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Siam Park in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain

Siam Park in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain


The Inertia

As Surf Park Summit ebbs near–Friday, September 13th in Laguna Beach, California–and the buzz flows heavier, I find myself rehashing all the wistful, pathetic remarks I’ve made to friends on flat days over the years. Man, if we just had a surf park in our backyard, cranking out perfect head-high sets right now…

Maybe we don’t all verbalize it ad nausea, but I’m willing to bet my limited quiver that a perfectly manicured wave in beautiful, blue 80-degree water has tickled all of our selfish surfing fancies at some point. Jimmy Slade himself has even been known to catch the feeling.

“All skaters grew up wanting to have a good skate park; surfers grew up wanting to have a surf park. If there was an artificial wave, a good wave when I was a kid… you know, comparable to an ocean wave… there to ride whenever I could… I would have done anything to do that; I would have gotten a job. There is no surf culture to speak of in middle America at this point, but maybe in the future there could be because of something like this.” – Kelly Slater

Slater refers here to the potential of making a perfect artificial wave a reality, and while his and numerous other companies are working on their own technologies and projects to do it, the industry is pumping on both sides of the pier with surf park talk.

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There are plenty of proponents out there who see the value surf parks can bring to the sport and society, but there are also no shortage of those who would address Slater’s final sentence above with utter contempt. Why in the hell would we want to create a surf culture in middle America?

For now, I’m going to entirely ignore that question. It’s certainly an important one that’ll garner plenty of attention at Surf Park Summit and in the coming months–and one that I’ve spent many thoughts on, but not here, not now. What I can’t ignore right now is the history of surf parks and the implications that history has for the present and the future of the industry.

Man-made waves have been around since King Ludwig II of Bavaria electrically shocked a lake to make some sizable ripples in the 19th century. Since then, we’ve certainly come a long way; Budapest, Hungary was home to the first “modern” wave pool as we know it in 1927, and then Big Surf, in Tempe, Arizona, was built in 1969 – commonly regarded as the United States’ first wave pool.  (You may also remember Big Surf as the impetus for the 1987 classic North Shore, which, of course, marked the pinnacle of both Laird Hamilton and Mark Occhilupo’s acting careers.)

On the Set of North Shore, 1987.  Photo Credit: surfblogspot.com

On the Set of North Shore, 1987. Photo Credit: surfblogspot.com

All joking aside though, Big Surf was really the first taste of surfing outside of the ocean, and that was way back there in 1969 during the Vietnam War. Since then, there have certainly been some big successes in the surf park space around the world – Florida, Sweden, Dubai, and Peru are all home to some solid parks. But there have been some big failures as well (i.e. Ron Jon Surfpark, Seagaia Ocean Dome in Japan) and some issues that have inhibited the growth of the industry.

Ultimately though, the fact that artificial wave technology has been around for so long really begs the question: Why aren’t there already more, and much better surf parks out there? In the same amount of time that massive computers and black/white televisions were created, then compacted, then smashed together, and then put into the palm of the world’s collective hand as iPhones, what has really happened in the artificial wave generation sector?

The answer: Way more than you’d think.

Surf Park Summit is not only set to directly address what’s changed and progressed, but also to connect the industry’s top names and start pushing the action. There are certainly still issues left to discuss and debate, but ultimately, the technology is there, the money is there, the demand is there and the tools are there. It’s only a matter of starting the dialogue, getting the finer points dialed in, and connecting all the dots. And that’s exactly what the Summit is geared to do this September.

As I reflect on all those lazy daydreams and comments about splitting perfect A-frames with friends, warm water in December, and a guaranteed chance to practice a maneuver again and again in a matter of minutes, I think it doesn’t seem so pathetic. In fact, it’s really no longer a question of “what if?” that keeps me up at night. It’s simply a combo platter of “when, where, and who’s coming with us?”

For more information about Surf Park Summit, go to www.SurfParkSummit.com.

 

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