Will We Ever See A Wave Pool On The World Tour Circuit?

Photo: Andrew Potts

Photo: Andrew Potts

Two years ago on an otherwise quiet December day, a clip titled “Kelly’s Wave” dropped and blew the collective minds of wave-riders around the globe. In the surfing equivalent of the jet engine superseding the humble prop, The Kelly Slater Wave Co threw down the gauntlet for artificial waves: perfect, high-performance peelers that had the surf community salivating like a pack of rabid dogs.

Fast-forward to 2017. We watched the Future Classic comp with jaws agape, witnessed the WSL’s acquisition of the Surf Ranch and now, the World Surf League has released its 2018 event schedule with one very special addition (can you guess where?). It’s plain to see our stand-up brethren are adopting the artificial wave for future competitions. Will bodyboarding, too, soon see a world tour stop at a wave pool?

"I hope within the next 12 months, we’ll see a trial event at Kelly’s wave pool... but I’m also in discussions with creators of other wave pools, which are more suited to bodyboarding" - Alex Leon, APB Director

Short answer, maybe, and for good reason. Take judging: at times, the current process can seem a little subjective. The “best” is determined by a panel, yet both judge and competitor fall victim to an almost infinite set of variables – a lull in waves, a change in tides, a shark. It’s the nature of the beast. “That’s why experienced judges need to study forecasts to foresee future rounds” said APB CEO, Alex Leon. “Being as consistent as possible is key.” High performance wave pools like Kelly’s eliminate many, if not all of, the swinging sackful of variables that can sometimes hinder objective judging. In a 2016 interview, Slater agreed. “Just to be able to compare actual skills on a wave, it would be much easier to do if you had a good, repeatable quality wave.”

That said, it’ll never completely replace ocean events, according to Hadden. “There’s a place for events in wave pools, but never at the expense of ocean events. Kelly’s wave isn’t particularly suitable for performance bodyboarding.” For Leon, it’s missing that taste of the unknown. “The nature of surfing is to ride waves that are unpredictable, so it will become boring for viewers. They’ll need to create various waves; otherwise, it will be become more about judging style rather than things like skill and reading the waves.”

Riders sentiments are varied. Jeff Hubbard is a man who’s surfed many-a wave pool in his time. Unsurprisingly, His two cents for Kelly’s wave is a resounding ‘two thumbs up’. “I have to say it looks awesome and the best one yet,” he said. “With an almost identical wave for each rider, it’s totally fair.”

“There’s definitely potential for pocket riding, and possibly limited airs,” said young shredder, Tanner McDaniel. “But for the most part, it looks like it would be pretty grovel-y on a bodyboard.” A tad sceptical, but McDaniel is by no means dismissive. “Kelly’s wave seems like the real deal. This kind of tech is something that is going help take wave-riding to another level.”

Ryan Hardy, who dominated at world tour stops like El Fronton and Nazare this year, is frothing at the prospect of some artificial action in competition. “It definitely looks functional for a bodyboarding comp. It would be amazing seeing a host of different riders in this wave.”

It may be sooner than we think, according to Leon. “I hope within the next 12 months, we’ll see a trial event at Kelly’s wave pool,” he said. “But I’m also in discussions with creators of other wave pools, which are more suited to bodyboarding.”

This might actually happen, so let’s get to the elephant in the room: do we actually want a world tour stop in a wave pool? If it’s Kelly’s, probably not. But if this is version 1.0, perhaps a later update could dish something more enticing for bodyboarders. Until then, satisfy your curiosity with a clip of our mate Andy ripping up Kelly's wave pool.