What if the future of wave pools was pool-less?

Despite what we’re told via movies and inspirational TedTalks, the best inventions don’t strike us like lightning bolts of divine inspiration. No. Most design progress is the result of prosaic wandering from problem to solution and back again. In between those two points are countless, exhaustive hours of note-taking, testing and a string of expletives. This is the space where great inventions come from.

The Okahina idea came to Laurent Héquily when he was searching for an invention to aerate and invigorate stagnate water suffering a host of environmental maladies. The French surfer meditated on how the lip of a breaking wave (especially along a coral reef) agitates the surrounding water, and in the process stirs up a host of beneficial actions.

Then Héquily was hit with the second wave of his vision, this invention could become home to bivalves, corals, kelp and fish. Laurent’s third wave of inspiration was realizing that this could be achieved with a device that spits out reef-pass quality tubes up to six-feet high.

“The Okahina wave system consists of a floating infrastructure, much like that of a Polynesian Atoll,” Héquily told us. “The system is set up on existing bodies of water, but it’s not permanent. On the contrary, it is easily removable.”

okahina libourne
Aerial perspective of the proposed design up for review at lac des Dagueys in Libourne.

His concept works like this: A floating atoll is deployed in the ocean, stagnant bays, lagoons and freshwater lakes. Wave generators revolve around a circular floating platform sending out waves that peel across its spiral-shaped reef where surfers can enjoy 30-seconds lefts or rights.

Circular pool shapes have long been sought after, but never made it past the computer sketches or warehouse models. One reason is that the circular wave action never dissipates all of its energy, thereby creating a rapid current after only a few waves.

“To prevent the water from turning around and around, we developed a spiral-shaped reef and not a completely circular one,” added Héquily. “This makes it possible to stop any circular current that would interfere with the efficiency of the waves.”

When studying the Okahina wave’s design, another question comes up, that of the wave action stirring up sediments and eating away at shorelines. In the early 1970s, Disney World built an impressive wave machine in a Florida lake but shut it down after a few test days as the million-dollar shoreline began disappearing. Héquily says Okahina won’t erode sediment because the system dissipates its wave energy back toward the interior of the structure to keep shorelines intact.

Laurent Hequily
Laurent Héquily has big ideas for bringing surf to standing bodies of water. Photo courtesy Okahina

Héquily also claims the wave action will oxygenate the waters of lakes and marine lagoons, invigorating aquatic dead spaces. He adds that the structure itself can also become a fish nursery. The base area, where it’s tethered to the seafloor, will host bivalves and the larger food chain.

“It does not require a footprint, nor does it require pouring out concrete, or filtering and pumping a lot of water,” Héquily added. “Unlike some sites whose energy consumption is equivalent to 600 to 800 homes, this design is very limited and in turn, its carbon impact is minimal.”

This bodes well for the proliferation of his system as land is much more valuable and contentiously guarded (think the community bowling greens that sank the Urbansurf Perth project) than an offshore stretch of aquatic surface. That said, if an Okahina system becomes an eyesore, they can just pull up anchor and move it.

The powers that be at the Département de la Viennes in France were so impressed with Laurent’s wave that they decided to put one adjacent the nation’s science-based theme park Futuroscope (like Disneyland for the pocket-protector set). Laurent says they are constructing the Okahina system at their factory in Bordeaux and will ship it by truck to become France’s first artificial wave sometime next year.

 Photo courtesy Okahina wave
Since developers don’t have to dig a pool to create waves, there are more possible locations. The system is also somewhat portable. Image courtesy Okahina

His system is also being eyed in the Ile de France Region, which includes the city of Paris. It’s still early days and nothing is official, but if everything goes well the system may find a home on site of the Olympic Vaires sur Marnes, just 15 minutes from Disneyland Paris. The town of Libourne near the famous tidal bore or “mascarat” has just approved the first step in adopting his system.

We were privy to the internal sketches of the Okahina system which show how it works. Due to patent concerns, we are not allowed to share those images. But we can say the area beneath the surface looks somewhat like a flying saucer frame constructed out of timber-like composite material.

So, is the Okahina wave system a great invention on par with removable fin systems and quick-dry wetsuit lining? We don’t know yet. The sketches look amazing, but that’s more credit to the artist than to Héquily. Fortunately, we will get to see the surf-able prototype of this system in autumn 2020 when the world’s first Okahina wave system launches at the foot of Futuroscope. Stay tuned for updates as they develop.

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