Artificial reefs don't work.

People have been trying to make waves on coastlines for a long time and the results are…absolutely horrible.


The Inertia

Surfers have scoured the planet for waves. We’ve put many things on the back burner to seek out new waves or return to faraway waves that have carved memories into our minds.

We know where the diamonds are on this planet, they are the waves that already exist… the gems we surf every day. Some are famous like Uluwatu, Kirra and Trestles and others are our go-to, local breaks.

The tragic element of this story is that we KNOW where the best waves in the world are… and yet we, collectively… all of us that surf, do very little to protect them.

At the same time we buy into another romantic notion. We think we can make perfect waves.

I put myself into the camp that believes we can make great waves… as long as we’re talking about doing so in a highly controlled environment. I.e. In a pool, in a lake, etc. The recent video out of Spain’s Basque coast proved a wave can be made and it looks fun. I’m not sure about the business model, energy requirement, etc… but the wave looks surfable.

Once we venture into the ocean I take myself out of that group of believers. I say this because people have been trying to make waves on coastlines for a long time and the results are…absolutely horrible.

I wrote a series on this subject a while ago called “Do artificial reefs work?” and explored every angle into that question I could think of.

Today I heard an update on two of the recent failures, the Opunake project in New Zealand and the Bournemouth project in England (the latter sold as capable of bringing Hawaii-like waves to England).

Let’s do one thing. Let’s understand that we already have the diamonds. Let’s pause, take note of the results to-date with ocean-based artificial surfing reefs… which are abysmal. Let’s work together to protect the gems we surf every single day. Do that via finding a Surfrider chapter to connect with or do it on your own… but don’t take your eyes off the diamonds you already have.

Read more from Jim Moriarty on his Ocean, Waves, and Beaches Blog.


  • Stu

    I agree about protecting actual spots, but let’s not give up on creating new ones. We don’t understand the origins of the universe today so we should stop looking? We can’t prove God exists or doesn’t, so we should stop trying? We can’t put metal in a microwave…. you get the point. Not good today doesn’t mean not good eventually.

  • Oli

    Opunake reef is down the road from me…can’t even tell where the wave is meant to be it works bad. The entire coast area around it is littered in surf breaks anyway…useless pointless extremely expensive waste.

  • BREW

    @Stu,

    I don’t think Jim would approve of anything “man-made.” And I don’t either really. People are just plain gross. But I find it woefully ironic that the same chaps who employ the full-court press on mankind to “save the planet” by doing this and doing that… cannot muster the courage to believe in mankind’s ability to create a reef, or wavepool, or a cure to male pattern baldness.

    Follow the money.

  • Justin

     I don’t know Jim…what doesn’t work is “Business Us Usual.”  Do you realize that a medium size beach nourishment job uses nearly 5,000 gallons of diesel a day?  That about about 50 gallons per CY…do the math on a large beach job.  You can go to college and get a Ph.D in dredging.  If you find a school where I can study artificial reefs (and have a job afterwards) let me know….

    These reefs guys are doing (or trying to do) something extraordinary which requires high technology.  Recreating one’s a nature’s mysteries is exactly where sustainablity and the green revolution should be pushing us.   Let’s give surfing waves a little more respect before we diminish their value and say they don’t work.  .  They are wonders of the science and natural world that we just havn’t figured out yet…like Spider Webs and Photosynthesis…

    We don’t know everything yet.