It’s Still Surfing

Why we should embrace the wavepool revolution

According to some, this isn't surfing. Just don't tell Dane Reynolds that. Photo: Maassen
According to some, this isn’t surfing. Just don’t tell Dane Reynolds that. Photo: Maassen

Manufacturing 120 waves an hour, over a distance of 200 meters, Wavegarden offers a glimpse into the future of surfing sans ocean. In the coming years, the Kelly Slater Wave Company also promises to deliver manmade perfection to the surf starved masses. But not all surfers are sold on this new technology. In fact, some say that this isn’t surfing at all. They think that wavepools will be a black mark on the sport, spawning a mutant generation of landlocked “surfers” with no knowledge of swells, winds, tides, or real surf culture. Curious, I contacted Felip Verger of Wavegarden to find out why he was so hell bent on creating this new breed of saltless, soulless, surfers.

“Sure, it’s way easier to take up surfing in a controlled environment such as Wavegarden than in the ocean,” says Verger. “And it’s true that people who will pick up surfing at a Wavegarden will need to learn about a lot of things the day they go surfing in the ocean. But that’s nothing new. If you live in Honolulu and learn to surf in Waikiki, you’re in for a shock the day you want to surf a beach break in Canada or Washington or Scotland. We all adapt to different waves don’t we? Well, Wavegarden will be just another wave.”

Is a person riding a manmade wave still considered a surfer? Well, are people skiing manmade snow still considered skiers? By the technical definition, riding a wave is surfing no matter where the wave comes from. Yet there are those that believe wavepools will eliminate the very essence of surfing by taking randomness out of the equation and making waves uniform. They presume that riding the same perfect, clean, barreling wave over and over would make surfing feeling stale. Really?

In terms of progression and innovation, could there be a better way to hone your skills than on a conveyor belt of aquatic congruency? While you may only get one or two opportunities to try a specific maneuver in the ocean, a wavepool would allow endless identical sections to practice. But if predictable waves aren’t your thing, Verger claims that technology is being developed to create a random element that will make each wave totally unpredictable from the previous one in size, power, and speed.

Another fear that critics have is that any surfer raised on wavepools will be oblivious to things like etiquette and hierarchy—that once these freshwater fiends make it to the ocean, chaos will ensue. But the odds are that these surfers will learn quickly—sometimes the hard way—when they encounter oceanic wave riders. On the flipside, if the rest of us ever get sick of the pecking order—of missing the best waves because we respect the hierarchy—wavepools might give us a shot at the kind of perfect set wave we’d otherwise be watching someone else ride.

Nothing beats an epic day of surf in the ocean. Even the people developing the next generation of wave pools will attest to that. But most of us don’t get to experience those memorable sessions on a regular basis. Location, work schedule, family obligations—the list of things that prevent you from scoring all the time is long. So what’s wrong with getting a similar (albeit not identical) release by ripping the bag out of an artificial wave? Let’s be honest, a good wave is a good wave, and whether or not it was pumped out of a machine does little to change how much fun you will have riding it.

We don’t have to like every change in direction our culture takes, but we should learn to pick our battles. Even if it’s manmade, it’s still a wave, it’s still addicting, and it’s still more fun than our day jobs. It’s still surfing.


Craig Anderson, enjoying an artificial lineup. Photo: Maassen
Craig Anderson, enjoying an artificial lineup. Photo: Maassen
Dane Reynolds, getting acclimated to freshwater on his frontside. Photo: Maassen
Dane Reynolds, getting acclimated to freshwater on his frontside. Photo: Maassen