Lightning Rod Learning: Surfboards for wave pools by Matt Biolos

Mayhem dishes design theory for the world’s wave pools…

Artisan tough guy and shaper-to-the-stars Matt Biolos is perhaps the most experienced maker of surfboards for wave pools. His team killed it at the Stab High event in Waco; he knows Wavegarden’s Lagoon tech (NLand and Snowdonia) intimitely, and he shaped the board under the feet of Surf Ranch Pro champion Carissa Moore.

Despite the same “wave pool” descriptive, these waves are completely different from one another. Waco is a wedge, Kelly’s is a powerful mini-freight train and NLand/Snowdonia a playful, open-faced boat wake. If you embarked on a world tour of surf-specific wave pools, you could easily tote around a bakers dozen of surfboards.

We are fortunate enough to have this shaping legend share with us what works and what doesn’t work in surfboards for wave pools. Matt also details on how epoxy, polyurethane, LibTech, carbon and other constructions perform in the different wave pools.

Yago Dora on a LIbtech construction
Yago Dora the Explorer likes the toughness and responsiveness of LibTech construction. Photo courtesy of Lost Surfboards

Boards for the Average Surfer

BSR Surf Resort in Waco

In my multiple trips to Waco, we’ve found that quick reacting, snappy boards feel best. The wave is relatively short and punchy, with plenty of power, and tight transitions. This lends itself to shorter, quicker turning boards. The transition is tight and and steep, so you want to fit your turns in quickly. It’s also the type of surfing where you make a lot of contact with the lip.

As far as construction goes, EPS core Epoxy boards really do well here. They are light, quick, and react well to the wave there. Our two techs in this genre are CarbonWrap and C4 constructions. The boys also ripped on our LIB TECH collab boards. They held up incredibly well to abuse. In fact, most composite boards are good for withstanding the banging around that tends to happen there. We did a delegate trip there with Mason Ho, where he rode many different boards. He ended up really locking in, and loving, a RNF (Round Nose Fish) Retro in C4 tech.

Mason Ho in Waco
Mason Ho using a RNF (Round Nose Fish) Retro in C4 tech. Photo courtesy Lost Surfboards

Surf Snowdonia and NLand (Wavegarden Lagoon Tech)

I’ve surfed the original version of this Wave Garden Wave in Spain, and also rode the one in Texas a couple times. My summation is it’s almost the exact opposite board design and construction that works best here compared to Waco. These waves are essentially long rolling enlarged boat wakes. When paired with the proper board, are really fun.

I’ve found that you really want a board with built-in momentum and drive. This means lower rocker, fish-type boards, or longer, more relaxed rocker boards. A little Weight actually helps here. It adds momentum. You really want to keep constant forward drive here. Fun shapes, mid lengths, and fish do well. 

Lib Tech Puddle Jumper by Lost
A short, wide platform works well in the waves of NLand and Snowdonia Adventure Parc

We had a lot of success with our LIB TECH collaboration boards. They have enough weight with keep that forward glide and are primarily designed with low rocker models, like the RNF, Puddle Jumpers, Puddle Fish etc. There’s not a lot of connection with the lip at these waves. You want a board that turns nice on the open face, and does not lose drive. I see a big opportunity for riding beautiful classic PU, resin tinted, well-built fish, mid lengths and even long boards here. Just lock in and enjoy. 

Kelly Slater Wave Company

Most everyone I’ve worked with on boards for this wave have been top competing pros. I must say that the general consensus is simply to ride a normal board, in primarily PU construction and if anything, go a touch shorter. The thing is, this wave has a lot of power, and is usually affected by wind going both ways. Most of the benefits of ultra-light epoxy boards are not felt here.

Although epoxy boards built to standard weights can be good, but for the pros, it made the boards twitchy and wind affected. You really want to settle down into this wave, and like the Wave Garden tech, it’s essentially a giant boat wake, where you want to maintain forward momentum. A little weight can help here as well. 

The holy grail here is the tube. Do you want a stable board that maintains drive, and doesn’t slide or drift? Standard high-performance boards, for most surfers, or even an easy riding step up for older guys, do the trick. Watch the footage of legends like Shaun Tomson and Rabbit, or even Nat Young. It’s all about drive and positioning. 

Mason Ho Waco wave pool doing a christ air
Mason Ho used a carbon wrap constructed Uber Driver during the Stab High contest. Photo courtesy Lost Surfboards

Competition Boards

Stab High Contest

In the recent STAB HIGH event, three of the five finalists were riding Carbon Wrap construction. (Mason Ho, Ian Crane, and the guy who really should have won, Eli Hanniman.) STAB HIGH is all about airs, so we went for speed and pop. I made everyone boards in both standard PU and EPS (Carbon Wrap) Everyone ended up using the Carbon Wraps. We Made them shorter (to fit in the tight tranny) and slightly wider for stability, forgiveness and firm landings. The model of choice was the UBER DRIVER. I’m really happy with the results. Three of five finalists, from a field of 24 surfers felt pretty good. 

Carissa Moore on a polyurethane team shape
Carissa Moore used a traditional polyurethane constructed performance board to claim the Surf Ranch Pro title. Photo courtesy WSL

Surf Ranch Pro

As far as the CT went, we took the win with Carissa. Her best waves could have made the men’s final 8. For her we did two of the exact same board. One in PU and one in EPS. She felt most comfortable on the PU. Kolohe, Griffin, Yago as well, all preferred the standard foam boards. The guys all ran boards 1” shorter than normal, but retaining the same rocker so they fit in the tight transition in the bowl of the wave.

I believe with continued fine tuning, boards for wave pools will evolve more, and differently from ocean surfing, but it will take time. It’s a slow process. 

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