While China’s first wave pool experiment crashed and burned, new intel suggests they are far from done

China’s first wave pool experiment sent shock waves around the world in 2019. The world’s biggest manufacturing power had entered the wave pool arms race. Well, sort of.

The pool China launched in the country’s northeast Henan province basically copied the design and layout of Kelly Slater’s pool in Lemoore. The wave didn’t match the quality or perfection that Slater created in California, but surely the sky was the limit if the Chinese government focused their resources on advancing pool technology. 

However, the pool mysteriously disappeared as fast as it appeared. And since then there hasn’t been a peep from the surf spot, nor any other wave tank projects in China for that matter.

From the videos, the wave pool looks to work well enough but apparently the structural integrity and engineering didn’t hold up to rigorous use. After a handful of days in operation the pool shut down and the surrounding surf center, which included offices, changing rooms, and arena seating, were abandoned as well – not dissimilar from the abandoned Beijing 2008 Olympic venues

While China’s first attempt at wave pools was not a success, its Olympic surfing program has made it clear that they aren’t done yet. 

In a recent interview with Stab Magazine, the Director of the Surfing Department for China’s Water Sports Administration, Mr. Zhou Changcheng, spoke about the past failure and revealed future plans for wave pools in the world’s most populous nation.

“We really hope to be able to buy the best wave pool in the future, but the national team doesn’t have so much money,” said Zhou. “So we encourage a provincial government or a private company to partner with the best technology available to build one.” 

“I really think within the next couple of years we will have [a pool],” Zhou confirmed. “If they want the [national team] to improve we need to have the best equipment available.”

For the next wave pool, it’s apparent China wants to take a different approach. The first tank was a private venture that created their own technology (although private and public can often be difficult to differentiate in China). The next pool would likely be a partnership with one of the existing wave pool technologies, according to Zhou. 

We can only speculate about what technology they may choose, but Zhou did mention American Wave Machines and Wavegarden as technologies that the Chinese team had successfully used for training in the past. 

The ISA events are truly international, drawing surfers from all around the world and not just the surfing hot spots. Team China at the recent ISA World Junior Games. Photo: Pablo Jiminez/ISA

And regarding the previous pool failure, Zhou knew very little. 

“I know nothing about that pool because I’ve never been there,” Zhou told Stab. “The national team doesn’t train there or have events there. Until now they just opened once, and since then no one has been there. It might be broken.”

It’s hard to believe that the head of China’s surf program knows nothing of the lone pool in the country, but that’s the official line.

Whatever is going on with that pool, it’s clear that it’s dead in the water and won’t be revived. If, or when, another pool comes to China, it will be a new project from the ground up. 

And with China ramping up the funding of their surf program in search of more Olympic medals, it may only be a matter of time before they go all in and commit to a new pool project that would accelerate the timeline of their surf team’s growth and development. 

Endless Surf 2023A