Thanks to our continued partnership with WAX Magazine, we bring you an exclusive sneak peak of this quater’s issue, Territories. This article, by KTV contributor Jeff Dinunzio, is an in depth look at wave pools across the world, exploring the question “Will surfing in wave pools ever count as surfing?” Below is an excerpt. To read the entire article, support WAX Magazine and buy Issue #3, due out on July 22 at readwax.com.
Wave Pools (Excerpt)
By Jeff DiNunzio
Manufacturing waves has long ceased being a novelty for Greg Webber. As a child, the Australian surfer and shaper became captivated by wave behavior. The intrigue first sparked not by holding his breath and watching waves from behind and below as they unraveled overhead, but instead from a children’s book. “It came from a little golden book. It’s like nine or ten pages, it was called Tommy’s Camping Adventure,” describes the 53 year-old. “There’s an underwater scene where he’s swimming about the legs of his parents. There was an instant, weird feeling of ‘my god, this is a different world under here.’”
From there, Webber evolved through the various stages of grom-hood, learning to surf and shape boards, yet always curious about how the ocean floor makes waves act like they do. By the early 1980s, Webber was over shaping. He needed a change, and set off to university to study coastal engineering. He could always fall back on shaping, if need be. But the slow pace of academia bored him, and his impatience prevailed. “What made me walk out of university was a third-year student saying, ‘Mate, don’t worry about that. You’ll get to that in third year,’” Webber recalls in an often told tale of wanting to study under water patterns. “I thought, ‘this is nuts.’ I’m not going to wait two more years to get to a position where I can get the things out of my head, that were wave pool designs, into reality.” Frustrations aside, Webber had at least absorbed enough of the basics of wave behavior, combined with his ocean knowledge accrued by surfing and shaping, to devise a scheme to actualize the creative ideas idling in his mind.
Fast-forward to the year 2000. Webber and his brother, Monty, are steering a dinghy around a stretch of sand near the shores of the Clarence River, somewhat northwest of their base in Yamba, New South Wales. Greg angled the boat to send a series of wakes that transformed into perfectly peeling waves upon reaching the sand. Over the next year, the pair returned to the Clarence, captivated by the beauty of the glassy waves as they broke without changing shape or losing size. The brothers edited a video of their expeditions into a twenty-minute short called Liquid Time—a trance-inducing collection of seemingly endless tubing rights and lefts that rolled into a cinematography award in 2004 at France’s International Surf Film Festival de St Jean de Luz. Webber soon turned his attention to the math behind the wakes that was initially studied by British physicist Lord Kelvin—he of absolute zero renown. It wasn’t long before toiling with boat wakes morphed into a template for a new business venture, and Webber Wave Pools came to life.
It’s all about control—imposing subtle changes to the speed of the hull at different slopes on the pool floor to create waves whose characteristics change throughout the ride. Webber’s design will drag a mechanized hull along the outer edge of a linear pool, creating wakes that eventually break as waves along the inner shore; the hull will then loop back to the start. He calls it loop-linear. “If you can make a mechanically perfect wave, that means you can shape the wave in ways you could never do otherwise,” he says. “Because you’ve geared to a gradient, it will either be tubing on its head at two meters or mellow at one-point-seven-five.” In Webber’s world, the fluctuation in gradient, combined with the depth and speed control of the hull, is a conduit to mimicking the uncertainty of the ocean. He envisions a wave that will change throughout the ride in a completely random way. And because the wave is automated, that ‘randomness’ can be duplicated over and over. (Webber assured me the irony was not lost on him.)
Webber, it turns out, realized linear pool’s superiority by accident. His group was awarded a grant to study the effect of wakes in circular patterns. While conducting research at Delft Hydraulics (now Deltares) in the Netherlands and Tasmania’s Australian Maritime College, the team determined that circular pools were too inefficient for the space they occupied. Now, Webber says, he has a guy who’s ready to make it happen. For roughly $3 million, Webber believes he can construct a fully functioning prototype on a plot of land in Indonesia about the size of two Olympic swimming pools that will generate over five-foot waves that last about fifteen seconds. And he plans to have it operating by March next year. The product of the future, Webber hopes, are pools with up to four hulls each, circulating from open to close, sending waves geared to surfers of varying skill levels who are willing to pay for the privilege of circumventing Mother Nature.
The quest to produce the first unending wave is obviously not Webber’s alone. Theinertia.com’s Ali Shrode wrote that “companies like Kelly Slater Wave Company, Webber Wave Pools, The Wavegarden and American Wave Machines have all made varying claims that their products will make it possible to experience rideable waves in a more controlled environment.” Webber is simply the most vocal about his plans. (A rep from Slater’s group informed me that granting interviews presently violates company policy.) But battles over patents, imperfect technology, and the sheer cost of commercializing an otherwise free commodity have so far proven insurmountable. As a result, their wave pool concepts, beyond the odd prototype, remain unrealized on a scale large enough to supply any perceived demand.
More WAX on Korduroy:
Issue 2–Curtis Mann Interview [link http://korduroy.tv/blog/2013/wax-magazine-issue-2-curtis-mann-interview]