With artificial surf lagoons and surf parks becoming more prevalent around the world, it’s got the surfers thinking about the relationship between wave pool and ocean, especially when it comes to competitive surfing. Some within the surf community are ecstatic about these technological innovations and what they mean for surf progression, while ocean purists scoff at the idea of a controlled environment.
To tackle this existential surf dilemma, we brought in an expert by the name of Chris Cote, professional action sports personality who is no stranger to surf competitions and what they mean for surfers and for spectators. If you don’t know Chris, well… you’ve probably heard him as he’s the often the commentating voice behind major surf competitions like the WSL events, the U.S. Open, and the ISA World Surfing Games. It’s safe to say that Chris clearly welcomes wave pools. keep reading to find out why…
What’s the role of wave pools in the future of surf competitions? How can they be a benefit, how can they not?
There have been some incredibly entertaining and progressive surfing competitions in wave pools, but we’ve only just scratched the surface. Wave pools offer endless opportunities for a variety of surfing events and exhibitions. We’ve already seen the incredible progression surfers have been able to achieve in wave pools, and by incentivizing surfers to perform via contests and surf jams, that level of progression will reach new heights. STAB High was a great example of a high-energy, wild-style, surf event that was enjoyed by the surfers, on site spectators, and online viewers. Skateboarding currently leads the way in terms of easy, one-off events that have huge entertainment value, wave pools are the best way to replicate popular skate style events like, Games of S.K..A.T.E., (S.U.R.F.), Air Shows, Cash For Tricks contests, and jam session formats that aren’t really possible in the ocean. Wave pool events will never replace oceanic events, but in terms of growing and progressing the sport beyond the coast, wave pools are the perfect tool to spread the stoke of surfing and surf competition on a global scale.
How will competition structure and the judging be affected?
By being able to create the same wave, section, or tube over and over, judges will have the ability to really get in to the details of what the surfers are doing. In oceanic events, judges always put a lot of emphasis on quality of waves ridden by the surfers, but when you take the randomness of wave cycles and luck out of the equation, you can judge purely based on performance, since all the surfers can ride nearly the same exact waves repeatedly. Judges can concentrate more on rewarding technicality, difficulty of tricks, style, instead of basing wins and losses on who got the best waves during that 2- or 30 minute heat.
What are some different possibilities for the overall atmosphere in a surf park rather than on the beach? What does the viewer get out of it?
The fan experience at a wave pool event can be grass roots or full five star—it all depends on the vibe the park and the pool operators want to set. Wave Pools offer the opportunity for viewers to get up-close-and-personal with the action with bleachers, viewing lounges, poolside bars, in-water viewing, etc. The possibilities again, are endless. Unlike oceanic competitions, in wave pools, you always know when the next set is coming; therefore you can offer viewers and fans special programming that keeps them in the action, even when waiting for waves. Music, video screens, instant replays, live music being performed during events, interactive experiences, is just the tip of the iceberg. You’re not going to be invited on to an NFL field or Major League diamond after a pro game, but at a wave pool, the potential to ride the same waves as the pros is always there. Surf contests in wave pools can be fin, grass roots affairs, or full on spectacles with fireworks, multi-media presentations, screaming fans, and intense elite level competition, the sky is the limit.
Wave pools have become a training ground for many. How does this elevate the caliber of surfing that we’ll see?
Surfing has seen a leap in progression that is off the charts. Modern tricks and airs that people only dreamed of have been work shopped, practiced, and perfected win wave pools, and taken in to the ocean. Wave pools are the perfect training tool for beginners, aspiring pros, elite level surfers, and creative hybrid surfers with trick ideas that can only be accomplished in a controlled environment—long story short, create and learn the trick in the pool, then take it to the ocean and change the game!
Surf Parks are also fostering communities of inland surfers. What does this mean for young talent and the overall accessibility of surfing?
This is probably the most exciting element that wave pools can foster. Everybody’s seen the movie North Shore where Arizona based surfer, Rick Kane, wins a wave pool contest and then heads to Hawaii to compete with the big dogs. Well, this is no longer Hollywood fiction, it’s happening. For most people, surfing is a dream that maybe comes true once in a lifetime on a family vacation or trip to the beach. Just like we’ve seen in skateboarding, if you build a skatepark, the skate community will grow and thrive—same can be said for surf parks and wave pools. Imagine the untapped talents of a million surfers out there who never though they’d get the chance to learn how to surf, let alone learn how to do airs and ride the tube! Is the next Kelly Slater from Des Moines, Iowa? Maybe, build a wave pool there and we will find out.
With ES’s customizable technology we can bring the element of surprise back into the competition. From a punchy barrel, to a long point break wave, this flexibility to create waves section by section could actually offer more variety than the ocean on a given day. How does this change things?
This will be what makes Endless Surf’s technology such a game changer for competition. Even at some of the world’s leading wave pools, viewers lose interest when seeing the same wave over and over. By adding elements of chance and risk, you will keep viewers engaged. This goes for surfers, too. We all want to surf the perfect wave, but there’s something about the imperfections of waves gets surfers truly excited. One complaint from elite level surfers in regards to wave pool competition is that it can become monotonous. By adding a few wedges, ramps, random sections, and surprises at the pros, their interest will stay high and huge performances will follow.