Breaking Down the Mechanics of Kelly’s Wave

Science Magazine analyzes the technology behind Slater's artificial wave

Over the past year, our Instagram feeds have been clogged with footage of the magic that goes down at Kelly Slater’s barrel factory in Lemoore. If you’re like us, you’ve watched plenty of videos of (professional) surfers threading endless artificial tubes. But since Kelly revealed this project back in December 2015, not much has been released about the technology that has made this wave come to life. Science Magazine recently took up the torch to break down the mechanics of the wave-producing machine–probably because surfers have been too mesmerized with the product to care more than anything else.

The article explains how Kelly first approached Adam Fincham, a fluid mechanics specialist at the University of Southern Californi, back in 2006, and the duo started working on producing the wave in a laboratory wave thank. Fincham's team soon transferred the lab findings to the Surf Ranch, the article goes on to explain, “a rectangular pool that was originally an artificial water skiing lake. The hydrofoil—imagine a vertically oriented, curved, stubby airplane wing—sits in water a few meters deep. It's attached to a contraption that's the size of a few train cars and, with the help of more than 150 truck tires and cables, runs down a track for the length of the pool at up to 30 kilometers per hour. This creates a soliton that stands more than 2 meters tall. The pool's bottom, which has the springy feel of a yoga mat, has different slopes in different parts, and the contours determine when and how the soliton breaks. The patents also describe ‘actuators’ in the hydrofoil that make it possible to adjust the size and shape of the wave to suit different skill levels.”

If you’re not mechanically-inclined, the accompanied video is much easier to digest (just skip past the semi-cheesy intro). To read the article in full detail, more about the technology behind the magic, click here.