give you the technology we’ll be going with nor any explanation of what the wave is gonna be like. All I can say is that if I’m getting behind it, it’s gonna be legit. And I’m gonna do my damnedest to make as many waves as possible.

Got it, totally fair. So where did this idea come from?
Basically what happened was, the Waco season ended abruptly [Due to the tragic death of New Jersey surfer Fabrizio Stabile, who is believed to have contracted a rare “brain-eating amoeba” from the Waco pool this past September.], so we had every intention of coming back for next season on March 1st.

Then, during the downtime, there happened to be a lot of interest from other wave parties, so I decided to meet with some guys to hear what they had in mind. Kalani Robb, a good friend and childhood hero of mine, happened to be one of the guys I talked to. When he called me and told me he was trying to put something together, I pretty much didn’t contact anybody else. I was like, “Yeah Kalani, what do you want? What do you need? Let’s do this!” Because in my opinion, in this whole wavepool arms race, the more of us [knowledgeable, lifelong surfers] that band together and help build these things, the better it’s gonna be for the long-term surf industry and culture. So I jumped at the opportunity.

And this is all going down in Palm Springs?
Yes, we’ll be in Palm Springs. It’s actually the exact same pool where Rick Kane won $500 in the movie North Shore [this movie scene was portrayed as Arizona but was actually filmed in Palm Springs, CA]. 

Screen Shot 2019 01 19 at 2.26.09 AM
The site, via Google Earth.

That’s amazing, But if I remember correctly, that pool wasn’t very big…
It’s, well, it’s different, right? I’d say the outline is not much smaller than Waco, but what I’ve learned about these pools is that a lot of it has to do with the bottom contour. So in that sense, it’s really different from Waco, but from what I can see, I think it’s gonna be as long as and possibly feel a little more natural than Waco did. But at the end of the day, you’ve gotta build these things full-scale to know for sure.

And just to be clear, are you still working with Waco and planning to return for next season, or have you shifted all your focus toward this pool?
I’ve fully quit BSR. Like I said before, I had every intention of going back, but when something like this crossed my plate, especially when I have the opportunity to get an ownership position within the whole project, I’d be stupid not to take it. As evidenced with our Texas move, I like to roll the dice, so this one was a little bit easier of a dice roll, and in my opinion, we’ve gotta keep building more of these things and do it in the right way.

And to be fair, you’d have to be – along with maybe Kelly Slater – the most knowledgeable pro surfer when it comes to wavepool engineering. You’ve spent more time actually working one of these things than any single person I know. So it makes sense that this company, whoever they are, would want you on their team.
Well I appreciate that, but yeah, it’s true—everyday I was there in Waco, working 10-plus hour days, and I had a lot of time learning exactly how it works, going through a lot of things that didn’t work, figuring out how to fix those, and now I can bring that knowledge to this project so that we can hopefully avoid some mistakes in our growing process. At Waco, I had a lot of time not just working on the panel, but also behind the wall seeing how it works from the inside-out.

I know you can’t tell me exactly which technology you’ll be using, but based off the pool’s size and shape, it seems like you’re gonna be going with something different than what we’ve seen thus far [including KS Waveco., all Wavegarden iterations, American Wave Machines, Surf Lakes, etc.) Would that be a fair assumption?
Yeah, it is different. I can’t say much more right now, but it is different. These are big things though. It’s not like we’re building a mini-ramp in our backyard and we’re gonna charge people $5 to come and ride it. This is a feat of engineering and there’s a lot on the table and a lot of dough that it takes to make it happen. So as much as the frothing surfer in me wants to tell you everything, I can’t do it just yet.

This is a real photo from Cheyne and Kalani’s secret scaled-down test facility, “a very small scale model and that wave is about 6 – 8 inches top to bottom.” Just peachy, ain’t it?

[At this point Kalani Robb joined the call.]

Stab: Kalani, welcome brother! And congratulations on your purchase. You must be so excited.
Kalani Robb: Thanks, and yup, so stoked.

I know you’ve spent a decent amount of time at both Waco and Slater’s pool. Did those experiences sell you on the idea that wavepools are truly the future of surfing, leading to this exciting new endeavor?
Kalani: Yeah, it’s been great to have friends like Cheyne and Kelly who have let me come and surf their waves. It’s amazing what they’ve created at the Surf Ranch and BSR, and it really opened my eyes to the possibilities of what wavepools can bring to surfing – and not just in the performance or technology sense. I’m also interested in what they’ve built around the pools themselves, and how that adds to the surfers’ experience.

After coming to that conclusion, was it just a matter of finding the right place and the right people with which to start your own pool?
Kalani: Yeah, and one of the coolest parts is that we’ve got this big conglomerate backing the project who are comprised of really hardcore, radical surfers. So it’s not a joke when we say that we’re owned by surfers and run by surfers.

How long have you actually been working on this?
Kalani: Shoot man, I’ve been around wavepools for a really long time—we’re talking about Japan and Disney World and all that. Those impressions kept building on me, so it’s been a vision of mine for a long time. When Cheyne and I finally got together a few months ago, we just shared a lot of the same ideas and it snowballed from there.
Cheyne: I totally agree, and just to add some context to what Kalani was saying, I think that the more core surfers who can add authenticity to these incredible wave machines, the more successful they’ll end up being, which is good for all the people who love this sport.

And what’s a reasonable timeline for that?
Cheyne: In 2020. Let’s just say 2020 for now [laughs].

So how much of this requires you guys to be in Palm Springs? Are you guys moving up there, or is it not really at that point yet?
Cheyne: I don’t think it’s there quite yet, but yeah, we’re all moving to the desert.

You’re jumping from one inland valley to the next [laughs]! [Cheyne moved his family from California to Texas so that he could work at BSR for all of 2018].
Cheyne: Dude, compared to Waco, going to the desert is like going to Hawaii [laughs]. No disrespect to Waco, but I can’t wait to be in Palm Springs.
Kalani: Yeah, and there’s a big difference between having to jump on a plane to go to Waco and driving a couple hours inland to Palm Springs. Even the whole energy of this place is different. It’s pretty wild.

And this pool that you guys bought, it’s part of a bigger waterpark, right?
Cheyne: Yeah, it’s the old Wet n Wild Waterpark. That’s what it was, but we bought the place outright. We’re unfortunately not gonna be able to keep the park running in 2019, as we’ve got a bunch of work to do in there to bring our vision to life.  

Screen Shot 2019 01 19 at 2.28.43 AM
While the Surf Lakes wavepool in Yeppoon offered a stunning backdrop, it’s hard to look past this mountain view in Palm Springs.

I’d imagine that along with the pool, you’ll be setting up some other amenities, whether that’s more waterpark-y type stuff, or whatever.
Cheyne: That’s the plan. Like I said we’ve got a lot of work to do to bring this to life, and the pool is definitely our main focus, but we’re having conversations right now about what other services we can provide to make Palm Springs the sickest surf trip in the world.
Kalani: I agree. The one thing I want to make clear is that while the pool is the centerpiece of this operation, it’s by no means our sole focus. We want to provide options for people who aren’t currently in the water to have the best experience possible.

Cheyne and I have spent our lives traveling the world for surf, and through that, we also got to have all these amazing experiences outside of the water. We want to provide all of those elements in one place so that people can have the best time of their lives. We want to make a Disneyland for surfers.

That makes perfect sense. Especially because this pool is set in California, where most surfers already live by the coast and could probably surf near home on any given day, you’ll have to provide something more than just a fun wave to draw them to Palm Springs.
Kalani: Absolutely, and that’s our goal. We want to incorporate all the best parts of surfing – from the actual waves to the lifestyle – into this place. We want to bring it back to when surfing was a bit more fun and raw. Ya know, it’s Palm Springs, let’s party!

That sounds unreal. But at the end of the day, the wave will always be the biggest selling point. And based on the success of Slater’s pool and Waco, you’ve gotta be thinking barrels and airs, right?
Cheyne: Yeah, we’re definitely thinking barrels, and we’re definitely thinking about an air section. In a dream world, we’d love to create a barrel going into an air section on the same wave. Make no mistake, that’s the goal.


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