Horseshoes and hand grenades.
Praises And Criticism Of The Yeppoon Wave Pool
A first hand documentation of surfing's newest play pool.
Editor's note: if you want to catch up with the rest of our Yeppoon wavepool series, click here.
It became clear that there was a little tension between Surf Lakes’ engineers and the rest of its crew.
Surf Lakes took the interesting approach of bringing friends, family, and the odd surf publication to their site before they had actually tested it.
Reason being, the people who’d been involved in this project for the past few years didn’t want to miss the Big Reveal.
This makes sense on an individual, emotional level—but engineering is all about math, logistics.
Specifically at this pool, which has a significant number of moving parts, the engineers didn't feel comfortable pushing it hard right off the bat. Their hesitation would later prove wise, as the machinery tended to break when they ramped it up too quickly (at the request of the pool executives).
So when everybody showed up on Monday expecting to see and surf waves, but the engineers weren't able to achieve that due to a lack of significant background testing, you’ll understand how this wavepool demo was destined to struggle.
And the engineers would have always been aware of that fact; hence the internal tension.
Making matters more difficult was the fact that this pool was built on a (relatively) tight budget.
There are two factors at play there:
Surf Lakes is privately funded by individual investors, meaning they have a limited cash supply.
The Yeppoon pool was always meant to be a prototype — not a commercial site — meaning they built the full-scale system in order to prove its efficacy, not to endure.
One of the places they had to cut, for instance, was on the concrete.
According to a source within the Surf Lakes camp, a “complete” concrete job would have cost them $3 million AUD. Rather than copping that sizable sum, Surf Lakes allegedly opted for the $1 million option, which led to concrete so thin that it broke beneath the surfers’ feet when they entered and exited the pool. At one point on Friday, the slab ripped a hole in the floor and dirt started surfacing from below. In order to fix the problem, Surf Lakes stretched a layer of lining over the hole and weighed it down with sandbags.
This is clearly not a long-term solution, but a worthy change considering this pool is merely a proof of concept prototype.
Another thing they saved on was with the air-vent welding, which as you’ll recall from yesterday’s story, couldn’t withstand the air pressure it had been designed to mitigate.
There’s one last (and major) thing that Surf Lakes may have cut financial corners on, but we’ll get to that a little later.
For now, let’s get back to those engineers.
Having delivered the first semi-legitimate session of the week on Thursday arvo, the engineers figured they’d fulfilled their obligation to the surfers and could now focus on improving the pool’s functionality.
These guys may know a lot about mechanical engineering and hydrodynamics, but it would appear their knowledge of surf psychology is minimal.
Once the pool was proven to be functional, several surfers decided to extend their trips rather than skipping town after a few fun rides. This caused another bout of tension between the two opposing parties, which came to a head over Thursday night’s dinner at The Strand.
“So it looks like we’ll be testing different functions all morning,” one of the engineers told our crew. “We're gonna try to get that triple-pump working. But I reckon you guys could come around midday to get some more waves.”
Having already blown off Ryan Callinan’s qualification bash to stay the extra day, and with an eight-hour drive separating him from his Gold Coast home, Mitch Crews didn’t love the sound of waiting around all morning.
“But the thing is... what you guys need most right now is content of people surfing the waves, right? And since we already have a system that we know works, plus the fact that us surfers are already here, doesn’t it make sense to push out some waves in the morning, rather than just fiddling with the machine again?”
This would have been a devastating point were it not for the engineer’s clever retort:
“Frankly mate, what we need most right now is a pool that works as closely as possible to what was advertised, which is to say: overhead waves in consistent sets."
This was especially true due to the "investor day" set to happen on the coming Sunday. Without their support, it might be difficult for Surf Lakes to proceed with their grand ideas, and without a fully functional pool, it might be difficult to get their support.
Both Mitch's and the engineers' points were valid, but seeing as how they’d already collected some surfing footage over the last few days, whereas the pool's functionality had hit only 20% of its promised threshold, it seemed the engineer had the upper hand.
As we had recently discovered, the pool couldn't produce "sets" until they dialed in the highly specific timing of plunger pumps, which used the flow of water to minimize stress on the machinery. This, the engineers said, would take significant time to perfect.
We showed up at 12 the next day and heard the same thing we’d been hearing all week: “They’re just working on a few technical bits, but we should be surfing within the hour.”
As that hour came and went, we asked Surf Lakes’ media correspondent, Wayne Dart, if it was worth sticking around or if we should bounce back to Yeppoon and return once the machine was functional.
Darty recommended the latter, so we headed for lunch at Lure Cafe — our favorite health joint in Yeppoon.
It was there that we received a troublesome messsge from a proximal pool source
“Machine’s fully broken — the whole thing snapped. :(”
The "whole thing snapped"? What does that even mean?
What it meant was this: the center beam, which for continuity's sake will be called the plunger’s “handle”, was severely creased at its base. By the looks of our photos, the beam compressed under some significant force and nearly bent in half.
When we first saw the damage, our instinct was to blame it on Surf Lakes' frugality. Why else would they use a rusty, hollow beam where a solid steel pole would have been the superior option?
Then we considered the notion that perhaps this hollow beam allowed for the pressurized air to flow through it, thus helping to lift the thousand-ton behemoth.
As Surf Lakes is somewhat protective of their technology, we’ll likely never know. But what we do know is this: the structure is fixable. It will just take some time.
“It’s only a part,” Darty told us when we returned to collect our gear. “Parts can be replaced. What’s important is that we’ve shown our design works. We’ll be back soon enough.”
Rough estimates call for two months of reconstruction, which includes the complete draining of the pool.
Even more problematic was that Surf Lakes’ prime investors were still scheduled to visit the site on Sunday. Presumably these folks would already have tickets booked and boards waxed. You can imagine how gutted they’d be to learn that the pool, their pool, was currently non-functional.
What Surf Lakes would have taken from this week is that, yes, the pool is going to work. It’ll probably be amazing.
However, bringing everybody to surf the pool before it was properly vetted was a problematic idea. It led to unnecessary tension and, ultimately, their machine crumbling under pressures both real and metaphysical.
“Slater’s crew had a year to figure out all these little issues before anybody came to see it,” Darty said before we left. “We were trying to do it in a week in front of a live audience.”
True. Which begs the question, why didn't Surf Lakes follow in his footsteps?
But despite all the issues, I feel the need to reiterate that Surf Lakes has created something truly special. Their 360-degree tech will change the wavepools are run forever. They just have a few kinks to iron out first.
And if you must know, the answer is no, I didn't get to ride a single wave. Costa Rica to Aus and back without so much as getting my balls wet.
I suppose that serves my uninvited self right.