Stab Magazine | The 2016 World Junior Champ, Isabella Nichols, Is Pursuing A Degree With Sights Set On Becoming A Wave Pool Engineer

The 2016 World Junior Champ, Isabella Nichols, Is Pursuing A Degree With Sights Set On Becoming A Wave Pool Engineer

She could graduate to the Championship Tour in 2020, but in case that dream never comes, she’s got a backup plan. 

style // Aug 6, 2019
Words by Stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

In 2016, the Sunny Coast’s Isabella Nichols didn’t drop a heat en route to winning the World Junior Championships. Then, as with a lot of past world junior champions, she fell off the radar. She finished 2018 ranked 20th on the QS and struggled to find her voice. 

“I’ve had a couple of rough years competing where my head wasn’t right,” she confessed when Stab caught up with her in San Clemente this week. “I get really nervous and down on myself.”

Today, 21 years old, Bella’s better for it all. She sits atop the QS rankings with a solid chance at qualifying for the CT in 2020. There are still two QS 10,000s on the calendar, so anything can and will happen, but to this point, she’s put in the hard work in the first half of the season to get to this point. 

“I’ve never been in this situation before,” she smiles.

Bella also just dropped a new edit from Indo, “Voyage,” that showcases the maturation of both her style and ability. A strong, graceful surfer, good on the rail and keen in the barrel, but ironically, by the time she got on a roll this year she’d already begun making backup plans.

“I actually applied for university as soon as I finished high school, but deferred for the last four years, then I decided that if I’m going to go back to school I might as well start, so I started going to uni this year,” says Bella.

Isabella Nichols in deep at the Aura Surf Resort in Northern Sumatra. Photo: @ryzphoto

Excelling in math and physics in high school, she’s taking online courses and has decided to pursue an engineering degree…but not just any engineering degree. She wants to design and build wave pools.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it, but I knew I wanted to do something that would help me keep surfing. Then I thought it would be cool to get into wave pool engineering,” she explains. “Now I have to figure out what uni courses I have to do so I can get down that pathway.”

It’s not like “wave pool engineer” is a certified degree. It’s taken a lot of mad scientists and experimenting to get to where we are today with the Surf Ranch, American Wave Machines and all the other technology that’s proliferating around the globe. But here’s the next generation of legit surf talent, who may be on the CT next year, looking at a future of not just riding waves, but making them.

“I think it’s a mixture of hydraulics, fluid dynamics, engineering and that kind of thing,” Bella says. “I don’t think there’s any degree that you can get in wave pool engineering yet, because it’s such a new field, but there are courses you can take. It’s only been three or four years since wave pools have been popping up, so I think it’s one of those things you have to find your own path. I think it would be really cool to do an internship at a wave pool and just kind of suss it out.”

Island living. Photo: @ryzphoto

“I’d love to just talk to someone in the field and just learn about how they got into it and what it takes,” she continues. “Everyone has their own take on it and their own spin. I really enjoy learning about all these different theories and how to make a surfable wave. It’s got to meet all these standards. And it has to be good enough for people to pay to come surf it. The water has to be clean and filtered. There are all these things that go into these wave pools and it’s complicated, but it’s really exciting for me to learn more. There’s so many factors that come into consideration, it’s a big job, but it’s so sick.”

“I think the dream would be to come up with my own technology for it…but that’s a long way down the tracks…but it’d be pretty mental.”

But when asked if all the studying and daydreaming about the freshwater future of surfing is interfering with her surfing — which it’s not— Bella was pretty adamant that it had actually helped her get to where she’s at right now.

“I don’t know why, but I feel like it’s taken a little bit of the pressure off my surfing,” she says. “I now know that I’ve got something I can do when this is all over. I think it’s also switched my brain on more as well and helped give me a clearer, sharper mind.”


Comments are a Stab Premium feature. Gotta join to talk shop.

Already a member? Sign In

Want to join? Sign Up


Most Recent

How Surfers Get Paid, Episode 4

The energy drinks are here. They’ve got millions of dollars, and they want your head.

Dec 2, 2022

‘Saturn’ Orbits Into Southern California

Quiksilver's newest film made landfall in Encinitas, and we were there to document the occasion.

Dec 1, 2022

The Vans Triple Crown Of Surfing Returns In 2023

Can anyone beat John Florence and Carissa Moore in a three-week window?

Dec 1, 2022

What Will Airs Look Like In 10 Years?

The final installment of our editorial exploration into the nuances of airborne surfing.

Dec 1, 2022


Can A South African Cavern Queen With No Pipeline Experience Do Well At The Vans Pipe Masters?

Sophie Bell will have a steep learning curve in Hawaii.

Nov 30, 2022

After Years Of Tragic Shark Attacks, Surf Competition Returns To Reunion Island — And A CT Event Could Follow

"We compete at J-Bay and Margarets where there's the same problem." -Johanne Defay

Nov 30, 2022


Sharing Tubes And Hummus In The Middle East’s Surfing Jewel: Israel

No Contest does Tel Aviv!

Nov 29, 2022


Joao Chianca Wants A Pipeline Rematch With JJF

And ain't afraid to ride more foam to do it in the Vans Pipe Masters.

Nov 29, 2022

An Unorthodox Marriage Of Science And Surf

Cliff Kapono and The Mega Lab are changing stereotypes on all fronts.

Nov 28, 2022


Harry Bryant Dumps Crutches, Visualizes Pipeline Pits After Snapping Leg

“For once in my life, I’m taking something a bit more serious."

Nov 27, 2022

What If You Bought This Sumatran Surf Camp For $690k?

Making a blue print out of surfing's most recurring day dream.

Nov 27, 2022

Sierra Kerr On Greasing Full Rotes, Making Dad Cry & Her Concussion @ VSHPBME 

'I haven’t got my license yet, but I'm thinking of buying a little truck.'

Nov 27, 2022


“There Definitely Needs To Be More Girls That Try Airs”

Caity Simmers' thoughts on her Vans Pipe Masters debut.

Nov 26, 2022

Preview: Who’s John John Florence Flushing Down The Haleiwa Toilet Bowl?

The final event of the CS schedule is almost upon us. Let's dissect.

Nov 25, 2022


Dane Reynolds Said These Clips Weren’t Good Enough

Could'a fooled us.

Nov 25, 2022

Watch Now: Kael Walsh, Rolo Montes, And Al Cleland Jr In ‘Saturn’

Quik’s new 20-minute surf film is so good you’ll want to burn a DVD of…

Nov 24, 2022


How A Magic Island Birthed One Of The Most Radical Surf And Skate Scenes In The World

Mateus Herdy, Pedro Barros and friends in Red Bull x Stab's No Contest, Brazil.

Nov 23, 2022

The Uber Driver Turned Crypto Millionaire Who Denounced His US Citizenship And Whips Into XXL Nazare

"I do what I want, I don't have a boss." -Toby Trouble

Nov 23, 2022