Theory Thursday: The Battle For The Best Artificial Surfing Wave

Wave pools. We’ve all seen them or even been in them at the big water parks. And while the waves that a typical wave pool generates are surfable they just aren’t that good. There are also standing waves that are generated by blasting water over a form but these do not allow for a standard surfboard with fins to be used.

Over the last few years there have been a few people trying to develop a better artificial wave for surfing that mimics a real wave. One technology comes out of Australia from Webber Wave Pools and another comes from Wavegarden. These are just two of several technologies that are emerging, but they appear to be two of the most viable and interesting.

First to the Australian born Webber Wave Pools. Greg Webber and team started out making models at the Australian Maritime College in Tasmania and have since translated that to a large scale model of their concept. Greg’s idea is to drag or push a hull form over the water to create a large wake that is surfable as you can see from this video.

Webber has since release a concept video of a looping linear wave pool system that somewhat mimics a point break. There are several reports that Webber has signed a memorandum of understanding to build one of these wave pools somewhere between the Gold Coast and Noosa in Queensland. Not sure why you would build one near the Gold Coast when the place is already full of natural waves and wave pools, but I guess the tourist dollars are the attraction. I personally thought further into central or northern Queensland where the weather is always warm but the waves are not great or, and this suits me much better, somewhere on the northern outskirts of Melbourne in a big hanger so we can surf without worrying about the weather, the drive to a cold surf beach and sharks. Surfing Life also ran an interesting interview with Greg earlier this year where he discussed the potential first commercial installation of one of the Webber Wave Pools.

According to the Webber Wave Pools website they are also adding a range of hull control options to make the waves more random or to control the sizes per the surfer in the line-up. In any event I may learn to surf yet.

The other emerging wave pool technology is from Wavegarden in Spain which uses a foil under the water (ie. a hydrofoil, but they call it a Wavefoil) to create the waveform. Similar to the Webber concept, the wave breaks along the side of the pool like a point break and in their prototype in the Basque region of Spain there seems to be a significant section of shore break for people who want some smaller waves.

You can see the development of Wavegardens technology from the two videos below. The first video appears to be a full-sized proof of concept with Mick Fanning and company trialling it. The second video is ‘Wavegarden 2.0’ where the concept look to be almost commercial and some pro surfers give it a solid test.

The BBC has reported the first commercial installation of Wavegarden’s technology has started in Snowdonia in the United Kingdom. Wavegarden also indicate on their website that they can alter the size and shape of their wave.

Which technology will win the prize for the best artificial surfing wave it yet to be seen. So far though it looks like Wavegarden has edged ahead with a solid full-scale test bed and the ability to create both a left and right break in one run. The real test though with be wave quality, quantity and efficiency of a commercial operation. Webber may make a comeback in the fight yet.

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