Chlorine Dream

Kelly Slater conducting research in an Irvine wave pool in 1988. Clearly, there was plenty of room for improvement. Photo: Gilley

Rob Gilley

Previously in denial about his photographic past, Rob Gilley now rummages through his trove of mediocrity.

This past vacation, for the first time in a few years, our family went to the mountains to ski and snowboard. Well aware of holiday-associated attendance, we made sure we got to the slopes early in the day before the lift lines swelled to unreasonable proportions.

One morning we got to the resort so early that we had to wait in line for the gondola to open, and while I stood there in line in the freezing cold, I tried to take my thoughts to a warmer place. Fresh on my mind was something I had seen recently on Surfermag.com, so for a brief moment I transported myself and drifted off.

Interestingly, the first thing I flashed on was the mock-up of the Kelly Slater Wave Company’s circular wave pool that had decorated the home page a few nights before. Perhaps in some subconscious way my mind had made the resort connection—the link between my current, real-life whereabouts, and the proposed wave pool vacation land.

The first things I remembered thinking when I saw the wave pool mock-up was how cool it was and how an endless, circular design seemed like such a simple and brilliant solution to the real-estate/energy requirement limitations of the past. More impressively, the drawing represented a super-shreddable, shark-less, head-high-plus wall that you could bash and float and fly over until your legs gave out.

It struck me that this wave pool would be the ultimate training device for aspiring professional surfers—I can’t even imagine what maneuvers John John or Gabriel or Julian would be able to invent, work-on, and perfect in such an environment.

In addition, it occurred to me what a potential boost these wave parks would be to the surf industry. The landlocked masses would now have access to their own local surf, and would of course want and crave and buy surf industry products.

But then—possibly due to my current locale—I started to think about it in a different way.

Just like at the slopes, all hopeful wave pool participants would need to pay a significant fee to get access to the resort, and then stand in line to wait for a chance to ride a wave. Compared to a normal surfing experience, this seemed foreign and structured and restrictive and expensive.

Then I thought of the homogenized, commercialized, Stepford wife sameness of such a place, and the loss of the magnificent, natural randomness of Mother Ocean.

And then I thought about more specific losses: the process of surf forecasting, the anticipation of a ‘swell in the mail’, the excited calls to friends, the early morning drive down the coast, the feel of natural sand between your toes, paddle-out strategizing, the Zen of just sitting in the lineup with friends, sharing the ocean with dolphins and pelicans, the satisfaction of chasing down a good peak, and the post-surf salt-caked bliss.

And then I realized that wave pools, no matter how good, just aren’t for me.

Unless I happened to be hopelessly landlocked and somebody else was paying.

Then it’s all good.