If all goes according to plan, there will be 21 brand new perfect waves scattered around the planet within the next couple years. The contracts are signed and in various stages of development, though we all know a business deal ain’t done ’til the money is in the bank. And it’s already begun in Spain, Wales, and Austin, Texas. What’s next?
Wouldn’t we like to know.
It requires an extraordinary and unique set of talents to do what Josema Odrioloza, an industrial engineer with a background in building municipal skateparks, has done. In order to build a perfect, surfable wave, its creator must have a masterful understanding and passion for several impossibly nuanced topics – with surfing at the very top of the list. That already eliminates 99% of the planet. Next, physics and engineering. Well, now you’re dealing with a infinitesimal slice of the world population. Throw in high-level business acumen, a powerful network of investors and mentors, and the exceptionally rare drive required for a starry-eyed entrepreneur to convert an ambitious dream into a viable commercial reality, and I swear we’re looking at a unicorn getting barreled under a rainbow. These types of people don’t come along
Enter Josema Odrioloza.
“We used to do skate parks a long time ago,” says Odrioloza while sitting on the deck beside the test facility in Spain on a hot summer afternoon. His business partner’s son just caught his 17th consecutive wave in front of us. He’s probably eight. Obviously, he surfs very well. “Every time we would go to a small suburb in a big city, we were creating happiness. Now we can do the same thing in the middle of a city far away from the sea. I know maybe this might not be good news for people who live on the coast, but we don’t have the right to say to other people that they cannot enjoy our sport.”
He’s right. Technology has democratized unlikely (and possibly more ambitious) things in the past. Think food. Information. Water. For Odrioloza, the dream boils down to simple problem-solving.
“In surfing, it’s all about having one limited resource, which are the waves in the ocean, and about how everyone can get the benefit of them,” says Odrioloza. “It’s a real problem. It’s a very old problem of human beings. It’s like food, you know? When the tribes were growing and growing there was nothing else on the trees, so people had to learn to grow food in other ways. With waves, it’s similar.”
When Odrioloza and his team began working on this project nearly ten years ago, they had no idea where the path might lead.
“It was something fun to start to work on,” says Odrioloza. “We didn’t realize how long the journey is. And still, we’re in the beginning of something that still will not stop for the next thirty years.”
So here in Spain, a garden magically sprouts a perfect wave every two minutes. In an office beside the lagoon (its technical term), a team of nearly 20 engineers tweaks and refines models. They all surf. They just finished a lunch break on the deck. Lots of meats and cheeses. Two marketing folks lead a tour to the visiting team from Patagonia. They discuss the cost of energy. How the projects in Wales and Austin will actually use rain water in their lagoon. How the energy is coming from a renewable source and the Wales facility is made from a refurbished factory. But no one is listening.
Everyone’s just staring at this perfect wave peeling in the middle of a grass field.