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Wave Pools

In the office, we cannot help but drool over every new video of Kelly Slater’s wave pools. We love dreaming of a time where flat days won’t deter us from getting in some early morning surf.  However, I cannot help but ask the age old questions: What if everybody had an ocean across the U-S-A? Would everybody be surfin’, like Californi-a?

N-Land, one of the newest wave pools in Austin, Texas, is immaculate.  It boasts a handful of restaurants, a surf shop, private lessons, and more.  Easily accessible from downtown Austin, it brings the thrill of surfing to an otherwise landlocked region.  Through wave pools like N-Land, surfing has the power to diversify its athletes, streamline competition standards, and become a legitimate sport in the Olympics.  However, is this the point of surfing?

In a sense, isn’t surfing supposed to be a grassroots sports?  If so, does it make sense that a true surfer would pay at minimum $60 to surf at N-land and be hanging out at a juice bar or paying at least $11 for two tacos?  Does a true surfer really want to make an appointment to surf, get there a recommended one hour before their start time, and sign liability waivers?  In his praise of wave parks, ISA president Fernando Aguerre says, “It takes a long time to become a surfer.  If you’re in the ocean for an hour, and you get six, seven waves, you’re very lucky. Learning to surf is like learning to play the guitar when you can only strum once every 30 seconds”.  Wave parks can surely optimize the time it takes to become a skilled surfer, but in an age where efficiency reigns supreme, isn’t surfing a welcome respite from that?  

Surfing can be critiqued for the unpredictability of competition.  It may seem like unfortunate and unfair luck that the surfer just ahead of you scored the perfect wave, leaving you with nothing.  According to Matt Beahan, wave pools will “turn surfing into a sport with a level playing field and an easily digestible judging system. They’ll turn it into a sport with a designated number of waves breaking in a designated spot”, surely taking away an element of thrill, which arguably is what sets surfing apart from most other sports.  Isn’t the grand thrill of surfing the unpredictability of encountering the vastness of the ocean?  

Although I’m admittedly skeptical about the impact wave pools will have on the next generation of surfers, I would not turn down a chance to get in one.  Encountering the perfect wave over and over intrigues me, and just as Zach Weisberg says, “ultimately, nothing will satisfy my curiosity about Kelly Slater’s wave like surfing it”.