Wavegarden stake their claim: World's first surfer-centric wavepool built

Stu Nettle
Surfpolitik

It's been nigh on thirty years since the World Inland Championships, the first and only ASP wavepool competition, was held in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The waves for the event were a dismal two feet at three seconds, best compared to a relentless barrage of boat wakes in a choppy chlorinated pool.

Although they could technically be surfed (Tom Carroll won the competition) the Allentown experience made it abundantly clear that there was much work to be done in the field of artificial waves. Few however, would have thought it'd take the best part of three decades before a legitimate wavepool would be built. In the interim there's been no shortage of ideas, curiosity and commercial desire, but the progress has been inexorably slow and the results wholly frustrating.

During the last few years the race to build the first surfer-centric wavepool has been between Webber Wave Pools and the Kelly Slater Wave Company. Each company had been working with the concept of a 'continuous' wave breaking around a circular pool.

At the same time an engineering company from Spain's Basque Country led by Jose Odriozola had also been working on wavepool technology but coming at it from a different angle. Rather than a circular continuous wave the Wavegarden is a linear wave that breaks down both sides of a lagoon that's roughly rectangular in shape.

The reason I use present tense when describing the Wavegarden is because Odriozola and his group already have their full-scale lagoon in the ground. Unveiled to the public today it is the first wavepool that, if I were looking for a distinguishing criteria, I'd expect surfers would pay money to ride.

The complex is on a property near San Sebastian and provides simultaneous waves (approximately 3 feet, 1.2 metres, or chest high depending on your metric) that peel down either side of the lagoon offering rides approximately 18-seconds long in an area of the lagoon known as 'the Peak'. The waves are created by a device that runs at floor level down the centre of the lagoon displacing water that then creates the wave. When the device reaches the end of a pass, it decelerates and stops after which the wave subsequently begins to decrease in size. The wave then dissipates at the end of the lagoon in an area known as 'the Bay'. The device then rotates 180 degrees and proceeds back up the lagoon creating two more waves in a reverse, yet similar manner which ultimately dissipate into the Bay at the far end of the lagoon.

The San Sebastian complex is a full-scale demonstration facility and will be used for testing and research as Wavegarden begins its international roll out.

Andrew Ross is the founder and CEO of the Wave Park Group, the Wavegarden exclusive partner in Australia. He has ridden the San Sebastian wave several times, "I'm not a great surfer, but was getting up to 10 snaps in per wave." He now plans to bring the technology to Australia.

During a recent conversation Ross told me that talks have already begun with interested parties, "We've had discussions with local governments, state governments and freehold land owners." And those talks have taken place on either side of the continent, "Interest has come from parties in Perth and the Gold Coast." He's even had preliminary talks with Surfing Australia.

Rather than constructing fixed shape pools, Wavegarden can customise the lagoon to fit variable sizes and shapes. "The technology is very adaptable in that it can accommodate a range of site specifications," Ross says.

Does that mean the wave can be larger than that in the video? "Yes, we can go larger, however there's an exponential relationship between power and wave size and at greater than two metres we would need to have a look at the viability of the installation from a business perspective."

So what size will the Wavegarden be in Australia? "We expect to deliver two metre high waves," Ross freely tells me. He is, however, a bit more coy when I ask how much we'd expect to pay. "No, that's one of the things we have not finalised at this stage."

Unfurling the parts of his business plan he can share, Ross tells me there are four key markets Wavegarden plan to service. The first is the residents of the surrounding area seeking recreation and fitness ("a gym for surfers"), the second is the education and training market, from absolute beginners through to elite juniors, the third is the visitor market for travellers seeking a surf experience, and the fourth is competitions and events - everything from international top tier events to local surf leagues ("something akin to indoor cricket competitions"), and corporate hospitality.

As we spoke about competitions in a Wavegarden Ross mentioned the recent upgrade of the Margaret River Masters to WCT status: "It's possible that we could have a complementary event in Perth before or after the Masters event." He later broached the idea of even holding a World Championship Tour in Wavegardens situated around the world.

Clearly Andrew Ross and his partners in Wavegarden have got their eye on the long game envisioning opportunities for Wavegarden far into the future. Surfers however, are a bit more impatient - after all its been 28 years since Allentown stirred the imagination. The latest video from Wavegarden shows waves far beyond what Tom Carroll surfed 28 years ago, but just how much longer will we have to wait? "There's a twelve month build time from development sign off to completion." Ross says.

Now, just got to get the first one signed off.

Postscript: Upon hearing news of Wavegarden's development Greg Webber was unbowed and brimming with confidence: "I can explicitly state that our wave will be better. In surfboard terms it'll be like comparing a vee bottom to a concave," Webber says cheekily. "Congratulations to them for getting one in the ground first though." Webber has made a few key changes to his technology and despite earlier claims, he now expects his first one will be built in 18 months. Webber Wave Pools is also in discussion with partners to develop his business model. It may have taken a while to get up to speed, but the wavepool race is now well and truly on.

Comments

northeasterly's picture
northeasterly's picture
northeasterly commented Monday, 10 Jun 2013 at 9:18pm

No lay days at the wave garden.

mundies's picture
mundies's picture
mundies commented Monday, 10 Jun 2013 at 10:03pm

It'd have to be a very shit October / November that I'd drop money to surf that small little groveller wave. Presumably with a line up to ride it ala Dreamworld. At 2 metres with a barrel I'd contemplate it, but still within the novelty category in my opinion.

mundies

pilgrimfox's picture
pilgrimfox's picture
pilgrimfox commented Monday, 10 Jun 2013 at 11:05pm

I admit that my mediocre wave riding skills would be greatly improved by some consistent waves but how much would I have to pay them to empty the park at sunset, turn off the waves for twenty minutes and let me sit in the pool watching the sun go down before they fire it back up and I can catch one last wave in to shore in the dark? I think my average surf now would be about three hours including the anticipatory drive to the beach, the wetsuit changing ritual, the paddle out, the bird watching, the duck diving, the sitting and watching the clouds, the chat with the strangers in the line up, the adrenalin of being caught by the bomb set and the many other details that make it an experience. The actual wave riding experience is such a small part of it. I'm sure they will get a customer base, but I will still be choosing to sit in the dark and wait for one more in to the beach.

perthsurf's picture
perthsurf's picture
perthsurf commented Monday, 10 Jun 2013 at 11:10pm

Looks sick, I'd pay for those waves. Bring it to Perth ASAP!

aeromonas's picture
aeromonas's picture
aeromonas commented Tuesday, 11 Jun 2013 at 2:37am

I've known about WG for 2 years. Some mates and I were trying to dope out whether it'd be a viable business here in Victoria. I even emailed the developers in Spain to find out how big a wave they can make. (They claim to be able to go as big as you like, tho running costs start to blow out at some point.) The thing we couldn't--and still can't--get out heads around is how you get enough people through to make it pay. Suppose you generate a wave every 30 seconds. With a surfer on both the left and the right, that's 240 rides per hour. But no way am I paying $$$ for 1 or 2 rides an hour. I'd want 20, minimum. I mean, the whole advantage of an artificial wave is that you can just get stuck into it and gorge yourself. But if everybody's in there claiming 20 waves/hour, that leaves room for just 12 surfers an hour. How much are you going to charge them? $100 for a one-hour session? Nobody's going to pay that much. Maybe once, just to try it out, but you won't get any repeat customers. And how are you going to keep the numbers small enough that people don't feel like they're getting gypped? What if 50 surfers show up? Are you going to turn people away? Charge everyone $2 per wave? I just don't see how its viable as a commercial recreational facility open to the general public. It's an $8 million capital investment plus staff, energy costs, insurance, etc. To get a better return than a nice, safe term deposit, you'd need to gross well over $1 million a year, probably more like $2 million, and maybe you could do that renting the place out for events or as a training facility for pro surfer development, but I reckon if you rely on the retail market, you're going to lose your money.

shoredump's picture
shoredump's picture
shoredump commented Tuesday, 11 Jun 2013 at 8:16am

Fun, but lame. The one in Japan was better. It needs to be bigger. Taj, Dane & Pupo make it look much better than u or I would.

roubydouby's picture
roubydouby's picture
roubydouby commented Tuesday, 11 Jun 2013 at 9:13am

@aeromonas - don't forget the mass of beginners in the lagoon part of the wave - there's a nice little cash pool there.

Results may vary.

the_b's picture
the_b's picture
the_b commented Tuesday, 11 Jun 2013 at 9:54am

Interesting likening it to a gym in the article... would you run it like a gym, at least the workout sessions, where you book yourself in for a session? that way you get you set number of waves (assuming it's a decent number) per session, no huge queue to stand in, with the wave size tailored for each session. I'd like the idea of being able to work on your technique in a more predictable environment (like training at a gym), which you could then apply out in the surf. Have these as morning or after work sessions weekdays.

Then you could have your free-for-all session for the masses on the weekends.

the-roller's picture
the-roller's picture
the-roller commented Tuesday, 11 Jun 2013 at 11:45am

Righteous example of another mod con inventor leading the way with their invention that increases productivity.

Tons of hard work. And capital. Should pay off for everyone!

donweather's picture
donweather's picture
donweather commented Tuesday, 11 Jun 2013 at 12:42pm

Based on their press release, and noting that they're proposing to generate a 2m wave as opposed to the trial 1m wave, by my very rough calculations, it looks like costs would be of the order of $3-$4 per wave to cover their power supply, establishment, staffing and maintenance costs.

So would you pay $30-$40 for 10 waves?

top-to-bottom-bells's picture
top-to-bottom-bells's picture
top-to-bottom-bells commented Tuesday, 11 Jun 2013 at 12:48pm

Don,
My back of the napkin calculations come out twice as much as that. Around $8 per wave. Even at $3 I'd have to give it a lot of thought whether its worth it.

blindboy's picture
blindboy's picture
blindboy commented Tuesday, 11 Jun 2013 at 12:49pm

I would guess that is a very optimistic figure. Also, if you live in an area where land values are a significant factor then you will either be driving a long way or paying a lot more.

top-to-bottom-bells's picture
top-to-bottom-bells's picture
top-to-bottom-bells commented Tuesday, 11 Jun 2013 at 1:17pm

I wonder how much it'll cost if it's a council facility? Surely thatll change the ROI as there'd be no outlay on land.

blindboy's picture
blindboy's picture
blindboy commented Tuesday, 11 Jun 2013 at 1:57pm

Good luck with that ttbb. I think you will need it.

aeromonas's picture
aeromonas's picture
aeromonas commented Tuesday, 11 Jun 2013 at 2:13pm

@top-to-bottom-bells, Land would be the least of the capital costs. When I and my friends were knocking it around (never very seriously), we were thinking you'd stick a Victorian facility along the Princes Hwy between Melbourne and Geelong, close enough to the latter that core surfers on the Surf Coast would think it within reach and Melbourne surfers, already used to a 1.5 hour hike to Bells or 13th, would be happy for a wave 30-40min closer to home. Land between Lara and Corio is cheap as chips. The Wavegarden folks say 4-6 million Euro, with most of the variance due to land cost and the size of the facility. I reckon you'd want to highball that.

But this brings up another likely difficulty: Who's your audience? Beginners? Not with a 2m wave. Expert surfers? I doubt it. Even here in cold, sad Vicco we get 30-40 days a year with swell of a size and quality that Wavegarden could never hope to match. Serious surfers have already arranged their lives so that they're on hand for most of those solid days, and I can't imagine that they'll pay anything just for the chance to do a few turns on a fat, lazy head-high wave. That leaves people like me, intermediate surfers keen to improve their skills. And I imagine that for the first few sessions WG would help a LOT. But how would it be after you'd riden the same wave 100 times? For sure, my turns could use work, but to me the hardest aspects of surfing are wave choice, positioning and timing of my take-off, reading the wave once I'm up and riding and simply getting out to the lineup on bigger days, none of which Wavegarden will help with at all.

donweather's picture
donweather's picture
donweather commented Tuesday, 11 Jun 2013 at 2:44pm

Wavegarden press release:

http://s114.photobucket.com/user/stunet/media/pr_zps812cc3aa.jpg.html

Quotes 120 waves per hour (it’s not clear if this is 60 waves *2 for each side or 120 actual waves running down the pond) with 350kW of power used per hour. At the current domestic tariff of $0.26 per kWh inc GST, that equates to $91/hr to run, or let’s just round it up to $1 per wave.

In all honesty, they’d get a better electricity tariff rate than domestic users, but probably still need to cover their costs of building the park and staffing/maintenance etc, so I reckon $1 per wave wouldn’t be too far off the mark…..maybe $1.50 per wave tops? Although I note that they are planning on using a much larger wave (twice as big, which would probably require 4 times the amount of energy) so that would equate to almost $4 per wave!!!!

So for 10 waves (or 5 min of surfing) that’s $40.

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Tuesday, 11 Jun 2013 at 2:46pm

And if you blow your first turn, back of the line son!

blindboy's picture
blindboy's picture
blindboy commented Tuesday, 11 Jun 2013 at 2:55pm

Some of the accounting here would make Billabong blush!

nebasha's picture
nebasha's picture
nebasha commented Tuesday, 11 Jun 2013 at 3:05pm

I think the target audience for this wave drool is not surfers but tourists and kooks. Taking pics at Bells, buying the Rip Curl gear at Surf Shitty in Torquool, and with a wave pool in Lara/Corio they can now "surf" in a safe environment without noahs or annoying locals: all part of the great Aussie surfing experience. (Maybe workout a deal with some local tanning salons as Victorian weather might scare the tourists.)

My dear friend aeromonas: Please make the investment and build the damn thing already and release us the kooks. This is your chance to become the ultimate surfing messiah (well almost, because that has position has already been taken by Jeff Schmucker).

aeromonas's picture
aeromonas's picture
aeromonas commented Tuesday, 11 Jun 2013 at 3:51pm

nebasha, You wouldn't by chance have anything to do with a certain Barwon Heads surf shop, would you? Your rhetoric has a familiar ring to it... ;)

nebasha's picture
nebasha's picture
nebasha commented Tuesday, 11 Jun 2013 at 4:24pm

@ aeromonas: I feel honored, but I'm afraid I have to disappoint you. The great Barwon oracle definitely influences me as I guess he's an inspiration to so many surfers here at the greatest coast of Australia.

Back on topic: maybe have a look at the bigger picture. Not just the wave pool it self is a business model, but everything you can do around it. Think accommodation, lessons, hire, apparel (maybe some of the bigger brands would be interested in backing you up financially), yoga classes, wellness. Work with local companies already operating in the area and present it to them as an extension of their business. Spreading the costs and the risks will create opportunities. You'll have to spread the revenue as well, but nothing wrong with sharing the joy of making money from tourists.
Most importantly find a way/company to transport all these bags of money... eermmm tourist ... from and once done spending back to Smellbourne.

Guess Maurice Cole will be happy one the buses no longer rock up at Bells. (http://savebellsbeach.com/)

patty's picture
patty's picture
patty commented Tuesday, 11 Jun 2013 at 4:42pm

Here's a business plan: Popcorn 100 bucks a bucket.

wellymon's picture
wellymon's picture
wellymon commented Tuesday, 11 Jun 2013 at 6:39pm

Your all a bunch of tight arse surfing dole buldgers,

You've got 2 options.

No 1 you buy 4 tallies and a pack of durries for $40.

No2 you spend $40 on 10 ten primo waves with no one else on them on.

My option would be No 3, to buy the 4 tallies and a pack of durries take them to the wave park, shout my mate as well and have fun.

For real.

Our brains are too small at the moment to comprehend the reality of what's happening in our forests . We're only just waking up so to speak . The big problem is we think we know everything, we are specks of dust on a timeline and we know nothing .

inzider's picture
inzider's picture
inzider commented Tuesday, 11 Jun 2013 at 7:50pm

Wave garden, = gayer then aids, surfing has enuf kooks already littering lineups everywhere, Wave gayden I say, piss off and take up wake boarding or something equally as that lamo look at me wank stain activity, And WELLYMON (above) go blow a goat you chump, most of my mates that surf are all on over 100k a year and shred hard core, and know how to behave in a lineup.

teedee's picture
teedee's picture
teedee commented Tuesday, 11 Jun 2013 at 8:11pm

New here and felt compelled to join the convo,

A few comments thus far, some positive and others not so, on the quality of the wave. Having watched the progression of wave garden on these pages, gee you'd have to admit it has certainly improved in quality. Still seems short of the power that only a groundswell can deliver, but the paucity of viable wave pools the world over is firm indication of how hard this really is in practice, from all angles (engineering through to the front office finances). That Japanese wave pool sure looked fun (but closed...why?) and the Middle East option on layover one reason to stay a few days on layover (but they have oceans of folding to support marginal or loss making operations don't they)

Only makes you appreciate what Mother Nature and Huey do for us all from time to time

Stay cool men

wellymon's picture
wellymon's picture
wellymon commented Tuesday, 11 Jun 2013 at 8:36pm

@ inzider, funny as, you took the bait there pretty good.

Ive blown away heaps of goats hunting, but they're pretty boring, more adrenalin sticking a big pig with your dogs.

The wave pool thinga ma giggey looks pretty soft, as being a chump from all the pigs Ive eaten, I would sink first turn and have to go to the back of the lineup have another tallie and a quick durrie.

Hope you behave in the lineup.

Our brains are too small at the moment to comprehend the reality of what's happening in our forests . We're only just waking up so to speak . The big problem is we think we know everything, we are specks of dust on a timeline and we know nothing .

inzider's picture
inzider's picture
inzider commented Tuesday, 11 Jun 2013 at 8:47pm

I like it wellymon , chatroom fishing, you have effective lures, I generally behave in lineups unless im surfing winki then I push my "i'm a cunt" button so I can blend in. I will not be accomodating when surfing my local to fucktards who paddle up the inside. burn baby burn, posted a reply to your queenstown piece also,who knows good chance I canned past ya on the hill and left ya with a gob full of frozen. when were you there, me and me mates lived bush out beacon point pines( now million dollar mansions) 94 95 and 93 up skyline in a cave, the good old days. Those memories go straight o the pool room of my head

the-roller's picture
the-roller's picture
the-roller commented Wednesday, 12 Jun 2013 at 3:13am

@wellymon, classic comments, bru..... and yea, sure will miss days like this when wavepools make it all orderly.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cstj7y5i-dg

lazzy-100's picture
lazzy-100's picture
lazzy-100 commented Friday, 14 Jun 2013 at 12:06am

cant see how this is better than the standing water jet style of fake or artificial wave.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3kR1tSVyJ4 the wave garden wave is mediocre compared to most designs its as if this site gets rewarded to spook it.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Monday, 22 Jul 2013 at 1:53pm

Brian Keaulana has secured the rights to the US license of Wavegarden and has plans for lagoons in Hawaii and Southern California.

It's an odd arrangement; Keaulana is one of the world's premier heavy water lifeguards and he's the son of Buffalo Keaulana, original Makaha beach boy.

http://www.eturbonews.com/36207/hawaii-spanish-inventor-will-bring-revol...

non-local's picture
non-local's picture
non-local commented Saturday, 27 Jul 2013 at 8:20pm

inzider I only paddle up the inside of you at the pop beacuse you are a shoulder hopper!

one good turn deserves another