A few weeks ago, a couple of us took a trip to Austin, Texas, to go surfing, which felt odd. Austin’s a beautiful city, full of smiling people, incredible amounts of meat, and not nearly as many fat people as I’d imagined. On the outskirts of town, just beyond the airport and surrounded in millions upon millions of angry fire ants, is NLand. It is not a place to wear flip flops, because the fire ants have an insatiable appetite for toes and ankles. It is, however, a place to surf. And people are surfing–not right now, of course, because they’re shut down for maintenance. But they will open again, and people will surf there. When we were there, the pool was packed, and the schedule was full to capacity for the foreseeable future. Need proof? Look no further than Surf Snowdonia, the UK wave pool that has been plagued by problems since the day they opened the doors. Despite angry locals and numerous mechanical issues, Surf Snowdonia was hugely successful in its first year.
According to WaveLength Magazine, somewhere around 150,000 people surfed at Surf Snowdonia in its first season. That’s more than twice what was expected, and although most of the visitors are from the UK, nearly 20,000 came from overseas.
Although the angry internet commenters have spent the last year or so in a state of perpetual outrage that someone would have the gall to create a man-made wave, it appears that people do, in fact, want to surf, even if it’s outside of the ocean. Those commenters stab wildly at their keyboards, screaming into the void about how “soulless” the wave pool experience must be. It’s baffling–all they need to do is simply NOT surf in a wave pool. Instead, they choose to sit in their darkened basements in their stinky, unwashed sweatpants, freaking out about something that doesn’t affect them in the slightest. But that’s the internet for you, I suppose. Ain’t it grand?
As it turns out, Surf Snowdonia is doing a lot more than just spreading stoke inland. They’ve created nearly 100 jobs, added a much-needed boost to the local economy, and started a community initiative called Dyffryn Valley Surf Club which invites local young people to come and surf for a discounted rate. On top of that, they’re working with a charity called Help for Heros, which, according to WaveLength, “delivered three, week-long residential surf courses for wounded, injured and sick veterans, after Surf Snowdonia donated a package worth £12,000.”
So whether or not wave pools are the future of surfing (they’re not), it looks as though they are here to stay. That’s a good thing, too. It’s a separation of church and state, if you will–keep the contests in the pools and the surfing in the ocean. After all, you don’t need a football stadium to play football, and the mere existence of a stadium takes nothing away from football itself.