Timmy Hamilton Explains What It's Like Bodyboarding The Texan Wave Pool
It's been no more than a few months since the world was graced with the BSR Surf Resort – Waco, Texas' very own real-deal contender to the Kelly Slater Wave Ranch (and, with its ability to churn out tearable sections and wedging ramps by the bucketload, a much more credible option for bodyboarders). Since then, we've already witnessed countless clips of surfers tearing the pool to shreds, no semblance of a rideable wall or droplet of chlorinated water gone unpunished by sponsor-emblazoned shortboard. Satisfying to watch? Sure. But where are all the bodyboarders? When is a clip of Mike or Pierre or hell, even Flume, going to magically appear online to the delight of prone riders the world over. Would we need to fly to Fort Worth, pick up a roomy yet moderately priced sedan rental, fang it to the BSR Cable Park and fork out the $90USD for one hour on the pool's expert setting and duke it out with a bunch of landlocked Texan surfers for a taste of the wave ourselves? Without visual proof of a bodyboarder at BSR, it was an itch we just couldn't scratch.
Until now, thanks to our sport's most lovable fellow, Timmy Hamilton.
The man scored a coveted invite to the BSR Wave Park recently, alongside his sister and equally lovable standup surfer, Bethany Hamilton. Immediately upon ending the above video, we contacted Hamilton to get his thoughts on the wave pool while the feeling was still fresh – a rare insight into this strange new realm of surfing from the eyes of a prone rider, to find out if it lives up to the hype, and whether it's actually any good for bodyboarding at all.
So Timmy, what was the Texan wave pool like on a bodyboard?
The take-off is pretty strange, but not difficult. The water level dips down suddenly, right next to the wall, before it starts to grow down the line. Once you're on the wave, it's pretty simple. It's amazing. An engineering marvel.
Are there any challenges to it?
Reading it. It's a bit harder to anticipate what it's going to do compared to an ocean wave. On the other hand, you can always try again. Also the waves I was riding weren't necessarily designed with bodyboarding in mind. They just happened to be good for it. I think they could definitely design a bodyboarding specific wave with a nice setup into a perfect ramp. As it is, it's pretty hard to get to the section in time to hit it very cleanly. You'll notice a lot of spray every time I hit a section in my video. I'm 6'2" and 85kg, so maybe a smaller rider would thrive a bit more than I did. It's a powerful wave, so it's easy in that regard, but you really have to think and act fast to get to the ramp.
How would you compare it to a real wave of the same shape and size?
It's obviously bizarre in terms of the weird takeoff along the wall, the sound of the pumps, the colour and chlorine smell of the water, and the visual surroundings. Beyond that, it's pretty much the same in terms of shape, speed, size, and power.
To your knowledge, have other bodyboarders ridden the wave park or are you the first?
Others have, but only in the public setting. David Phillips was probably the first. He went when they first opened it to the public, hoping to ride it as we had seen it online, but got skunked. They are understandably worried about pumping out those high-caliber waves to beginners and novices in the public who would just get smashed. So, as far as I know, I'm the first (and probably still the only) bodyboarder who has surfed it at that level. I'd love to see a group of rippers film a few sessions there. Some friends and I are tentatively planning something for this winter.
It looks loud...
Yes! It's a crazy sound but I love it. When it starts, and gets louder and louder, it evokes that same feeling of nervous anticipation that you feel when it's your turn in an ocean line-up and you see sets stacking on the horizon. But the sound dies down by the time you catch the wave.
How consistent are the waves – is it quite regular or are you waiting a long time?
Technically, they can pump out waves as fast as you can surf them. They have over heated it before, so they are careful to space out the sets just enough to keep that from happening. If you had it all to yourself, they can pump out more waves than you could keep up with for very long. In a group, you still get more waves than you normally would in the ocean with the same amount of people for the same amount of time. The weaker settings pump out three wave sets, while the heavier waves are either one or two wave sets. In the public settings, they limit the crowd to nine surfers at a time with three wave sets (it's very orderly - which is great.) If the setting is a one wave set, you would probably only want as many as four surfers in the lineup taking turns.
Some people believe there’s issues with buoyancy, did you face any issues related to staying afloat?
I’m probably not the most discerning wave rider out there, but I didn’t notice any difference at all. Maybe Hardy would.
Did you have any reservations about surfing the wave park?
Well I had seen footage of it and thought it looked epic for bodyboarding, so I was really excited. I was only concerned that it wouldn’t be as good as I had already hyped it up to be in my head. Like when you see a swell forecasted that looks all time, but you’re secretly worried you’re going to get skunked.
Now that you've had a taste, would you go back?
Definitely. But only if I could be sure to get the good settings. The current settings offered in public sessions are not very well suited to bodyboarding. That could change in the near future. I imagine by this winter they will have quite a few new settings. Besides surfing, It’s an awesome park all around. I’d love to bring my family there and get my kids on it. The beach is great. They are going to add stadium lighting in the near future for night surfing too. They also have the world’s longest lazy river and some slides that I didn’t go on yet. I really enjoyed the vibe of the park, as well as general Texan culture. It was one of the cheapest surf trips I’ve done outside of Hawaii. Flights, car rental, accommodation and food were all very affordable. That is, if you plan on indulging in lots of barbecue and fast food. If you're healthy eater, I'd suggest importing food.
Did you ever hit the bottom?
My first wave I got slammed pretty hard on the bottom. My elbow is still healing. It’s powerful. Also, the water is almost totally opaque. It probably offers two centimetres of visibility. It smells fine and looks cool, but I would not bring anything in there that doesn’t float. If you do, make sure it’s tethered or it’s gone forever when you drop it. If you were to hit your head on the concrete floor and get knocked out, you would likely not be found for quite some time.
It looks like you rode the wave in various forms. What was your favourite setting?
There are quite a few “settings” for different waves. My favourite that I rode was a quick, softer barrel at the take off, before coming into the next section which is heavier and bending towards the shore. It’s a system of pumps that can release pressure with different levels of power, and at different sequencing and timing, so it seems to me that the possibilities are nearly endless. They can’t make bigger waves at this location with their current setup, but the technology and resources to do so are currently available on the market.
Post-session verdict on the wave: yay or nay?
Yay for sure. It at least met, if not exceeded, my hopes and expectations for it. I love the variety, quality, and consistency of it. I was totally surfed out by the end of the two days; such a good feeling. Three weeks later and I'm still stoked.
Most surfers seem to fit into one of two camps: purists who damn wave pools to hell, and others loving every minute of the artificial surf era. Where do you sit?
It is kind of a sad thought that, in the future, there will be surfers who have never had to fear sharks, razor-sharp reef, territorial locals, isolation from emergency services, or waves deteriorating rapidly in the middle of an awesome session. Right now, I’m more on the side of loving it. It depends if I’m spectating, though. Normally I enjoy watching good surfboarding, but I couldn’t stand to watch that first WSL event. It was so boring. Too perfect, predictable, and repetitive. This place is a bit more dynamic, so maybe I could watch an event here.
Did your philosophy change after riding the wave?
Not really. Even when man-made waves of this caliber were just a dream, I’ve always thought that they would never replace the real thing. They’ll have their place like with skateboarding street versus park, or snowboarding resort versus backcountry. Even similarly to how sometimes I would rather swim in a pool than go to the beach to swim, but I would normally prefer the beach. I doubt there will ever be a pool that makes big heavy waves like Pipeline. The connection to nature and all other aspects of surfing in the ocean that a pool can't provide are very special. But for me, surfing is ultimately all about fun. The pool is very fun and I don't think I would ever get completely bored of it. I could see myself living near an airport and a pool and primarily surfing that, while watching the charts and chasing big swells from time to time.
The stand-up world is well into the throes of the BSR Surf Resort. Are they also open to canoodling with the bodyboarding community?
I think bodyboarding may have just been somewhat off their radar until now. From what I understand, the owner doesn’t even surf but he likes to make fun things that people enjoy and grow his business. His pool seems to be a lot more economical and efficient relative the current competition, which is good for us. I think if there were enough demand from bodyboarders, they could probably offer sessions suited and designated for bodyboarders. The Manager, Cheyne, is a really cool guy too.
We’ve seen clips of snakes invading the pool. Did you encounter any deadly creatures during your session?
Our group was worried about that, for sure. I know I voiced some concern about snakes and insects but we didn’t encounter any. Cheyne mentioned one particularly deadly species of snakes that lives in the area. I did sea deer and pigs, and an armadillo roadkill.
So, the real question is... do you think it’s functional for bodyboarding?
Absolutely. And this is only the beginning. I was just riding whatever they pumped out for our group, with me being the only bodyboarder. They have the capacity, right now, to make perfect wedges and other types of waves suited for bodyboarding. This is really just the beginning of something that could really change the world.