Guest Blog: Pneumatic wave pool technology crash course
When it comes to man-made waves, not all surf pool technologies are created equal. Sure, the end goal is ultimately the same, creating an epic surf-able wave that brings the stoke of surfing to inland areas devoid of wave-producing coastlines. There are many ways to achieve this goal, however, and that comes down to the wave-making technology that is pursued. With a variety of surf pool technologies on the market (pneumatic, plunger, flap, and plow systems) it can be a challenge to crack the code proving which pool will work best for a surf park. How much land do you have? What types of waves do you want to create? What is your desired capacity and what is the variety of guests you want to cater to? How much maintenance is too much? These are some questions that can help drive what technology will best suit a specific development.
As we developed Endless Surf, there is a reason we optimized the pneumatic system that we know is proven after building hundreds of wave pools around the world. No surprise, we fully believe that this type of wave-making system offers the greatest benefits to help us achieve our mission as a company and provide the best performance and ongoing value for our clients, who are investing their hard-earned cash in developing an epic surf destination.
What is a pneumatic system?
At its core, pneumatics is essentially the use of compressed air to create energy. Pneumatic systems and principles are extremely common and can be seen frequently in everyday life within mechanisms like brakes, jackhammers, and even dental drills or air pressure gauges. Taking these engineering principles to a larger scale, we have come up with a way to harness pneumatics to create energy that moves water to create world-class waves.
In the ocean, how are waves created?
On a broad level, waves are created through atmospheric pressure and the wind blowing over water to create swell. In simpler terms, energy is transferred from the air to the water, thus creating movement. When it comes to Endless Surf, we mimic this natural phenomenon on a smaller scale. Pneumatic surf pools utilize multiple chambers along the back wall of the pool that become pressurized through the blowing and venting of air to push water to make waves. The more pressure that is released, the larger and more powerful the wave. Historically, almost all wave pools that you see at waterparks, community centers, etc. use pneumatic technology to move water. Endless Surf, through tapping into Whitewater’s decades of expertise in wave pool engineering, has improved upon these very same pneumatic principles to fine-tune our design to create exceptional waves for surfing that mimic how swell is created in the ocean.
Let’s dive into the tech and check out why pneumatic systems have become so popular and what benefits they provide a surf venue.
When it comes to wave creation and programming, pneumatic systems are unrivaled. The flexibility that the system allows gives operators the potential to create almost any wave they can imagine. The pool creates waves by how the chambers along the back wall are sequenced with one another. Each chamber essentially fires out a small piece of energy that will join together to make a wave. Ultimately, one plus one equals three (1+1=3) when it comes to pneumatic chambers firing; they work together to create more energy rather than working alone.
Think of each chamber like a key on a piano and each wave like a different tune that is being played throughout the pool. With up to 48 chambers on an Endless Surf pool, you can only imagine how many different wave types can be created outside of your typical a-frames and air-sections. This incredible amount of flexibility is not only attributed to full power wave creation, however. Operators of Endless Surf specifically will have the ability to run the pool at half-power and only use half of the chambers. Saving venues an immense amount of money on energy during slower days in the water, this feature is invaluable when it comes to operational flexibility
Reliability and Longevity
Some may say that we provide an off-the-shelf product; it is a proven and reliable system that ultimately minimizes risk and secures operations. When a consumer goes to purchase a new car, despite all the desired bells and whistles, there is no questioning that they are looking for a reliably proven engine that powers that vehicle.
A surf pool is no different, as it is essentially the engine driving the surf venue. Pneumatic systems are without a doubt, tested and reliable engines that industries (oil, health, and now surf parks) have consistently relied upon to deliver. In our experience, building wave pools and world-class water attractions for over 40 years, we very rarely get called upon for servicing pneumatic systems. In fact, out of hundreds of wave pools around the world, many systems have even gone 10+ years without service or upgrades – that is longevity and hassle-free ROI.
The “special sauce” of Endless Surf that differentiates us from other pneumatic systems is what we have created with our state-of-the-art wave programming software, Wave Doctor. Harnessing the robustness of the pneumatic system itself, Wave Doctor was created to disrupt the wave creation process and create flexibility and ease of use incomparable to any existing systems. To top it off, should upgrades prove to be necessary, it is much easier to upgrade software rather than entire pieces of machinery like flaps.
Mechanically speaking, the main reasons for the longevity of these systems boils down to the fact that no parts are submerged underwater and that the wear and tear of compressed air on mechanical parts is minimal. It might seem counterintuitive but, the robustness of a pneumatic system can really be attributed to how simple it is. In other words, there are minimal moving parts within each chamber because the basis of making waves is through air and pressurization. Parts not encountering water is a major bonus as well because as one of the harshest elements, water really wears on mechanical components for obvious reasons – corrosion. Keeping parts dry is a major plus when it comes to the longevity and reliability of the system.
Despite pneumatic surf pools being incredibly durable, it would be naïve to say that something will last forever without routine maintenance and care. On top of preventative maintenance, the reality is that sometimes parts will eventually need to be replaced. The good news is that when is does come time for repairs, pneumatic surf pools offer incredibly easy maintenance for a few key reasons:
As mentioned before, pneumatic pools have minimal moving parts compared to other technologies. Besides the fact that there are fewer things to break, the systems have standardized parts that are easily available. Not to mention, with a vast network of partners and suppliers spanning across the globe, Endless Surf parts will be readily available and repaired all within a timely manner.
Not only do dry parts mean longevity, but they also mean easier access. Mechanical flap-based systems require owners to drain the pool to perform routine maintenance (usually once a year at the bare minimum); an extremely costly endeavor requiring a lot of scheduled downtime. Now, let’s say something breaks unexpectedly on a flap-based system… in order to fix the issue, a surf park would need to drain the pool, find and repair broken mechanisms, and then refill the pool (with another couple million gallons of water – a scarce resource $$$). Best case scenario: it would take three days to address the issue. On top of the high costs to repair and refill the pool, the closure time would be a nuisance no matter what time of year it occurred. It if fell on peak visitation time, that could be detrimental to a venue’s bottom-line.
In contrast, if something breaks unexpectedly on a pneumatic system, not only is the cost and closures of draining the pool avoided but in many cases, no downtime is necessary at all. With redundancy being a key feature, pools can still operate close to their maximum potential. Even if an entire chamber is down the other 47 can pick up the slack and operate like normal. That is the beauty of the piano keys… there are so many notes to choose from that you can still play a catchy song even if one note is out of tune.
There is a reason we chose to go pneumatic when developing Endless Surf as the system offers a great deal of benefits that will help venues succeed in their day-to-day operations.
Editor’s Note: This is a guest blog by Clement Ginestet, head engineer with WavePoolMag partners Endless Surf. Main illustration by Tiger Hayes.