16 Sep, 2016

Wave Pools and a New Surf Learning Curve

16 Sep, 2016

Two weeks ago, we got our first glimpse of the new Wavegarden installation in Austin, Texas. This week they released a couple more video clips to drool over. The park may not be open yet, as the owner (The Coors family) has yet to settle a permitting dispute with Travis County, but the wave pool has been operational for months and testing is well underway.

In this clip, Kai and Hans Odriozola, young sons of Wavegarden inventor Josema Odriozola, tear into the green walls that, for them, are well over-head. We have had the pleasure of visiting the Odriozola clan in their home of San Sebastian, where the original Wavegarden prototype is built. Josema, and wife Karin are incredible people, and their offspring are no different. After watching the boys surf their father’s creation (only after school and homework had been completed), Brian Keaulana joked, “These kids can surf this every day? They’re going to be the next John Johns.” He’s right, the amount of improvement that’s possible with such a repeatable wave is mind blowing.

Kai Odriozola, slotted in his dad's creation. Photo: me

Kai Odriozola, slotted in his dad’s creation, Summer 2013. Photo: me

Developing surfing skill in the ocean requires a certain degree of timing and muscle memory that takes years to absorb in the ocean. With all the variables required to align in order to make quality surf: swell size, swell angle, swell period, wind, tide, bathymetry, and daylight, the result is that no two waves are ever the same. Even at the same spot, on the same day, in the same set of waves, the fact is: you will never get that same wave or even the same section twice. In all other boardsports, you have the luxury of trying the same ramp, the same rail, the same kicker, until you perfect your trick. In surfing however, the learning curve requires dedicating countless hours to the sea in order to piece together the kind of repetition required to learn via muscle memory. (Not that we’re complaining about surfing for countless hours, that’s what we live for.)

A couple years back we spent some time gathering field data on surfing. Namely: how long does the average surfer spend actually riding waves during an hour of surfing. This number would obviously vary based on the surfer, the waves, the crowd, etc., but after some time observing Ala Moana Bowls and other popular surf spots on Oahu (whilst holding a stopwatch), we found that the average is somewhere around 5 waves at 6 seconds each, or a total of 30 seconds per hour.

Wavegarden Facility in Wales, UK

Wavegarden Facility in Wales, UK

A Wavegarden lagoon produces 120 ‘expert’ waves per hour, 60 lefts and 60 rights (it also produces 180 intermediate and beginner waves that reform the expert wave’s energy around the edges of the lagoon). Each expert wave is 18-25+ seconds, depending on lagoon size. One could technically surf 60 waves an hour, at ~20 seconds each, which is 1,200 seconds/hour. Having surfed the wavegarden myself, I can tell you that if you attempted this, your legs would fall off. A 20 second wave is extremely tiring on your lower body, and a 3-6 minute rest is about the minimum between waves to avoid total fatigue. This puts your ride time in a wave pool at about 200-400 seconds/hour, or roughly 10x the ocean ride time, meaning one hour in this wave pool is the equivalent to 10 hours in the ocean. When you also consider the fact that these waves are repeatable, allowing you to learn from your mistakes instantly, you see where we are going with this: Wave Pools are going to drastically steepen the learning curve in performance surfing.

The author, learning to love lefts. photo: igor

The author, learning to love lefts. photo: igor

I know that anecdotal evidence is not exactly scientific proof, but here’s some anectodal evidence anyway: In 2012 the Honokea team visited Wavegarden to test their prototype for the first time. Keno and myself had an hour to ourselves, and since Keno was hogging the rights (we are both regularfoot), I was only going left, which I typically loathe. After wiggling around on a couple chest high lefts peeling identically down the lagoon I started to notice how much better each backside turn was feeling. The fact that each section was identical meant i could make do a turn, make adjustments, and try it again while on a wave. The little hitches in the body motion that I had never taken the time to iron out, were fixing themselves. Such rapid progression was an incredible feeling after a lifetime of baby steps. At the end of the hour session (15 or so waves) I could barely walk from the leg cramps, and I couldn’t believe that I was actually excited about going left. Now you may be thinking that learning to rip a wave pool is great but what about when you go back into the ocean? Well, I can assure you that to this day I have retained the lessons, and more importantly – the confidence, that such an experience gives you. And now I love going left, even in the ocean.

Here are a few of the pros testing out Austin’s Wavegarden:

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