How many wave pools are there in the world?
We did our best research this week to answer the one question we get asked all the time: “How many wave pools are there in the world?” Well, we have to qualify that by firing back – do you mean “open,” “planned,” “under construction” or “sketched-on-a-school-folder?” The results are mixed. And a brief takeaway would look something like the below:
15 wave pools open with surfing access
8-15 Under construction right now (some are secret)
50 Planning to break ground and transform the surf sphere
10,000,000+ floating inside surfers’ heads waiting for discovery.
But there’s more to it than the brief list above. The wave pool landscape is peppered with under-the-radar-developments in America and scattered across the globe. Some are ready to stoke the future with new super-legit ground-breaking technology. Others are really just pyramid schemes decorated with half-assed designs in Sketchup. And both seek deep investor cash.
Consider this, engineers never know for certain if a pool will work as envisaged until a proof-of-concept tank is built – either to scale or near full-scale. That said, Surf Loch, which had many plans over the last seven years, never went full-scale-proof-of-concept until this year. The company is now dotting our Surf Planner guide with several new wave pools around the world.
The major players in the current, tangible surf park projects are Surf Loch, Wavegarden, Okahina, Surf Lakes, Kelly Slater Wave Company and American Wave Machines.
We’ve compiled the below list by gathering all the latest info from the big wave pool makers and the up-and-comers. To qualify, wave pools makers that don’t have a proof-of-concept facility must have at least broken ground on their project, as is the case with Surf Poel in The Netherlands and Okahina in France.
Disclaimer: When a wave pool project is scuttled due to investor pullout, environmental transgressions, angry neighbors, demon possession or any variety of reasons, there is rarely an announcement to the press stating that the project is dead. We compiled this list with the best data available to us at the time. Please let us know if we missed something.
The Xing Feng Extreme Sports Center is a new invention from China using a Wavegarden Lagoon and Kelly Slater Wave Co style hull-drive. The locomotive on this is huge, but the wave is pretty small. Should increase in size with velocity of engine-driver. Not much else is known besides this video.
Under construction: Unknown
Where The Hague meets the North Sea is Scheveningen, a seaside Dutch town with thousands of surfers, a handful of surf clubs and one giant Ferris wheel. Surfers in this cold thicket of stoke will soon be able to cross town and access their own indoor wave pool. In the section of town with refurbished warehouses and sensible brick buildings, the group 247Waves has begun construction on a foil wave system inside an old warehouse.
Once completed Surf Poel will have the two main ingredients for an economically viable wave pool: proximity to a large population with disposable income and frothing surfers. Mix in The Netherlands’ progressive party laws and The Hague could become a legit surf destination. It all hinges on how their plow-on-a-track wave-making system works.
Under Construction: The Hague
The design is a floating atoll that can be plopped into lakes and lagoons and produces one epic wave every 15 seconds. The makers of the Okahina wave system say the ride will be a 30-second rush on a hollow and barrelling left or right.
The wave-making system works a bit like the standing wave design by Surf Unit (sitting in one place) but instead of churning out one wave in a fixed place, Okahina spins out surf in a spiral pattern from a central hub.
The Takeaway: An Okahina wave machine is scheduled to open in Poitiers near the super popular family attraction Futuroscope. Another one is approved near Bordeaux in the town of Libourne near France’s famous tidal bore, Le Mascaret.
Under Construction: Poitiers France
Plans in the Works: Libourne France, Vaire-Torcy France
Our favorite Australian wave pool is, like that other Aussie export AC/DC, big, loud and fun. The Little Plunger That Could keeps pumping out waves deep in Queensland at their test facility in Yeppoon and is eyeing a few projects globally.
While most wave-generating technology produces waves from the deep-end of a pool via water pressure, air pressure or a series of levers, Surf Lakes taps the zen technique of dropped-stone-in-a-pond. Ripples from a central point fan out to create a swell that rolls, tubes and peels across several types of breaks – five to be exact – all designed by specialized bathymetry.
While larger, and more costly than other systems, it’s a sure-fire win for investors who want to go big and utilize large swaths of shoreline and accommodate more users. The company could also get a push with global infrastructure investments from local governments looking to build an attraction that will also produce jobs and boost area economies post COVID-19.
Under Construction: None
Plans in the Works: UK, USA, Gold Coast
Tom Lochtefeld knows the water-pushing game better than most. He cofounded Raging Waters in the eighties then invented and patented the sheet-wave standard of the day, the FlowRider in 1990. Tom’s stoke-centric brand of engineering is punctuated with more than 100 patents and holds many trademarks including FlowRider, FlowBarrel, MasterBlaster, Uphill Water Coaster, Surf Boat, FlyingReef, and now the SurfLoch wave pool.
The company has new planned pools near Sydney and Costa Del Sol, Spain. This news comes on the heels of the big reveal that Surf Loch will power the Palm Springs Surf Club. With the rumored inking of more contracts and non-disclosure agreement signings at this time, speculation is that many more SurfLoch pools are on the way. But for now, we can count three.
Under Construction: Palm Springs
Plans in the Works: Spain, Australia
The gold standard of wave pools from an experience standpoint has also sewn discord through would-be wave pool users. Naysayers point to the low-frequency of waves, $400-per-wave price tag and the fact that watching the world’s best surfers battle their way through a comp at Kelly’s is completely underwhelming.
Despite a user experience that includes profound anxiety (you don’t want to fall on a wave worth several hundred dollars) and a twisting of friend dynamics (you’re happy when your friends fail because it means you get to poach their wave), it is still the most perfect human-made wave on the planet.
Will we see KSWCO reboot to become a pedestrian accessible concept? Probably not as it’s a plow system and only able to produce at max two waves per pass. But we’ll see. With more projects popping up globally and the best branding in the biz, it’s entirely possible KSWCo is sitting on some secret higher-wave capacity technology.
Under Construction: Austin,
Plans in the Works: Japan, Coachella Valley California, Coolum Australia
Bruce McFarland’s air-pressure wave generating system lit up a Texas town previously known for the Wild West and religious cults. Wonderfully customizable surf design with wedges and air sections all set in a BBQ-at-the-lake nirvana and punctuated with a giant slide, BSR Cable Park has become America’s favorite wave pool for non-millionaires (see above).
The PerfectSwell technology is now popping up everywhere from Japan to New Jersey and has a few other projects in the works.
Open: Texas, New Jersey (soon)
Under Construction: Japan
Plans in the Works: France, Japan, Palm Springs
How many Wavegarden Cove wave pools are there in the world? Three. How many will we see in three years? Maybe 33. Wavegarden produced the world’s first surf-specific public wave pool when Snowdonia Adventure Parc opened in Wales in 2015. Their plow-system went on to produce surf for NLand Surf Park for about a year. Unfortunately, this tech laid bare shortcomings like machine reliability and waves per hour. Then the company launched the clip of a small, crystal clear right spinning off legit barrels to a gloved surfer and voila, the Cove design changed the wave pool game.
The Basque company got a head start on the competition with its one-fifth scale prototype. Potential clients could come, sample Basque hospitality, good vibes and the stellar Cove right. The Cove ticked all the wave pool investor boxes: number of waves, paying customers per pool, scaleability and engineering reliability. Today it is the most surfed wave pool design on the planet. Urbnsurf in Melbourne recently announced 3.6million waves had been ridden in just three months.
Under Construction: Switzerland, Scotland, South Korea, Palm Desert
Plans in the Works: Tel Aviv, Russia, London, Birmingham, Paris, Southwest France, Portugal, Madrid, Barcelona, Italy, Germany, Sydney, Oahu, Canada, Mexico, Texas, Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Miami, Chile, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Santa Catarina, Uruguay,
For a more thorough discussion on the wave pool landscape as of April 20, 2020, check out the Boardroom Podcast by Scott Bass with WavePoolMag below. Wave pool conversation starts at 12:20.
Editor’s Note: This article was constructed during the thick of the Coronavirus pandemic. The global economic repercussions will influence future wave pool projects. As with much about this crisis, to what extent things slow, we are not sure. Construction continues at many wave pools. Wavegarden stated, “The manufacturing process continues as normal (as possible) and our team is doing everything to maintain production timelines for all projects under construction.”
- Why are these Swedes so damn happy? Oh yeah, they scored pumping surf for their national championships