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When the World Surf League announced that in 2018 it would hold its first-ever event outside of the ocean, it set tongues wagging in a big way.
As we’ve discussed in our previous couple of pieces, wave pools are becoming an increasingly prevalent part of the surfing community the world over. As of a few months ago there were 15 of them open and accessible and another ten or so under construction, so with that in mind let’s take a look at some of the most well-known wave pools around the globe.
Undoubtedly the most recognised wave pool on the planet, the Surf Ranch is famous as much for the two words which precede its title as for the wave itself. The Ranch was first unveiled at the end of 2015 in Lemoore, a small city a few hundred kilometres to the north of Los Angeles, in a pool which was initially designed for water skiing. The 200-foot long pool saw Kelly Slater’s life-long dream of creating the so-called perfect wave realised, using innovative technology to create a wave pool with the capacity to produce ‘an infinite number of possible waves’, according to the man himself.
Though it’s true that the association with Slater is a major reason that the pool so quickly entered the public consciousness, it would be unfair to say that its reputation isn’t merited. It is, undoubtedly, an incredible feat of technology, and so impressive are the waves that the WSL’s Championship Tour now stops off there. With only eleven events on the CT schedule, the pool would want to be pretty damn good to compete with the waves we’re used to seeing the pros surf.
The pool uses what’s known as a foil run alongside the pool to create the waves, and both its speed and angle can be changed to alter the wave, as can the depth of the water. As we’ve seen at the Freshwater Pro – initially called the Surf Ranch Pro – the waves are pretty perfect. They’re suitable for your run-of-the-mill carves, critical snapbacks, airs, and of course plenty of barrels, and really allow the pros to show off their full repertoire of tricks.
Back home we have URBNSURF, which opened up its first location just around the corner from the Melbourne airport a little over a year ago. The pool offers the frustrated surfers of Melbourne, who live just too far for an after-work visit from the plethora of terrific waves on Victoria’s Surf Coast, a chance to get a mid-week wave. And it’s a pretty good one at that.
The V-shaped design offers waves to suit the needs of surfers of all ability levels. First, there’s ‘The Bay’, which offers slow, rolling waves of between 50cm and 1m for kids and those just looking for a little frolic. For the more serious surfers, ‘The Point’ offers up four options – the euphemistically named cruiser, intermediate, advanced and expert. The waves vary from around 1m up to 2m and can be ridden for 12-16 seconds, and the way it breaks differs among levels too. The advanced and expert waves are advertised as being the same size but with the expert being much heavier – URBNSURF claims that both offer up barrels for those who are capable.
Within an hour session you can get 15+ waves here, so it’s certainly worth the expense for those wanting to learn, work on something specific, or just experience the novelty of surfing in Tullamarine. Soon enough another URBNSURF will be opening up at Sydney’s Olympic Park, meaning residents of the harbour city who are living a long way west of Bondi can easily have access to a decent wave.
Aptly named ‘The Wave’, this wave pool is located in Bristol, a couple of hundred kilometres west of London. It’s a nice city but has not been historically renowned for surfing, but with the development of this wave pool perhaps it one day will be. For those unfamiliar with the geography of the UK, Bristol is near the part of England in which surfing is actually possible, but while the town itself is close to the ocean, the narrow stretch of water which separates it from Wales isn’t exactly conducive to surfing. Still, given its relative proximity to places like Cornwall, there are obviously enough surfers around. How often they are willing to make the trek south in the middle of Britain’s freezing cold winters is another question, but they no longer have to.
‘The Wave’ itself can vary in size from 50cm up to 2m, and is one of the most high-performance artificial waves in the world. Advanced surfers will have plenty of fun here – big walls and barrels are on offer, and with waves pumped out every 8-10 second there is no shortage of them to go around. Surfers who aren’t quite at the advanced stage yet still have plenty of options too. There is also an intermediate and ‘Waikiki’ wave option – like at URBNSURF, Waikiki is essentially a euphemism for beginner, although those wanting to just have a mellow surf can also enjoy this wave. There are lessons, too, something which is particularly valuable at a wave pool. With the same wave being pumped out so often there is no shortage of waves to practice on, unlike in the ocean where you can pay for a lesson and be served up average conditions. All in all, the waves dished up here are some of the best in the world at an artificial wave pool, so if you’re ever in Bristol it’s definitely worth checking out.
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The aforementioned are three of the best wave pools to be found around the globe, but there are plenty of other good options, and more and more are popping up with each passing year. Surf Lakes, located in Queensland, is more of a lake than a pool, but a giant, bobbing machine serves up great waves in it. On the other side of the globe is Surf Snowdonia in Wales and Wavegarden Cove in Spain, both of which are competing with The Wave as the best artificial option in Europe, while across the Atlantic BSR Surf Park in Texas lets you surf in the Wild West – who would have thought that would be possible a few years ago?
Wave pools have their fans and their detractors, but those who give them a go generally seem to have a pretty good time. There are now multiple great man-made waves in different corners of the globe, and with more in the works it seems like the idea of inland surfing is only just getting started.