The Palm Springs Surf Club wave pool is now open for business, and reservations for any “public” sessions in January sold out within hours of going live. You’ve no doubt seen the promotional videos with tiny little professional/semi-professional surfers packing tiny little barrels and boosting airs off of tiny little end sections. You can also book a private session for the low low price of $3,500 – $5,000 per hour, depending on the day and the demand.
But what is the experience of a public session like for your average peasant of average surfing ability? Is it really worth the $150 – $200 per hour? Is there really a god and an afterlife, or does an empty void await us after death? These are the questions I asked myself as I reserved three hours in the pool shortly after reservations opened up last month. And having recently returned from PSSC, I now have the answers. All of them. The following is the progression of the day’s highlights and lowlights.
6:15 a.m. I breakfast on coffee and 800 mg of ibuprofen. I have booked three, hour-long sessions for today—an “intermediate wave” hour to hopefully get the hang of things, and two “advanced wave” hours to hopefully get a few little pool barrels. We all know these aren’t real barrels, but by the same token, weirdos have “intercourse” with sex robots in this day and age and likely walk away with the impression that they got laid. Little do I recognize though, I have committed surf hubris by assuming that I might get some cover ups today, however artificial said cover ups might be.
8:45 a.m. After a 1.5 hour drive, I arrive to check in early and take inventory of the place. I am informed at check in that the wave machine is having issues and the pool can only run the intermediate A-Frame wave. No barrels for Com today, but that’s what I get for going into any surf session, pool or ocean, even so much as thinking about getting barreled. Such are the consequences of surf hubris.
Given a niggling injury I’ve been carrying for the last couple weeks, perhaps a day of intermediate waves is not so terrible though. I wonder whether I’ll get a refund for the combined additional $100 I’ve spent for two sessions of barreling waves (to date I have not).
The pool and the entire complex are far bigger than the videos I’ve seen would indicate. There is ample space to lounge, several other heated pools and hot tubs, a lazy river, and a couple quasi-restaurants. It’s a place that you could easily convince non-surfer friends and family to hang around and watch your shitty surfing were it not the middle of winter. Come Coachella season, this place will be packed and the surfing will be an afterthought for most of the patrons.
9:00 a.m. The first session of the day kicks off shortly after I arrive, which I am informed is a private session. A group of upper middle-aged guys that appear to be acquainted with one another is surfing the intermediate wave, well, intermediately, and even less than intermediately in some instances. Many are attempting to crouch for a little head dip even though the wave isn’t even close to barreling.
The wave at this setting looks barely two feet from my vantage point (Surfline two feet, not Hawaiian) and I kick myself for leaving my groveller at home despite bringing two pointy thrusters and a weird little asym. The private session crew nevertheless appears to be having a ball, hooting for one another and high fiving after every 3-wave set. I watch the Da Hui Pipe contest on my phone to pass the time and resign myself to the fact that these will be the only barrels I will see all day.
10:40 a.m. I suit up given the prior instructions to be ready 10 minutes before the 11:00 a.m. public session. As soon as I am ready to go, the announcement is made that all sessions are being pushed back an hour because the private session didn’t get its full two hours. To hell with it, I am not changing out of this wetsuit, and to hell with it, I am getting a getting a goddamn beer.
11:40 a.m. I make my way to the far side of the pool and have friendly conversations with the other middle-aged surfers who will be joining me in the first public session of the day, which now includes slightly more diverse gender representation with a couple female longboarders. The wave actually looks kind of fun from this angle for like, two turns. We have an extremely brief safety brief.
11:45 a.m. I jump in and HOLY HELL, I don’t recall 55-degree water ever being this cold, my 4/3 and booties notwithstanding. The pumps start up and sounds like a jet engine about to take off, and the guy in front of me misses his first wave. My first wave is a right, and hey, it’s actually about stomach high off the first turn! I manage a weak little wrap and then bog and fall on the second turn when what appears to be a close out end section evaporates. Still, there is more than enough push even with the intermediate setting to get all 230 pounds of me going at a decent clip down the line for a turn or two. And, at least I didn’t miss the wave or fall on the takeoff on my first wave—there is a lot of that happening, and even surfers who obviously rip (present company excluded) are struggling from time to time throughout the day.
I eventually realize that trying to take the high line from the takeoff is just not going to work. For how small the wave is, you have to drive down straight off the takeoff and project back up like it’s a much larger wave, or you will get hung up in the lip given how narrow the pocket is. This is something I will routinely forget to remember throughout the course of the day when I kook it on the takeoff on every few waves. That being said, 12 waves in an hour is a fair amount of surfing even if there’s only room for two or three turns.
It also occurs to me that, save for surfing with a bunch of people you might know, there is zero difference between the public and private session if the intermediate setting is the only wave available. Shit yeah, I have stuck it to the man!
1:15 p.m. I’ve rolled straight through into another hour-long session, which was supposed to be one of the slab sessions, but, whatever. I’m still having a good time on the rights after swapping for one of my shorter boards. A half hour later when I switch to the lefts, I am cramping up on every takeoff, and the aforementioned niggling injury is about the size and shape of a half plumb. Waves are missed. Takeoffs are blown. Rails are bogged. This is not pretty.
2:10 p.m. The sensation of being able to feel my fingers again returns. Beers and a hot tub never felt this satisfying.
2:45 p.m. I notice a guy on a soft top is trunking it. TRUNKING it in 55-degree water, and with a bit of wind to chill things down a little further to boot. I have not seen him successfully get to his feet, but holy hell, he is far tougher than I am and/or was sired by a sea lion.
3:15 p.m. Groms and dads are in the water and an “offshore” wind is holding up the wave faces a bit more. A micro grom is pushed in by his dad gets a little shampoo on the inside. Everyone watching poolside hoots. This is the closest thing to a legitimate barrel that has occurred today as far as I’ve seen.
3:55 p.m. I plop back into the pool for my third and final hour. There’s no more sun warming the surfing area and the water seems even colder. I spend the next hour either missing waves or mostly going straight, but I finally figure out the left by the end of things, which has this weird flat section on account of one side pumps beings down.
4:50 p.m. The horizon on the far end of the pool might substitute as an aspect of an impressionist painting as the sunset, punctuated by wispy clouds, emits a rosy glow that slowly gives way to darkness as the lights surrounding the pool are switched on. Part of me wonders whether someday, people will pay to see an artificial sunset when they could just as easily see the real thing, much like I have paid to surf an artificial wave when I could just as easily have paddled out in the ocean. All things considered though, I wanted to hate this place, but I’m riding waves in the middle of the damn desert.
This would be much easier in warm water and trunks in the summer time, but I’d almost prefer the venue being relatively empty save for surfers, their families/significant others, and the two European guys in speedos sprawling in one of the hot tubs for most of the day who did not exactly appear to be there for the surfing. And in truth, I’ve actually enjoyed surfing with the strangers I’ve met and surfed with today, all of whom were far more pleasant than the pathetically annoying wretches that mostly haunt my local.
7:00 p.m I am at The Heyday with a burger in one hand and a very dry vodka martini in the other. I take inventory of the last ten hours and consider how I might answer the questions I asked myself when I booked these reservations in the first place.
What is the experience of a public session like for your average peasant of average surfing ability? Pretty fun, just so long as you recognize that this is not surfing—it’s riding waves in a pool.
Is it worth really worth the $150 – $200 per hour? I would like my $100 back for reserving slab waves that were not delivered, and I’ve no idea what the other wave settings are actually like, but $150 for 12ish intermediate waves in an hour seems like a fairly even trade given the $80 million dollar investment in this place.
Is there really a god and an afterlife, or does an empty void await us after death? The answer to that, I have realized, is that once human beings become proficient enough at playing god and you have the financial means to pay, it won’t really matter. You might just live forever in an artificial world of your own fashioning—perhaps with some artificial waves, artificial sunsets, and dry martinis to keep you occupied.