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The Olympic Surf Teams Have A Pool Party At The Cove

So a bunch of national surf teams dipped their toes in the water at the Wavegarden, in the Basque Country—the ISA World Surfing Championships are coming to France at the end of the month and what better way to train than a pool party at The Cove?

But that’s not the point. The point is that, luddites be damned, the future of competitive surfing is looking more and more chlorinated by the layday.

While we’ve suffered through laydays at the Hurley Pro, well-choreographed wave pool routines were going viral. Mick, Parko, Steph, and Carissa were given the Lemoore Luxury Treatment, with Kelly pulling all the right levers at his fabulously land-locked surf ranch, tossing off Trestles and hustled to and from Harris Ranch in a private plane.

Some years ago, when this most recent wave pool crazy began in earnest, I was wandering the halls at The Surfer’s Journal when founder and publisher Steve Pezman and I delved into the subject. 

“Call it wave-riding if you want, but don’t call it surfing,” he said. “It’s not surfing.”

If this is what Olympic or World Tour surfing is eventually going to look like, allow me to play devil’s advocate: is it even surfing? According to this video, Jeremy Flores says yes. After all, Joan Duru was ripping, and on a day where the rest of the European Atlantic was unrideable. But I don’t know.

Wave pool choreography seems to have more parallels to figure skating than The Search. Call me old fashioned, call me out of touch, you’ll probably call me much worse, but part of being an accomplished surfer is nailing all the elements. Tide, wind, swell, sharks, it all figures into the equation…and the best surfers can handle that calculus. 

I’ve had the conversations with ISA President Fernando Aguerre and others that make very compelling cases for the proliferation of wave pools and what they can mean to the sport of surfing. From a growing-the-pond perspective, and a media standpoint, they make perfect sense. You can drop a wave pool anywhere in the world and schedule a contest to air on live TV at 1:00 pm on a Saturday afternoon. That’s a much more appealing formula than a two-week waiting period. But doesn’t that sound kind of like wakeboarding*? And if so, is that a good thing?

Wave pools are sure to hold a place in our ever-evolving pastime. I’m not saying they’re bad. Maybe Sally Fitz would have never learned to do airs if Red Bull hadn’t rented her the pool in Dubai a few years ago. And what better way to squeeze in a few wiggles when the ocean doesn’t provide. But when a friend hit me up the other day about taking a “surf trip” to Austin, Texas, and “charging the NLand pool,” it was troubling. Suddenly, another friend was backing the play. Whatever happened to just going to Costa Rica?

Now, take the latest video drop: Hiroto Ohhara and Team Japan attacking the Wavegarden like it was the pommel horse; the Chinese team honing the high art of the inside rail. People have been looking for waves in China for 30 years. The best they’ve come up with is Hainan Island. But with the Chinese government’s newfound interest in the sport a la Olympic fever, and Peter Townend leading their troops, don’t be surprised to see a dozen wave pools pop up by decade’s end. Beijing and Shanghai’s hottest new export? Surfers with gymnast-like precision.

But would they really be surfers? What happens when they’re staring down an eight-foot double-up on the Ehukai sandbar? John John paddles right past them is what happens.

To go one even further, how does the judging work? What does the heat format look like? It’s easy to be swept up in a three-minute hype video attached to a press release, but taking the long view: a lot of wrinkles need ironing out. 

I keep coming back to the death of tow surfing. When Greg Long, Twiggy, Mark Healey, Ian Walsh and the boys started paddling Jaws it was because they understood that riding big waves was more than just a bottom turn and a kick-out. Surfing means chasing down beasts and wrestling them with bare hands.  

*Wakeboarders are the worst.

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