Wave Pools!

Words by Tetsuhiko Endo & Illustration by Dan Madison

Cachaça is a Brazilian alcohol made from fermented and distilled sugar cane juice mixed with the tears of child laborers. Just kidding — the child laborers work in the fields so their tears aren’t allowed anywhere near the stills. This year, it’s the new it drink in New York City. I know this because I was cornered by the PR girl for a American cachaça importer at a bar recently and that’s what she told me as she dumped a shot down my throat. “This is, like, the new it drink.” It tastes like bathtub rum with subtle top notes of exploitation and self loathing.

There’s a massive bottle of it sitting in my kitchen, gracias to my roommate who got it from another PR person from another cachaça importer. I mix it with Monster Energy Drink based on the vague notion that two wrongs will make a right. Usually they don’t, but they do get me jacked up while I trawl through Internet surfing clips.

On a recent cachaça monster-fueled binge, I ran across this clip showing Stephanie Gilmore, Owen Wright, Mick Fanning, and Matt Wilkinson fulfilling contractual obligations at the Sunway Lagoon in Kuala Lumpur, a Malasian city known for it’s shopping, night life, and prostitution. The clip features Matrix bullet-time-style camera tricks, flashy new board-shorts bizarrely marketed as “like wearing nothing,” and chest high chlorinated waves of such high quality, it costs you a $32.00 entrance fee to surf them. That price includes access to other parts of the amusement park, and presumably pays for the Malaysian man on the jet ski who whips you into waves.

The video raised more questions than it answered so I refilled my cup and got to pounding them keys. Punching “wave pools” into google is like searching for “cold fusion,” “Bobby Fisher” or “Loch Ness Monster” — every link is filled with history from the 80’s, outrageous claims that have yet to come to fruition, lots of apocrypha, and the occasional famous person. The list of hacks who have built bathtub models of the machine that would revolutionize surfing makes a standard junior high science fair look like the short list for the Nobel prize. Not that there is anything wrong with junior high science fairs. Those kids are the scientists of tomorrow. Wave pool inventors, on the other hand, typically fade into obscurity, with the rare exception of what’s his name who invented that era defining contraption, the Flow Rider.

I read a few general articles, then opened this video of Kevin Roberts’ “Surf the Ring.” Please watch it to appreciate the full extent of his radness. Fair notice: you are about to irrevocably lose five minutes of your life watching “surfing revolutionized forever.”

I don’t know about you, but I was left with a couple of nagging questions. For instance, “why would I want to surf in a chlorinated circle?” “Did Roberts not think to write his commentary down before recording it?” And “what the fuck is ‘speed surfing’”

Not everyone viewed the ring with the same skepticism. A few clicks later, I found an interview from last year with the decent surfer and unapologetic Nikola Tesla fan, Robert Kelly Slater. It started out with pretty standard stuff: Surfing needs to market itself better…shaping your own boards is the way forward..long swig of cachaça monster as my focus begins to wander… Then, wham: “We need to make wave pools good enough to compete in, and by this summer we’ll have them.” Say what? “We’ve been working on this for more than three years, and we’re building our test model in L.A. as we speak. Once we have the technology, we can potentially build these pools all over the world. I’m already thinking ahead, beyond pools, to how we can create a wave-generating system and sink it into lakes,” You want to drop stuff into lakes? “as long as it doesn’t screw up the environment. Eventually, I’d love to see a Tour that incorporates a couple of stops on these waves.”

So while I had looked at ol’ Kevin Roberts and sneered, Slater saw only possibilities. I scrolled down the page with a mounting sense of dread, hoping to find a “Just kidding” at the end. Instead, there was a picture of Slater doing his signature K-9 stare — “How dare you doubt my incredible sincereness!”

“We would be able to schedule a contest on Friday at 6 p.m., live on TV. Picture a wave going around in a circle indefinitely. There’s a bridge over the wave for viewing, a Plexiglas bottom so fans can watch guys surf above them, and a crow’s nest in the middle so people can watch the best guys in the world surf the wave all the way around them. Kids could stand on the edge of the pool and get sprayed by their favorite surfers.”

Kelly Slater, you sir, are an evil genius.

What other type of person could listen to that cheap, aloha-shirted pantywaist preaching the virtues of increased “financial rewards,” “the next big spectator sport,” and “a NASCAR-type environment.” and think “Yea! that’s what surfing needs — more money and a NASCAR environment.”

“Madre mía,” I muttered to myself, as the fear took hold. Plexi glass floors, box seats, kids rushing down to the edge of the pool to get face shots every time Dane Reynolds throws his fins out, dolphins and killer whales doing synchronized shows to foul, euro-techno that ripples the top of people’s ten-dollar cachaça monsters (or cachaça Redbull, or cachaça coke…the possibilities are endless). Megatron replays, cheerleaders, drunken Midwesterners watching, glassy-eyed, before being lead away by their spawn to the water slides…sweet Jesus, techno…

As a competitive beast, it was easy to see how all this talk of stadiums and NASCAR attracted Slater. It’s the logical evolution of competitive surfing to create a rational, uniform “court” for all surfers to have an equal opportunity to perform in. Think of the drama. Think of the revenue possibilities!

But what about the rest of us poor slobs who will never make a buck for our bogged turns and a claimed head dips? Well, there would be no time wasted tracking swells, or traveling the coast looking for what spots are working best. No buying tickets to far off countries and screwing around with money grubbing natives and rare tropical diseases. No waiting out long lulls in the ocean or paddling endlessly for middling results. No sharks, no currents, no rogue waves, no sharp reefs, no cleanup sets…no substantial unknowns of any kind, come to think of it.

Surfing a wave pool would be a completely safe, homogenized, government approved, company sponsored, family friendly, risk averse outing for people who have so much disposable income and so little self respect that they’ll drop seventy bucks on board shorts that are made to simulate the feel of not wearing board shorts and another thirty to do ride something they can ride for free in the ocean.

It was getting late, but something about the wave ring kept eating at me. It reminded me of something, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, so I mashed my keyboard a bit more, tumbled down a couple more rabbit holes, and eventually found myself watching this video of the “It’s a Small World” (clip below) ride in Disneyland. There it was, a water ring amusement ride, bang in the middle of a shiny theme park where it costs money to breathe, and everything is stamped with a logo, and the merchandising options are limitless, and there’s no telling the real people with their ironed-on smiles from the animatronic ones that do a little song and dance so that somewhere, in a high rise in New York City, a profit margin creeps upward and everyone in the company can afford their rent for another month…

But I digress. which one was I talking about again? It doesn’t matter, there’s no use fighting the march of technology. The only thing to do is pour yourself a stiff one and watch the revolution unfold. It will, by the way, be televised — 6 p.m. on Friday nights.

 

About the author & illustrator:

Tetsuhiko Endo has never been to Hawai’i, surfs with a hunch, and can count the number of times he has pulled out of barrels. The only thing that qualifies him to write about surfing is that he grew up right next to the world headquarters of Hollister, in Columbus, Ohio. And his mind is slightly askew. That helps things along. He writes for SURFER Magazine, National Geographic, the New York Times, the Surfer’s Path, Huck, and 3sesenta. Read his article about women’s surfing at http://www.theinertia.com/business-media/no-girls-allowed/

Illustration by KorduroyTV’s own Dan Madison. Check out Dan’s website at http://www.madisondraw.com/