The shaper and wavepool inventor Greg Webber on the inevitable demise of Wavegarden…
On a recent Thursday afternoon, I visited Greg Webber, the fifty-six-year-old surfboard shaper and wavepool inventor. Webber lives around five kilometres from the beach in a small, but well-maintained, apartment on top of an animal surgery, with his eldest son Hayden, who is 21.
I had promised a story about Webber to The Surfer’s Journal and had missed so many deadlines that last week I just scooped up my things without really thinking and took the long drive across Sydney to visit him.
Webber wasn’t in the finest physical shape, a bulging disc had left him imprisoned on a microfibre couch in a sort of permanent crash position, but he still managed an easy good nature.
We spoke about many things over an hour or so, including Kelly’s persistence with his banana boards, how to ride one (stand in the middle), a five-foot-eight-inch-long and fifteen-inch wide board he’d built that had no planshape (“It was only by getting rid of the planshape completely that I was able to understand the core fundamentals”); how wavepools are poised to become a multi-billion dollar industry. Webber actually said “trillion” but that seemed too bullish to me. Also, why his pool, when it is eventually built in “two years” is going to better than Slater’s and why Wavegarden is doomed, despite opening the door to everyone else.
On why surfing addicts us so and how that affects wavepool design:
“What’s incredible about surfing is transitioning from being in the moment, projecting into the future and getting back into the moment and projecting into the future. There’s no meditation that achieves it. Probably no sex that achieves it. And the longer you do it for, the better the healing and the stability you get as a human being. That aspect, therefore of customising waves (in a pool), is vital. If you don’t customise it, you start to take the wave for granted and you get irritated that it doesn’t change shape at all.”
On the Slater pool:
“Kelly’s made a stunningly perfect tube. But the fact that there’s whitewash right at the back of the board when the surfers, some of the time, are not even in the tube at all and there’s whitewash wanting to push forward, well, that’s a conical tube. We can ride them…just. They’re a little bit hard to ride. A cylindrical tube will only be made using a kelvin wake (Webber’s technology).”
On the cost of riding a two-metre, ten-second tube at a Webber pool:
“Close to ten bucks. But it’s a cylindrical perfect thing like what Kelly made but with a trough and you’re able to get back in the tube. And guess what else? You started off at one metre and it gradually builds up to two metres so guys who’ve never surfed two metre tubes in their lives will be going, what the fuck…When I asked capable surfers how many five second tubes they’ve had this year, all three of ‘em looked at each other and went… none. I said, well, five seconds is nothing. You’ll get five second, two-metre tubes every time you go to my pool.”
“They proved it. Everyone loved it. But they’re hamstrung by the dynamic of a low wave-rate, which makes it viable on a day-to-day basis. The thing now is people have recognised that a wave of a certain quality can be made and so an industry is on the cusp of happening. But it’s only going to happen if each of these pools makes a lot of money. Not just a little, tiny turnover. And that’s directly linked to the number of people going through the gates. One hundred and twenty waves an hour is 12 dudes getting 10 waves an hour. No one spends 30 million dollars or more building a pool on the hope that’s going to turn a profit. Because it can’t. You can’t change $10,000 per session. I wouldn’t go down that path, ever. And they’ll end up being redundant.”
On Webber pools:
“Only one (pool) is going to make money. My one. There’s only one design. And it all revolves around using the kelvin wake. It allows us to do 500 waves an hour as a base rate. We have a ride rate of 5000 rides per hour. That’s fucked up. That’s proper money.”