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Making New Waves: Why Surfing Lakes Are Going Global

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Annual Boardmasters Surf Festival Opens In Newquay

A surfer in Cornwall, U.K. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

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Surfing is all about the elements. Gnarled surfers scour the world in search of the perfect wave, which has itself traveled thousands of miles to pummel the shores of some distant landmass.

But no longer: Advances in artificial wave making technology mean the perfect wave could soon be crashing against the shores of a lake near you.

Artificial waves are already being created in a lake in Wales, U.K. Surf Snowdonia was the world’s first artificial surfing lake and can now create a perfectly peeling breaker every 90 seconds. But in a few months time it will be joined by another in Bristol.

“The reason why surf technology exists now is because of computing power,” says Craig Stoddart, CEO of The Wave, which is putting the finishing touches on its artificial surfing lake in Bristol.

In The Wave’s case, that technology comes from Wavegarden, a Spanish company, whose wave machines can generate up to 1,000 waves per hour. Surfers can also tweak their definition of perfection: Waves can range from 50cm (1.7 feet) to almost 2 meters (6.5 feet) in height.

While hardcore surfers might lament a wave-on-demand culture, the reasons for the increase in “wave pool surfing” are simple. In the U.K. surfing is one of the fastest growing sports, with a 40% increase in participation between 2015 and 2017, according to the latest British Marine Association Annual Watersports Participation Survey.

There are now over 1 million surfers in the U.K., “but the coastline isn’t producing any more waves than it did before,” says Stoddart. Nor do most people live anywhere near decent surfing beaches.

But with world surf champion Kelly Slater putting his own name behind an artificial wave, with the Kelly Slater Wave Company, the concept has gained accreditation. Slater called his wave, “a complement or supplement to what surfing is,” and it now hosts World Surfing League (WSL) competitions.

The consumer demand will only grow: Surfing will make its debut in next year’s Tokyo Olympic Games. Should landlocked countries or those with poor surfing conditions win future Olympic bids, wave technology will become crucial to the future of the Olympics.

A Growing Ground Swell

It took a while for Stoddart and his business partner, and The Wave’s founder, Nick Hounsfield, to get their project off the ground.

“We pitched to over 250 investors,” says Stoddart. “None of them were against the business plan, but they couldn’t see the technology on a full scale.”

This all changed when Wavegarden built a full-scale prototype of their wave generator, The Wavegarden Cove. Francis Menassa, CEO of JAR Capital, an investment firm, was among the first to try it out.

“Within an hour he was rising a 2-meter high wave,” Stoddart recalls. Menassa was sold and subsequently became one of The Wave’s first investors.

For Menassa, though, that wave was metaphorically endless. Artificial surfing will only get more popular he says: “The increase in popularity is as much to do with the sport as to the economics; the leisure sector in general is experiencing unprecedented growth.”

Despite overall consumer confidence falling to an 18-month low, net spending in the U.K. leisure sector grew by two percentage points year-on-year in the final quarter of 2018, according to a Deloitte report published in February 2019.

“All the fundamentals are there,” says Menassa. “By using the right technology at a great location in a market that is set to grow year-on-year, the capacity for growth is huge.”

The Wave already has a London development in the pipeline, set to open in 2022. Wavegarden is also expanding: 13 lakes around the world are being built using its technology. Stoddart says he has spoken to over 50 developers who are looking to create artificial surfing lakes.

With all these developments it won’t be long before the elements come to the surfer rather than the other way round. This will suit all parties: Those without access to coastlines can have breaking waves on tap, while dyed-in-the-wool surfers can have their own breakers back.

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Annual Boardmasters Surf Festival Opens In Newquay

A surfer in Cornwall, U.K. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Getty Images

Surfing is all about the elements. Gnarled surfers scour the world in search of the perfect wave, which has itself traveled thousands of miles to pummel the shores of some distant landmass.

But no longer: Advances in artificial wave making technology mean the perfect wave could soon be crashing against the shores of a lake near you.

Artificial waves are already being created in a lake in Wales, U.K. Surf Snowdonia was the world’s first artificial surfing lake and can now create a perfectly peeling breaker every 90 seconds. But in a few months time it will be joined by another in Bristol.

“The reason why surf technology exists now is because of computing power,” says Craig Stoddart, CEO of The Wave, which is putting the finishing touches on its artificial surfing lake in Bristol.

In The Wave’s case, that technology comes from Wavegarden, a Spanish company, whose wave machines can generate up to 1,000 waves per hour. Surfers can also tweak their definition of perfection: Waves can range from 50cm (1.7 feet) to almost 2 meters (6.5 feet) in height.

surfing artificial wave bristol

The Wave Bristol (LHC Landscape Design)

The Wave

While hardcore surfers might lament a wave-on-demand culture, the reasons for the increase in “wave pool surfing” are simple. In the U.K. surfing is one of the fastest growing sports, with a 40% increase in participation between 2015 and 2017, according to the latest British Marine Association Annual Watersports Participation Survey.

There are now over 1 million surfers in the U.K., “but the coastline isn’t producing any more waves than it did before,” says Stoddart. Nor do most people live anywhere near decent surfing beaches.

But with world surf champion Kelly Slater putting his own name behind an artificial wave, with the Kelly Slater Wave Company, the concept has gained accreditation. Slater called his wave, “a complement or supplement to what surfing is,” and it now hosts World Surfing League (WSL) competitions.

Surf Ranch Pro 2src18 Mikey Wright

Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch Pro in Lemoore, CA, United States.

World Surf League via Getty Images

The consumer demand will only grow: Surfing will make its debut in next year’s Tokyo Olympic Games. Should landlocked countries or those with poor surfing conditions win future Olympic bids, wave technology will become crucial to the future of the Olympics.

A Growing Ground Swell

It took a while for Stoddart and his business partner, and The Wave’s founder, Nick Hounsfield, to get their project off the ground.

“We pitched to over 250 investors,” says Stoddart. “None of them were against the business plan, but they couldn’t see the technology on a full scale.”

This all changed when Wavegarden built a full-scale prototype of their wave generator, The Wavegarden Cove. Francis Menassa, CEO of JAR Capital, an investment firm, was among the first to try it out.

“Within an hour he was rising a 2-meter high wave,” Stoddart recalls. Menassa was sold and subsequently became one of The Wave’s first investors.

The Wave, Wavegarden, artificial wave

Rip Curl rider at Wavegarden 2.

Ripcurl, The Wave

For Menassa, though, that wave was metaphorically endless. Artificial surfing will only get more popular he says: “The increase in popularity is as much to do with the sport as to the economics; the leisure sector in general is experiencing unprecedented growth.”

Despite overall consumer confidence falling to an 18-month low, net spending in the U.K. leisure sector grew by two percentage points year-on-year in the final quarter of 2018, according to a Deloitte report published in February 2019.

“All the fundamentals are there,” says Menassa. “By using the right technology at a great location in a market that is set to grow year-on-year, the capacity for growth is huge.”

The Wave already has a London development in the pipeline, set to open in 2022. Wavegarden is also expanding: 13 lakes around the world are being built using its technology. Stoddart says he has spoken to over 50 developers who are looking to create artificial surfing lakes.

With all these developments it won’t be long before the elements come to the surfer rather than the other way round. This will suit all parties: Those without access to coastlines can have breaking waves on tap, while dyed-in-the-wool surfers can have their own breakers back.

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