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Wave Pools: Good or Bad for the Sport of Surfing?

surfparkmod11There is no other sport like Surfing. I will go to the grave defending the ever changing dynamic sport that is surfing and how it’s superior to all other sports. Now obviously that’s my opinion, but there is reason to back it up. Every surf session is different. In fact, every wave is different. You can never surf the same wave and never re-create the same session. There are elements that dictate how and when a wave breaks thousands of miles before they reach the shore. In all other board sports, including snowboarding, you can replicate a situation. The kickers stay in the same spot as the run before and they remain the same size, the rails and boxes and planters and stairs will all be there exactly as you left them the day before. Pretty much nothing remains the same in Surfing from session to session.

Here in lies the problem when it comes to commercially advancing the sport. There will be a lot of people reading this that will say, surfing needs to stay core and blah blah blah. The fact remains it is already a commercial giant in terms of selling clothes and overall lifestyle and no matter how big it gets, the core reason as to why surfing is so amazing will never change as long as there are oceans and waves. In a recent ESPN article, Kelly Slater listed somethings he would like to see changed as to the way the ASP runs and operates. I very much agree with the majority of his points and I would like to address a few and see what your thoughts are.

ASP taking more control: As it is currently, the ASP organizes the events but each sponsor is in charge of marketing their events and their athletes.  How much visibility an event gets is entirely out of the ASP’s hands and up to the brand controlling the contest. Kelly mentioned it should not be this way,

“The new governing body should own and run the events, own the media, do the marketing, bring in sponsors. Right now, the ASP doesn’t own any of those things, because it didn’t do the groundwork in the beginning. Sponsors own, run and market the events. That needs to change.”

As things stand, it would not be financially feasible for the ASP to do this because there is one huge piece of the pie missing, ticket sales. You gotta pay money to go see Tony Hawk bust out on a Half pipe, or Travis Pastrana pull a double backflip. The X-Games, the Dew Tour, and all those other similar events all charge for viewing pleasure. They also sell concessions and merchandise and yes all of this doesn’t go directly into the pocket of the event organizers, but enough of it does to make a huge difference in terms of visibility and marketing. You want to watch Chris Ward and Freddy Patacchia go head to head? You walk to the beach, there are no bleachers or box seats. The ASP doesn’t see a dime from fans in comparison to all
the other boardsports and major sporting events.

wave-pool-surfing1Enter the Wave Pool: The reason the ASP doesn’t charge is because the beach is free and I don’t think that should ever change. However, the possibility of adding a wave pool into the schedule of the ASP might be the solution to generating cash to start a marketing division that solely works on promoting events and athletes without corporate brand agendas. A wave pool would provide a setting that would make the sport of Surfing more exciting and real to the everyday person. Think how many people go to the X-Games or Dew Tour that don’t skate or ride MX? They go for the entertainment. Everyone thinks surfing is amazing, everyone wishes they could do it, and everyone enjoys watching people on waves, but not everyone can get to the beach. You bring a wave pool into the mix and all of the sudden you have a format with bleachers, and sky boxes, and concessions and an event that thousands of people can watch live and millions can watch on TV. The controlled wave environment would allow for superior TV viewing as you would not be subject to weather or swells. Now, don’t get me wrong, as I stated above there is nothing that can change the dynamics of surfing and that is why it’s such a powerful experience for those that participate in it. But would adding 3-4 wave pools into the circuit dilute that element? I would say the positive visibility that would come from it would out way the negatives.

You would have a more controlled wave environment that would allow riders to go bigger, ride more waves and truly compete on a skill level as opposed to a “time the sets, take advantage of wave priority” method. Veterans often have advantage in ASP as they now how to use the current format to their advantage. And I am not saying to take that away, but every other board sport has a course that doesn’t change that allows the competition to be based solely on who does better, cleaner more technical tricks with the same opportunity given. Could you imagine watching Bruce Irons, Jamie O’brien or Dane Reynolds in a wave pool with perfect vertical lips, they would be soaring 10 ft in front of you. Riders could take more risks and perform far more technical tricks and that makes for better and more exciting competition. Look back on when the rumors that Tony Hawk was going to pull the first competition 900 at the X-Games, or when Shaun White was going to do a 1260 on the Half Pipe. Or When Travis Pastrana was going to pull a double back flip. There is drama and marketability and something that interests the average non-enthusiast viewer. People that don’t own motorcycles were emailing their friends Travis’s double backflip the next morning at work. We don’t have that yet in competitive surfing.

“Among the biggest problems with televising surfing are that traditional surfing contests are too time-consuming, that waves are too unpredictable and that judging is too nuanced for the uninitiated. But recent innovations in the competition format and the development of wave pools that could serve as surfing arenas could help bring competitive surfing to a larger audience.”  NY Times

“We would be able to schedule a contest on Friday at 6 p.m., live on TV. Picture a wave going around in a circle indefinitely. There’s a bridge over the wave for viewing, a Plexiglas bottom so fans can watch guys surf above them, and a crow’s nest in the middle so people can watch the best guys in the world surf the wave all the way around them. Kids could stand on the edge of the pool and get sprayed by their favorite surfers.” Kelly Slater

Wave pool stops should also be in land locked states or big coastal spots with no waves, the ASP could have stops in Vegas, Utah, New York, Texas, Chicago. Once the technology and end product can produce a world class break, surfing will become one of the most widely adapted and participated sports in the world. If you could truly progress your surfing in a wave pool in Vegas and then go to the coast and shred, you will have kids entering the ‘CT from places you could never imagine. Flash backs of Rick Kane from North Shore come to mind. You will see people driving with boards strapped to their roof in land locked states. You will have pro shops and local contests selling out tickets, kids going to school with sponsorship deals. Surfing will reach mainstream media as a sport, which will mean better and bigger events both in and out of the beach, better purses and better paid athletes. The entire sport will change in terms of visibility and exposure.

Whether that is good or bad? Time will tell. For the sport itself I think it will be good, for the core surfers that don’t care about world titles or ‘CT standings it will be annoying as you might be getting dropped in on by a kid from Kentucky with a bad farmer tan.

Tags: ASP World Tour, Bruce Irons, Dane Reynolds, Fred Patacchia, Kelly Slater, Tony Hawk, X-Games

Posted by on Monday, June 1st, 2009 in Surfing.

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29 Responses to “Wave Pools: Good or Bad for the Sport of Surfing?”

  • Gibran Garcia Says:

    I think including a WCT stop at a wave pool would definitely make for an interesting (not to mention, marketable) event given the tricks guys such as Dane and Jordy are now pulling off in ever-changing conditions. Can you imagine what they would do with a “perfect” wave they could predict? Personally, I enjoy surfing for all the same reasons you mentioned in the beginning of your article and I don’t think wave pools have to take anything away from what the sport is, and always will be. I don’t know that I would ever travel to a wave pool to go surf, but I’d definitely watch a surf comp.

  • Shaun Says:

    The answer to this lies within the opening paragraph- “Every surf session is different. In fact, every wave is different. You can never surf the same wave and never re-create the same session”…..

    The variables of each session and each wave are a large part of what makes surfing so beautiful and so unique. This is also why ‘wave pool surfing’ shouldn’t even be considered in the same class as surfing. Would the further advancement and development of wave pools be enjoyable and entertaining? Of course; but in no way, shape, or form should wave pool surfing ever be compared to actual surfing. It would almost be like lumping snowler-blading in with skiing.

    As far as the “sport” of surfing goes…If the purpose of the ASP World Tour is to determine the best surfer in the world, adding a wave pool stop would ony further weaken it’s already diminishing credibility. The ASP needs a makeover in a bad way, however wave pools aren’t the answer. A wave pool surfing circuit would definitely be entertaining and likely much more comercially successful than the current format used for actual surfing, but to try to interwine the two would be a disgrace and a compromise to the many attributes that make surfing the greatest activity in the world.

  • Chris Says:


    Isn’t Competitive surfing way different from free surfing though? Isn’t it already not comparable? Just as you are saying wave pools wouldn’t be comparable to the ASP? The style, strategy and type of surfing you see in an ASP event is polar opposite to free surfing. That is why you don’t see guys like Bruce, Jamie etc.. sticking around that long. It is more about competing and being conservative for the sake of a score, rather then going big and utilizing the wave for which it was meant. I think a wave pool could make Surfing much more desirable to the Olympics too.

    Are you suggesting wave pool comps should be their own tour separate from the ASP? Like Dew Tour vs X Games? I could see that, however I could see treating them like Pipe or the Eddie and things like that to work as well. So you can get some different names into the mix. Also making wave pools part of the X Games and Dew tours.

  • drexnefex Says:

    i agree with your ideas on surfing being a superior activity. surfing’s fundamental variability make it incredibly difficult and thereby much more of a commitment than other activities where you can memorize a feature.

    even though wave pools are probably one of the best examples of un-sustainable recreation they probably are a legit surf contest format.

    it’s tough to make money of something with extreme variability. remove the variability, aka add wave pools, and poof! money.

    it’ll be fun to hear about the slap of reality wave pool surfers get in the future re: how it’s actually hard to surf in the ocean.

    i wish someone would build a wave pool in Seattle.

  • Shaun Says:

    @ Chris

    Competitive surfing is extremely different than free surfing, which is why I feel like major changes need to be made to the world tour. I just don’t think adding wave pool surfing into an equation that includes Pipe and Teahupo’o is the right way to go about it.

    I think a separate tour or specialty events would be entertaining as hell for wave pool surfing. It would be crazy to see what guys could do when given a consistent performance platform that eliminates many of the risks and necessary knowledge needed in actual surfing.

    Unless you can replicate things like currents, wind, shifting sandbars, reefs, double-ups, backwash, etc….Comparing real surfing with wave pool surfing is apples and oranges.

  • Kelley Says:

    We definately had a blast at Typhoon Lagoon this past weekend. We jones for waves here in Florida and it helps us get past the flat season.

  • fishmeal Says:

    Having a wave pool to surf in would be fantastic. I think it would be great for the sport where the spectators can get closer to the action.

    The very nature of water in it’s fluid state will create it’s own variables even in a so called controlled environment such as a wave pool. I don’t buy the argument that it will be bad for the sport or that it takes away from what is fundamental to surfing.

    If you’re purist skier then you’d probably be doing cross country or free styling at the super advanced to extreme level. However, most of just want to be towed to the top of a nicely groomed slope so we can slide down again and enjoy water in it’s frozen state.

    Wave pools will be fantastic for the surfing industry.

  • hoon Says:

    wave pools are great for the recreational sport of surfing, re: beginners, those looking to improve their skills, try new things, but bad for competition IMO. but hey if it makes my local breaks less crowded, i’m all for it.

  • Chris Says:

    Are wave pools any different than skate parks were when they were first made? A skate park is a replica of the street, no?

  • lawless Says:

    For the sport of surfing, it’s inconsequential. People don’t want to see credit card air reverses in a pool. They are gonna be fickle short waves. The photo of the Malaysia wave pool above, the guy is doing a tow-at with a jet ski, which just goes to prove the point. Even worse than a shitty wave pool contest would be a shitty wave pool contest that used jet-skis.

    For the business of surfing, they may actually make a few bucks and sell a few more t-shirts. Just what surfing needs…

    “A wave pool would provide a setting that would make the sport of Surfing more exciting and real to the everyday person.”
    - This is just the exact opposite of what makes surfing exciting. By it’s very nature surfing is not a spectator sport, the live web-casts are the best thing that have happened to competitive surfing in the last decade. They need to expand on that outlet if they want increased marketability and focus on getting world class waves to contest in and that would to more to pull people into it if that’s their goal. They’d reach a much wider audience for the merchandising that way with vastly much less effort and expense put into it.

  • scott Says:

    i just want to see a wave pool that makes a contestable wave and doesn’t go bankrupt after a few years :)

  • Ian Says:

    I so want a wave pool in my back yard, but i don’t know how much they cost ={ send me an email if u know thank u!

  • Ian Says:

    I LOVE SURFING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • fishmeal Says:

    Ian you encapsulated it perfectly “I LOVE SURFING!” – who cares how the wave is generated!
    What we should be looking at is developing the Paramatta river shore line and generating waves using a custom built jet-cat or something similar that can generate a decent size wave. It could make for a spectacular river bank spectator sport as well.

  • larry Says:

    Wave pool stops should also be in land locked states or big coastal spots with no waves, the ASP could have stops in Vegas, Utah, New York???

    Hey asshole, we get waves in NY and i rip harder than your kook ass. doucebag, your opinions suck, get off slaters dick.

  • PapaikouMillBum Says:

    Yeah guys. Wave pools in the middle of the mainland w/ guys rippin it up from where…. Arizona or Texas?

    Hey, I guess that’s possible nowdays. What about the basic fundamentals of surfing: paddling out, duck diving, fighting the current, positioning youself in the line up. Guess what, every one of us in Hawaii has to earn our way to get respect or even get waves in the line up. Put a guy in the wave pool, all they have to do is pay an entrance fee and get all the waves they want. I guess that’s how it goes. I hope I run into you wave pool surfers here and have to pull you guys out of the water and save your life, because you didn’t earn your way to be out there.

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s good for exposure and profitability for the sport and the sponsors that want to get their name into the mainstream level. What’s gonna happen to the line ups and beaches around the world when the sport gets more global attention? QUESTION? IS THIS GOOD FOR THE SPORT OF SURFING?

  • Lous Refrus Says:

    Surfing has been commercialized enough… This would just be the end of surfing as I have known it my whole life.
    I have to admit Surfing has become a semi-mainstream sport, and over the years it has mutated into an industry similar to skateboarding. But this is not what it was a few decades ago, and surfing is losing it’s essence. When I started surfing you had to learn about the ocean, tides, wind, reef/sandbars, and currents, before you could even paddle out. Once you learned those basics then you could start to learn how to, paddle, stand-up, and eventually ride a wave. There was a code of respect in the line-up and a respect you had to have for the ocean, and if you didn’t have this respect you wouldn’t be allowed to surf. In learning how to surf, you would gain a certain respect for people and nature, and this new found respect would carry on into your life and values.
    People who learn how to surf now days don’t learn how to “surf”, and surfing to them isn’t a lifestyle. It’s a… i want to do something cool… something fun to do one summer… I want to dress like that guy/girl cause he’s a cool surfer. These are all fine reasons to want to learn to surf, but thats the problem no one learns how to “surf”. They just buy a board and paddle out to the line-up and do whatever. They don’t learn the “respect”, and that “respect” is what seems to be disappearing with the commercialization of Surfing.
    Having a Wave Pool event would be great for the commercialization and growth of surfing, but Surfing isn’t just about money and who’s the best surfer on any given day. Surfing is still a lifestyle for some of us.

  • martin Says:

    If you want to experience real waves from nature then don’t go to the pool. It’s that simple. If you could make millions and surf the pool’s perfect wave whenever you want as an owner, wouldn’t you? Bunch of no brainer questions. Are surfers really that stupid? I hope I’m not.

  • J.R. Says:

    waves pools are a must! it’s going to be so good for the sport, for every day people to check it out. Put one in Colorado and wacth the turn out u have (insane).

  • J.R. Says:

    For all u rippers who say surfing has been to commercialized, and how can we have a pool tour stop compete with pipe or places like Thaiti or even mudka. Those places don’t always fire for every contest did u see Thaiti this year. My question to u guys is how does having a sport that is commercialized even compare to riding 4 to 6 foot glass with two or three of your buddies when your on the wave its just you and your board and the wave that will never change..

  • J.R. Says:

    papaikoumillbum were do u surf? your a big man! just cause people might need to have another outlet than skating and snowboarding and were able to build a wave pool don,t worry these pool surfers as u called them won’t get in your way have u even save a man thats just a pool surfer rick cane.

  • J.R. Says:

    Ok I agree how is a pool surfer going to know the ocean like a sufer who studys the winds, tides, reefs/sandbars and riptides aka current. Well I think I said IIIIIIII think sufers who maybe learn in a wave pool won’t venture to fare from that pool it’s kinda like when your growing up and as a grom u surf the same place day in day out. Adding a stop on tour doesn’t mean were going to have hunders of thousands of pool surfers.It means were going to have the danes and jordys pulling 580 airs instead of three sixty airs. thats what it means for the sport.

  • nunya Says:

    Does anyone realize the toll that water parks and wave pools take on the environment? A wave pool in the middle of Arizona? Where do you think that water is coming from? Most surfer’s I know are environmentally conscious, it’s part of the culture to be aware, so why not be aware of the harmful things that would be done with wave pools…

  • fishmeal Says:

    Brilliant – bring it on!

  • J.R. Says:

    Yea give me facts of what harm would be done and when your done go live in a bubble.

  • J.R. Says:

    fishmeal and nunya what about all the garbage dumps all over our nation that brun trash letting gase into the atmisphere or what about all the factorys that put junk in our environment that we dont know about example clark foam who new for years he was getting fined but never taken down and then final taken out. if wave pools are so bad than how come all the water parks are able to have them. I want facts I how it would hurt the environment. you people are a little to crazy about this stuff I’m a sufer for many years and I’m all for protecting our oceans and whales and dolphines.

  • J.R. Says:

    you be aware I wonder how much lights u leave on when u leave the house or how many bottles u truly recycle or how many times u flush when u go to the bath room or how long u water your lawn I could go on you people getting me going.

  • J.R. Says:

    the water is already in the park so why not use it on a wave pool or maybe you should tell the state not to iussie no more permits for people building pools in there back yard

  • J.R. Says:

    wave pools GOOD GOOD FOR THE SPORT …

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