Surf Lakes are coming
Overnight the latest entrant in the wavepool industry dived into the deep end. In front of a room full of media and potential investors at Manly’s Novotel Hotel, Surf Lakes unveiled their version of artificial perfection.
To date the nascent wavepool industry has been dominated by the Kelly Slater Wave Company (KSWC) and Wavegarden, who both have operating pools, and to a lesser extent Webber Wave Pools, who had the early vision but are yet to scale a wave up to full size. For the last 18 months Surf Lakes have quietly been testing a 1:5 scale model in a dam near Melbourne and have now begun working on a full size pool somewhere on the central coast of Queensland.
The original idea was formulated by Aaron Trevis, a mining engineer and frustrated surfer, who then teamed up with Axstra Capital to raise the necessary funds and provide corporate strategy. The Axstra team apparently assessed all available wavepool tech before settling on Aaron’s superior technology. Though we were also told they approached Wavegarden and were too late, the Australian license had already been sold to URBN SURF.
That nugget of information hints at what’s happening behind the scenes in the wavepool race: corporate entities are sniffing the breeze. Wavepools may be commercially unproven but Big Money is already making a play.
Thus the crowd got two spiels last night. The first delivered by Aaron Trevis who explained why he created Surf Lakes and it appealed to every surfer who’s looked at a perfect foot-high wave on a lake and wondered. And the second part was delivered by Reuben Buchanan from Axstra who made the economic case for Surf Lakes citing the increasing popularity of surfing, natural hurdles such as flat spells and sharks, and also the growth of theme parks. A significant part of the business case involved Surf Lakes being used as a loss-leader attraction at theme parks.
To shore up the argument the organisers ran short videos of prototype waves they’d made - a slabby right (“we want to make a wave that’ll break your board in half”) and a longer, softer left. Both were unquestionably good waves, yet Wavegarden’s test pool in San Seabastian also created ‘good’ waves which failed to scale up. Witness Snowdonia in Wales and NLand in Texas.
The pool itself is roughly rectangular and, unlike KSWC and Wavegarden, the wave propagates from a central spot and fans outwards. The circular swell line then hits various reefs creating the waves. There are eight waves around the lake, four lefts and four rights, including one section called ‘Occy’s Peak’ - Mark Occhilupo is the public face of Surf Lakes - assuring it of unfavourable comparisons to Nihiwatu.
The configuration means at least half the waves are always offshore and it also allows the organisers to significantly ramp up the wave supply. The figure that got quoted was 2,400 waves an hour breaking on the eight reefs, arriving in sets separated by 45 seconds.
For the economists that’s heady stuff, especially compared to KSWC and Wavegarden, which are eight waves per hour and 1,000 respectively. Yet the Surf Lakes guys not only have the power of conviction, they’re also breaking dirt as we speak. The full size pool in Queensland will be operational by the end of the year. They then have use of the land for two years, which, if it’s a success, they can then open to customers and run it as a business, or alternatively keep it as a test park or display model for the inevitable roll out.
This was the long game that kept getting mentioned last night. The untapped market of China that would flock to wavepools, the development of a new surf culture, the “99.5% of the world’s population who haven’t surfed but would like to”. All questions that warrant a long, ponderous squat. And thank heavens someone in the audience addressed the consequences of a vastly increased surfing population.
“This represents a cultural shift,” said Wayne Dart, ex-Tracks editor and Axstra’s Corporate Advisor, in reply. “We’ve all just been introduced to [wavepool] technology in the last few years. We’re trying to make sense of it...but the fact is the world is changing.”
Dart attempted to take the moral component out of the debate and inject it with pragmatism. For years now critics have opposed wavepools on philosophical, environmental, economic, even cultural grounds, yet there’s an inevitability about them. Wavepools are coming whether you like it or not.
But will they remain after the novelty has passed? If you think so then Surf Lakes are seeking investors prepared to stump up $20,000 minimum.