We’ve been searching for the real low down on wave pools, we don’t really have a stance on them here at The Path, there are pros and cons, not really somewhere we go to surf, but can understand why you would if you lived near Bristol. So we ran into Max, he used to work full time for a well known outdoor company, that dabbles in surfing, and shares a stable with one of the biggest names in surf/skate, we’ll say no more. He has been lucky enough to surf every artificial wave except surf lakes, and has a great inside line on what they are all really like and what it means for the ‘industry’ of surfing.
First off how come you got to surf all these waves?
I used to work for a major surf/outdoor brand, I won't say which one (I still consult for them) which meant I spent a lot fo time between Melbourne and LA and Switzerland. I'm originally from Birmingham, and I'm back in the UK now so it's been a combo of luck, corporate days and location. I consider myself an average surfer, ride a shortboard, whilst living in Oz I did a couple fo Indo trips a year, so I know what is what, but would say I’m just average.
So cut to the chase, which one is the best and why?
It's a tricky one, because just purely on the best wave then it has to be Kelly's wave, you take off you get barrelled a couple of times, and you ride a wave which is long, perfect and there is nothing like it in the real world. There are better waves in the real world, but none as perfectly reliable. So it's the best wave, but it's also really boring after a while, and that sounds really stupid, but it is just too repetitive. It also feels a bit dirty to surf, sounds stupid again I know but the mechanics, the energy required to shift that plough/train up and down the lake feels a bit wrong, and I can’t imagine how they could turn it into a commercial proposition for the real world.
Again like Kelly’s, with the American Wave Machines Texas facility we had the wave to ourselves, as a corpo group, and whilst one individual wave isn’t as mentally perfect as Kelly’s, the variety is way more fun. We surfed a point style wave, then a slab barrel and then a wedgie wave into an air wave, this made for a way more fun experience than the KS wave, but again I had an artificial experience in that we had the pool privately, so a group of us decided what waves we were going to have, not sure what public waves are like. But it was a lot of fun, and so realistic, for me the variety and the reality is better than Kelly’s whilst it isn’t as long or perfect.
I haven’t surfed the waveloch pool yet, but looks fun, I was there with some team riders, but the opportunity to jump in didn’t manifest its self sadly. It is fun and I think when they scale it, it will be in the AWM realm. We were only at the trial pool, the one you’ve seen in videos, but it was pretty impressive.
The one I have surfed the most though is the wave garden cove, which is a lot of fun. I lived just thirty minutes from the pool in Melbourne when it opened and I think I’ve had twenty sessions there, its a very fun wave, I’ve had it on a couple of good settings and it’s got some power to it, and it’s just good fun. I’ve had three sessions at Bristol, and each was really good fun as well, it’s a bit smaller than the Australian one, but is pretty darn good fun. I’ve been and seen the Swiss one but not surfed it. One thing I would say, the Bristol wave, is by far the nicest experience, and I suspect it will get nicer, what they are doing to the surroundings is epic, and I got a really good vibe being there, better than anywhere else. So thumbs up on that. I think for the average surfer, The Cove is the one, you get more waves than the other two by miles, and it feels like you’re surfing little rip bowl/shallow sand bar. The top setting at Bristol is challenging enough, although if you are quite experienced I doubt you’ll be surfing it a lot. But for me the cove is the best all round, just fun, and also a good workout.
What about the experience compared to ocean surfing?
I saw a picture of everyone queueing to get a wave at Bristol and someone said people were lining up to lose their soul, and that actually could not be farther from the truth. When you surf normally, especially if not with mates, lineups are pretty quiet, poker faced places as we all prowl around for waves. In the pool, you’re queueing but you know you’re getting x amount of waves, and there is banter there is good conversation, it’s pretty civilised and pleasant experience haha.
They all feel a bit nasty still, you’re in a concrete pool with a machine, and it still bugs me a bit, as it takes away from the connecting with nature, and being peaceful element of the ocean environment. That side I don’t know how they will get over, and maybe it doesn’t bother people. There is also that element of exiting through the gift shop kind of thing, it’s pretty obvious at all of them the business model revolves around shop, restaurant “the experience”, but I guess you can take or leave that, I prefer to surf and leave, but there is that element. But when you break it down, it’s a lot of fun if you live far from the coast, or have limited time to get a session, than not at all, and overall I think they have issues, but there is a huge positive there. The biggest downside surf wise is there is no unpredictability, there isn’t a sneaker set that may pop up, or a classic bank for a few days, that magical element isn’t there.
Speaking from an industry point of view, are they flash in the pans, or are they positive additions that will grow surfing?
It’s an interesting question because the company I used to work for, had a big meeting about how they should get involved with them, and we clearly divided the sort of pools up between true passion/surfer operated long term businesses and ones which may just be tapping into the current boom in participation and the need to attract younger people into big developments, think the Korean one and all the developments in California. Those ones feel like they are the golf courses of the 2020s, and the worry there is those pools could be around for a decade then dug up and replaced. Where as Melbourne and Bristol especially feel like there is some real passion there, and they want to create a wider experience rather than it being a side show in a large environment. Of course these are going to grow over the next decade hugely, we’ve hopefully got surfing in Japan this year at the Olympics, then three years later the Olympics in Tahiti and then the Olympics in LA, that’s three massive surges for surfing in the next seven years, so whether we like it or not it’s going to grow. Long term though, I think it depends on the the tech.
On that note, one last question what about surf lakes?
I haven’t been, two of our team riders went, and said it was the closest thing to real waves, and they have surfed them all as well. The issue with that is the footprint, the Wavegarden cove can slot into an industrial estate or a bit of wasteland, you need acres for surf lakes, which makes it pricey, I believe they have a smaller version, but still the land is an issue. It’s looks crazy though doesn’t it?
So where is your money when it comes to success?
I think for the average surfer then The Cove is perfect, it’s fun, it can take a good amount of people and seems to be the most efficient/economical/commercially viable, and for an all round experience I think they have the winning formula. The American Wave Machines one is also good, but there are several other similer ones coming along, so I think there will be a battle there. I think surf lakes seems to be the very best from what I’ve heard, with four different breaks, and load of space to teach, the big issue there though is footprint of the things. Kelly’s wave, unless they have a miracle up their sleeves, I don’t see how you could ever make it a commercial viable wave pool.
The really exciting thing is though, I’m not sure the best has been unveiled yet, there is a lot of tech being trialled, and once places like Bristol start turning a profit post covid, investors will get behind them, we could have hundreds all over the world, which could be great, but could also be an absolute nightmare…
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