Big changes for Kelly’s wave pool tech as Abu Dhabi unveils new “W” design

A few years ago we posted an Op-Ed that pointed to the shortcomings in foil wave systems, particularly Kelly Slater’s design at Lemoore. One critique was that Kelly’s is a long 50-second liquid vortex of bliss that can only be valued by expert surfers. With limited whitewater for newbies to practice pop-ups, the design was a dinosaur already when compared to techs that maximise their beginner bays.

With the unveiling of the Kelly Slater Wave company’s Abu Dhabi pool last week, close inspection revealed some changes to the trademark design. In a post by Raimana Van Bastolaer on Instagram, the Surf Ranch’s most famous employee asked rhetorically: “Does Surf Abu Dhabi have a beginner wave? You tell me.”

In the clip we’re treated to a foil wave that peels per usual in the lagoon. However, the new design breaks up the dissipating wave energy into soft, beginner friendly rollers. The classic long, rectangular KSWaveCo footprint is still there, but now a submerged “W” shaped reef seems to allow for more wave offerings.

“I have been waiting to see the wide shot of the other waves around the “W” concept and get a better understanding of utilization, capacity, options etc.,” said Skip Taylor of Surf Park Management. “It looks like a good step forward since version one of the design in 2015.”

Kelly Slater Wave Co design in Abu Dhabi shows the new “W” which breaks up the main wave into beginner-friendly rollers. Image Google Earth.
The Kelly Slater Wave Co Lemoore facility from drone capture shows no “W” shaped reef, only square shoreline cut outs to dissipate wave energy.

Kelly’s in Lemoore has a unique commercial model among the wave pools of the world. While the average work-a-day-surf-park relies on high volume customer throughput, the Surf Ranch profits on low volume exclusivity.

But is someone going to buy into a $50K or $70K Surf Ranch day just to learn how to surf?

“The beginner/Intermediate market is really the bread and butter of any current public surf park’s business,” added Skip. “The extent of the customer base varies a lot though based on location. For us running a surf park in Hawaii we have a huge base of advanced or expert surfers so you will see a different ratio than you would if you open a pool in Abu Dhabi. But that said they will also build their base of experienced surfers quickly.  We saw this in Waco with a crew of landlocked surfers progressing to become rippers very quickly and swinging the ratio.”

The Waco Effect, as we’ll call it, is when a wave pool dramatically augments a fledgling surf scene while attracting international visitors. However, it’s an apples and oranges comparison when day rates and price points enter the picture. Waco is roughly $10 per wave while Kelly’s can be upwards of $500.

Raimana’s instagram clip shows world champs Toledo and Medina having fun on the slow reform waves at Surf Abu Dhabi.

“Specific to KS Wave Co, I am not sure how accessible that the KS Wave in Abu Dahbi is planned to be in terms of exclusivity, public access or pricing,” continued Skip. “That changes the model a lot too. Lemoore sees more intermediate and advanced surfers due to the exclusive high-end experience they create that caters to high networth coastal California surfers. Often those groups bring beginners and intermediates with them as part of the group who join in but the base of the business is from experienced surfers which I don’t think will be the case as much in Abu Dhabi.”

Skip is referring to the design as the KSWaveCo “W” which can be seen clearly in Google Earth images.

“Having a better variety of wave options in Abu Dahbi will be good to allow more people to be active in the water at one time (even if it doubles capacity from 8 to 16) and their new “W” reef adds the type of wave product better suited to beginners and intermediates that will likely be their primary base of business when they open.”

And once the doors open and the world flocks to Surf Abu Dhabi, Skip estimates the client skill level will be dramatically different from that of Lemoore.

“I would guess that when they open, the low-end surfer will likely be 75-80% of their business in Abu Dhabi. The froth won’t be the same and I see the make up of guests being high-end locals and expats. This is ultimately a hard product to ever compare to a public surf park or higher capacity technologies.” 

Endless Surf 2023A