Exploration

Sick Manmade Barrels Will Change Surfing Forever

Kelly Slater's unbelievable wave machine prototype in California promises to transform the sport.

<p>Kelly Slater Wave Company, Vimeo screenshot<span></span></p>

In the quest to build the perfect manmade wave pool for surfing, several contenders are getting close. But pro Kelly Slater's prototype is the one rippling through the surfing world with its beautiful barrels.

Videos showing surfers in his wave pool look like they could have been filmed in the ocean. Sweet artificial waves promise to transform the sport forever.

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The Kelly Slater Wave Company's full-sized prototype has been more than a decade in the making. Slater's wave machine at an artificial lake about 110 miles inland from the California coast works using a hydrofoil running underneath the water to create the swell, Bloomberg's Josh Dean reported. The whole thing runs on solar-generated electricity.

After an initial partnership to license wave-making tech fell through in 2006, the pro surfer connected with research professor Adam Fincham who specializes in fluid dynamics, according to Bloomberg. They worked on a theoretical model, build a small-scale model, and tested computer models before starting work on the full-sized prototype. Slater called it "a freak of technology" on his site.

Then on May 24, Kelly Slater Wave Company announced that the World Surf League, which oversees pro surfing competitions, had agreed to acquire a majority stake in the wave machine company. Slater said in the announcement that he hoped the technology would help democratize surfing. Surfer Magazine's Davis Jones wrote that the partnership would likely shift the professional surfing landscape.

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A number of other companies are making rideable artificial waves. American Wave Machines' modular SurfStream system produces seven different kinds of adjustable waves. Their first U.S. installation was at Surf's Up in New Hampshire two years ago. Last year Surf Snowdonia opened in Wales with a lagoon that uses wave pool technology from the Spanish company Wavegarden.

Those commercial pools look much more impressive than the simplistic amusement park wave machines of the past, but none of them produced barrels that elicited the extreme reaction that Slater did. The surfing community wigged out seeing his video demo last December:

Granted, he makes surfing just about anything look easy, but such a controlled self-contained experience has key advantages. Pros could train for a variety of situations without having to wait on nature to produce them. It seems way safer than the ocean. Plus, I like the solar-powered, renewable aspect of Slater's system.

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Not being a surfer, however, I recognize how bold it is to say that artificial wave technology will transform the sport. The demand from pros and land-locked surfers alike is there, though. Slater isn't going to cause the revolution by himself, but I can easily picture him pushing the entire movement forward faster.

Other companies need to stay sharp. This artificial wave is breaking, and it's endless.

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