Kelly Slater dropped a bomb on the surfing world Friday. In a four-minute video the pro surfer revealed the prototype of an artificial wave pool, boasting a near perfect wave over 100 miles from the coast.
“This is head and shoulders over what people have seen before,” said Dave Prodan, spokesman for the World Surf League. “I think the excitement is around — wow — this is really getting close to replicating the energy that we see at some of the world’s best waves of that size.”
While wave pools have existed for years, none match the quality seen in Slater’s video. His wave is tall — about the height of a surfer — and retains a shape that gives surfers speed and power. The tip of the wave is a crisp edge, and doesn’t appear to be crumbling or mushy. This gives surfers the chance to pull off exciting tricks in the park, which is believed to be located 35 miles from Fresno, Calif.
It’s not a quick experience either, the wave lasts for about 45 seconds. It draws its water from a nearby lake.
The biggest appeal of an artificial wave such as the one that Slater is riding is the chance to give surfers time “inside the tube.” That’s when a surfer is essentially surrounded by water as you see below:
It’s an experience that Greg Webber, a surfboard maker who is working to develop his own wave pool, estimates the typical surfer will have once a year. An artificial wave pool would give a surfer a chance to be “inside the tube” multiple times on a single day, multiplying the joy of the experience.
“I’ve seen people be transformed by just one tube,” Webber said. “They’ve been depressed, down, everything is bad, they’re divorced, they’re bankrupt — but they get a three or four-second barrel and come out of that tube smiling from ear to ear and for the next month or so they can’t stop talking about it.”
In Slater’s video, he stays in the tube for six seconds.
But making a business around artificial waves isn’t easy. Most have run into problems surrounding the tremendous cost of the energy needed to move water in a way that’s comparable to a natural wave, according to Prodan.
It’s unclear when Slater might commercialize the technology, or what he would need to charge surfers to make his wavepool a successful business. Slater’s team hasn’t done any follow-up interviews after the releasing the video but says it will in early 2016. How the technology works is still a mystery.
Artificial waves also could level the playing field for professional surfers, by creating consistent wave conditions. There would no longer be the angst of losing because someone else happened to catch a better wave.
The experience looks like 45 seconds of bliss, but don’t book your ticket quite yet.