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Image 1 for Wave pools will revolutionise surfing - but not everyone's on board

Harley Ingleby at Urbnsurf. Harley’s one of few surfers to have ridden Slater’s ranch and Urbnsurf and he brings us some insights from both in the current issue (101) of PLB. Pic: Urbnsurf/Nic Stephens

Image 2 for Wave pools will revolutionise surfing - but not everyone's on board

Victorian log supremo Ben Considine at Urbnsurf. Ben also has a few in the current issue of PLB. Pic: Urbnsurf/Adam Gibson

Wave pools will revolutionise surfing - but not everyone's on board

16 February 20

Check out this take by Tim Elliot for the Sydney Morning Herald, which covers the whole chlorine caboodle pretty much:

The arrival of the perfect wave – in an artificial lagoon, for a fee – has the potential to revolutionise the sport. But it’s also the antithesis of what surfing has, for many, always been about.

Artificial waves are nothing new. Mad King Ludwig II of Bavaria had a wave machine built in the 1870s on a lake at his palace in Linderhof, Germany. The first wave pool made specifically for surfing opened in 1969, in Arizona, but the waves were weak and crumbly. For a long time, wave pools remained a novelty: in 1985, a pro surfing event was held at the Allentown wave pool, in Pennsylvania, in waves that Surfer magazine would later describeas "fabulously bad". The problem involved both economics and physics: it’s easy to make fake snow or to mould an indoor climbing centre, but getting water to behave the way you want is by an order of magnitude more difficult.

If you’ve flown into Melbourne recently, you may have noticed, more or less directly below you, a large blue expanse of water, roughly the size of the oval at the MCG. On that expanse of water, you may also have noticed waves, line upon line of them, sweeping down the pool. And if you looked really closely, squinting out of the plane window while shading your eyes with your hand, you might have spotted someone in that pool, surfing one of those waves, yelling and hooting and carrying on like a kid after too many Fantas. That was me. I was researching this story. It was possibly the most fun day’s work I’ve ever done.

The wave pool, called Urbnsurf, is situated in Tullamarine, about five minutes’ drive from the airport, amid freight-forwarding companies, auto salvage yards and long-term parking lots. Shaped like a giant baseball diamond, it is 220 metres long and contains 25 million litres of fresh water, enough to fill about 16 Olympic pools. It is enormous – and enormously incongruent, a patch of ersatz ocean in a light-industrial wasteland. When I first saw it, one morning last November – all that sparkling, sequined water, with three-foot waves peeling down the middle – it seemed suffused with the illogic of a dream. Which, for surfers at least, it is. 

"I’ve caught more than 1000 waves here since the lagoon got up and running," said founder Andrew Ross as we paddled out. "Sometimes, you surf so much and get so many waves that you feel punch-drunk."

Urbnsurf, which opened to the public in January, is the first of its kind in Australia – a fully functioning surf park that produces beautifully shaped rideable waves, all day long. (And until 10pm in summer, thanks to lighting towers.) The waves vary in size from knee-high to well overhead, and come in 18 different settings, every aspect of which – size, shape, power and frequency – can be adjusted at the push of a button, to suit surfers of all abilities. Right-handers break on one side of the pool and left-handers on the other, with the two sides separated by a long pier.

Wave pools have long had a reputation for producing weak, dribbly waves, but those at Urbnsurf are surprisingly powerful. The most challenging wave, which Ross calls The Beast, is a steep, super-hollow barrel that breaks hard and fast over a smooth concrete bottom. For the first 40 minutes, The Beast gave me one hiding after another, including bouncing me off the bottom, before I even began to understand how best to approach it.

In the early 2000s, Ross worked as an investment banker in London, before managing several oil and gas exploration companies, including Cape Energy, which he set up when he was 33. By 2012, he was 40 years old with two young children, living in Perth, and was travelling 16 weeks of the year. "I decided to take a year off, and recalibrate." One day he read an article about how Kelly Slater was in a patent dispute with Australian surfboard maker Greg Webber, over competing designs for a circular wave pool. (Both systems involved a doughnut-shaped lagoon encircling an island, with a wave breaking around it in an endless loop.)

With his interest piqued, Ross called Slater’s people in the US, and spoke to Webber in Australia. He also contacted Wavegarden, a wave pool outfit based in Spain, which produces waves by firing modular sequences of pistons which displace tonnes of water. In late 2012, he travelled to Wavegarden’s R&D facility in San Sebastian, in the Basque country, and surfed its prototype. "I remember taking off on this wave and being blown away by the shape and speed and power of it." 





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