Kelly boldly claimed wavepools would democratize surfing. After four years that call looks staler than the August air at Lemoore.
Did you read about Greg Webber’s latest ideas, the V-walls and V-reefs with all their beguiling artist’s impressions, and think, like I did, “Wow, he just put the stake through the heart of wavepools?”
Which would be a bizarre act of hari-kari seeing as Greg has been hard on the spruik as a wavepool designer and IP holder since, forever. It must’ve been twenty years since he first filmed trawler wakes running down the side of Dart Island in the Clarence River in Yamba and the idea for a plough running through water to create surfable waves was born. He will demur, but it looks stillborn.
Four years ago, people were losing their nuts on the brave new world of artificial waves when Kelly dropped the first Lemoore edit the day after Adriano won the World Title.
Pools, we were told breathlessly, would be popping up like mushrooms.
Less than six months later, Paul Speaker and the WSL gobbled up a majority share and became owners of the Kelly Slater Wavepool Company. Sophie G said WSL, owners of Kelly’s wavepool company, would build six or seven to hold comps in. They were so confident they even invited gaggles of surf journalists to show up and make man soup in the spa post rides in late 2017.
I count the day before the big reveal, when the NDA’s lapsed, as Day Zero for the death of the current dream of wavepools. They had the whole world on their side on one day and on the next a trickle of high profile dissidents ready to piss on the dream.
Nick Carroll was subdued, damned it with faint praise and our very own Chas Smith reckoned the only just ending for Lemoore was nuclear annihilation. It was a strategic blunder, a PR cock-up of epic proportions.
Still, the drip feed marketing continued unabated.
Mainstream interest was high.
As a concept the logic was byzantine: paying homage to the Founders of Pro Surfing by trotting them out pool-side in a muddy pond a hundred miles from the ocean. Everything went about as perfect as it could get, right down to a manufactured high stakes, high drama finish from Kelly, whose busted hoof magically came good for the event.
The people? The ones that Paul Speaker in 2016 predicted “will be super energized by the advent of Championship Tour-level competition with man-made waves.” They gave it a slow clap.
Which made the full scale CT event held there in September an even harder sell. Ticket sales were weak. Blink 182 cancelled. Fans blew raspberries at competition surfing in the – I struggle to remember the official term – basin. Pulitzer prize winning writer for The New Yorker and author of the best book on surfing ever written, Barbarian Days, Bill Finnegan rode a long-form piece on the event and pronounced it “unexciting…..the pool made surfing feel tame, domesticated.” Final judgement had been cast.
Waco looked nuggets then the amoeba showed up.
High hopes were put on Yeppoon’s steam punk piston to deliver. It did not. Baby food slabs and a breakdown. The more we found out about the physics the harder it was to maintain the froth.
Florida was going to be the jewel in the crown for the WSL/KSWC with a big shiny joint at Palm Beach, right in Dirk Ziff’s backyard. It turned into a shit-show. Stick a shovel in the ground and water comes up. You’d think a perfect problem to have for a wavepool, but no, too much water is worse than too little. I think business students might call the more than seven million spent a sunk cost.
The historical wind has shifted. It’s blowing back in the face of the wavepool dream, hard onshore.
Surfing, big surfing, suddenly found itself on the wrong side of history. Even by its own hand.
The WSL has gone all in for the ocean. Going carbon neutral, eliminating plastics, international paddle-outs, restoring the Ocean.
But in doing so it looks like they have killed their mechanical baby.
Maybe they had no choice.
E-Lo is a smart guy. He knows the kids are more into Extinction Rebellion than Blink 182 playing by ditches that need huge amounts of water and electricity to power ’em up. It’s a bad look and an unsellable story if you’re pitching pro surfing as being a force for the environment.
Kelly boldly claimed wavepools would democratize surfing.
After four years that call looks staler than the August air at Lemoore. The wavepool looks deader than the Dodo. The way out for the WSL?
Remove Surf Ranch from the 2020 schedule, and reinvest in Trestles and Cloudbreak.
The experiment has failed. Wavepools are a novelty.* time to move on.
*High point: Joe G with the super models and Dion Agius in the desert. What’s your high point?