Great to see so much wave pool talk in the media this week thanks to an announcement that Kelly Slater Wave Co was acquired by the World Surf League, professional surfing’s governing body. There were multiple media outlets covering the story (like Bloomberg here), and the Today Show’s Natalie Morales was even granted exclusive access to the story, which included a chance to surf (sorta) Kelly’s creation first-hand.
KSWaveCo and the World Surf League are both funded by the Ziff family, so this is not so much “news” as an excuse to debut this new wave pool to the landlocked majority of the country that might have the opportunity to surf their new home break in the near future. The real news is that, while purists will argue wave pools are not the future of surfing, the future of surfing will absolutely include wave pools.
Risky new technologies that require mega-capital to build in unknown markets are not exactly the best tackle to land big money investors these days. This has been the challenge that has kept the surf park industry on the starting block for the last couple decades. Embarrassing and public meltdowns of projects like Florida’s Ron Jon Surf Park, and the Gotcha Glacier in California, are largely to blame. “Too risky. Too expensive. Just build a waterpark.”
Now in 2016, watching new technologies like Wavegarden and Kelly Slater Wave Co prove that man-made waves are finally possible in the quality and quantity required to operate a stand-alone business, it’s hard to believe how far the industry has come in the last 5 years. This new class of wave pools has seemingly ironed out any flaws in wave quality while keeping the business model in mind. It’s also worth pointing out that having the most recognized surfer on the planet, 11-time world champ, Kelly Slater, in the conversation helps legitimize any topic.
Surf Snowdonia, built on an abandoned steel mill 4 hours outside of Wales, is now in its second season of business as the world’s first successful surf park (all others currently in existence are waterparks that have a wave pool in them and make money off entry fees and concessions, not surfing). Kelly’s new prototype wave pool in Lemoore, a rural farming town outside of Fresno, CA, has proved that we can not only create waves as good as the ocean, but we can make waves that are even better. These are two very monumental milestones: the technology works, and the business model works. These technologies are still in their infancy stages, and if recent history is any indicator we can assume they’ll be getting better with every one.
Our first project, NLand, in Austin, Texas, is set to open any week now, featuring Wavegarden’s largest lagoon to date, which will be the true litmus test for the budding surf park industry: a true surf park on American soil, in a booming metropolitan city, 200 miles from the sea.