Surfers have been trying for years to take the ocean’s inconsistency out of surfing. No more watching the charts, waiting eagerly for one of those big red blobs to march its way toward their coast. No more hoping for the wind to die down. No more fickle sand bars, shifting with the tide. Man-made waves have been a topic of interest lately, but nothing has ever really panned out. Recently, Typhoon Lagoon has been in the spotlight, hosting Rip Curl’s Gromsearch, but the talent there made the wave look decent. Kelly Slater’s Wave Company garnered some attention, but its potential remains to be seen. As far as a good man-made wave, nothing has ever compared to the real thing. But it looks like there’s hope on the man-made horizon; waves are stacking up, and the forecast is promising.
Just outside of Zarautz, deep in the Basque Country of Spain, lies a pond, its bottom lined in black plastic. A perfectly shaped, glassy left peels off its banks, reeling along for about 30 yards. After six years of trial and error, a waist high rip-able wave surges through the pond, capturing the attention of the surf world, not only for its perfection, but for its potential.
I wanted to know more. Who doesn’t? How big can this thing get? Can I have one? With those questions in mind, I spoke with Josema Odriozola, technical director and co-founder of Wavegarden, to get some answers.
First off, can you explain how this works?
Sure, in layman’s terms, a specially designed profile pushes the water towards the shore. The shore has a particular contour so the wave peels at the right angle. It seems simple but it’s taken us years to make it work efficiently and reliably.
How long were you working on this before it produced a decent wave?
We first got a ride-able wave at a real size about a year ago.
Is it possible to go bigger?
Yes it is possible, but it’s not cost effective in terms of the energy needed. This technology was developed with the idea that it could be profitable from the surfing only, without having to surround the facility with bars, fast food joints, etcetera. So one of the keys is to have moderate operating costs, and that includes the energy. Although it is technically possible to make much larger waves, we recommend–as a mix of good surfing experience and moderate running costs–waves between shoulder high and head high.
How big do you think the biggest wave it could make would be?
No idea. Way too big for most surfers to be comfortable with. Maybe the sky’s the limit?
A lot of people have tried to build these man made waves, but, with the exception of yours, they all seem to fall short. What did you do differently?
Commitment and mixing the right team: good engineers that are core surfers at the same time. Seriously, we are all die-hard core surfers.
A few months back Kelly Slater seemed to be gaining momentum as he announced plans to launch his own wave company. I’m not sure how much you know about his project or if you’ve collaborated at all, but, based on what you know, how do your two visions compare with each other?
We know nothing about Slater’s project. We only know what we saw on the internet and we’ve never had any contact with him or his partners or employees. I guess that, like the rest of the world, we are curious to see what his company comes up with. With so little information it is very difficult for us to compare. But the launching of Wavegarden is the end of a six year long journey, so we are concentrating on that right now.
How did you figure out the technology to do this? Is it borrowed from something else with a different function, or is it all your own design?
It is all our own design and it’s patented. We’ve tried very different technologies since we first started 10 years ago. Actually, we make sure we test all the different options before committing to one.
Can you give us a ballpark estimate on how much this project costs?
All research and development processes are expensive, but we’ve had lots of support. The starting cost of a Wavegarden installation is somewhere between 2 and 3 million Euros (2.7 – 4.1 million USD). Obviously it depends on the site (is there a lake/pond/lagoon that we can use or not) and the facilities nearby (water, electricity, etcetera). It can go up to 5 or 6 million Euros for a bigger installation including buildings and other factors.
Could someone else build one of these, or is it just too complicated?
We’d like to think that it is too complicated, but you never know. It’s taken us a long time of research and development.
What are your plans for the future? In five years, could you build one of these in my backyard?
To keep working, keep improving the product. Regarding the idea of having your own Wavegarden, it definitely needs too much money and too much room for the average surfer to have your own private Wavegarden.
In the video, there didn’t seem to be much of a right. Is it possible to have both a right and a left, or do you have to choose?
Yes, we are working on a right and left that peel simultaneously.
Is it really expensive to run?
Not really. Less than you are thinking. The whole deal is that the people who invest in it can make money from the surfing only.
Has there been a lot of local interest?
We are overwhelmed with the amount of interest we’ve received in these very few days. Local and non-local, but clearly some city councils near us seem to be very interested in having the very first Wavegarden in their city council.
Check out Wave-Garden.com for more information.