OpEd: Is the wave pool build in Australia really lagging?

An Australian TV news report recently lamented that, despite Kelly’s V1 plastic liner dream debuting just eight years ago, “Almost a decade later, there’s still only one wave pool in surfing mad Australia.”

There’s been a collective shift of perception in the surf park space and we’ve moved from a Jetson’s dream age of surfing anywhere and everywhere to a climate of “Hey loser! where’s my neighborhood wave pool?” The world wanted it on their desk yesterday, but apparently developers have been out of the office on a Starbucks run.

So upset with inland surfing’s underperformance, our favorite look-at-this!-Jonah-Hill-and-the-WSL-is-totally-what’s-wrong-with-surfing! website BeachGrit claimed the report meant that the “wave pool dream is dead.” While both the original report, and BeachGrit’s report-on-the-report plays into the disappointment narrative, a lot has actually gone very well.

A kangaroo waits on the shores of Surf Lakes in Yeppoon. Above and main image by Surf Lakes

Despite COVID, rising interest rates, inflation, drought and the sheer complexity of regulations, the number of consumer-facing wave pools (globally at least) will double in the next year. It’s just not happening as fast as our iPhone scrolling fingers want it to happen.

However, Australia is lagging when compared to, say, Europe. The Lucky Country will have Sydney in the Southern Hemi Spring and Yeppoon is greenlit to build once funding is complete. Perth is eyeing 2025 and Parkwood on the Gold Coast is set to be completed in 2026. Others on the WavePoolMag map include Port Douglass, Cairns and the Sunshine Coast.

The ABC news piece spoke with the right people, interviewing Aaron Trevis of Surf Lakes, Andrew Ross at Aventuur and Luke Altschwager of Parkwood about why Australia doesn’t have a clutch of wave pools despite the tremendous demand. While you can hear their full stories intimately via our podcast channel here, these thought leaders’ soundbites for the piece said what we’ve known for years, building a wave tank is marathon, not a sprint.

Surf Lakes has a proven prototype of their technology, a system that pumps out surf along 360 degrees of shoreline.

Reporter Mackenzie Colahan has a fair point, if you were to rewind the clock back to 2019 and ask WavePoolMag how many wave pools would be in Australia in 2023, we would have answered “about four.”

And good on Mackenzie for asking the question. Hopefully it signals another collective shift, one from bigger, better, faster, now to understanding the layered complexity inherent in most things, as pointed out by Luke Altschwager.

“It’s pretty audacious to say you’re going to build something that’s never been built before,” says Luke. “They’re hard to get done, but the more that get done the easier it is to get done. So I think we’re all in this together.”

Melbourne’s URBNSURF is the sole commercial operating wave pool in Australia until its sister sight in Sydney opens in 2024.

Let’s take a look at the stats for 2023:

  • Australia has 13 planned wave pool projects and 1 operational wave pool. This equates to roughly 0.00000052 wave pools per person, based on a population of 25 million.
    • For every operational wave pool, there are nearly 25 million Australians.
  • The United States features 37 planned wave pool projects and 4 operational wave pools. This results in approximately 0.000000112 wave pools per person, with a population of 330 million.
    • For every operational wave pool, there are about 82.5 million Americans.
  • The European Union, with an estimated population of 440 million, has 38 planned wave pool projects and 2 operational wave pools. This leads to about 0.000000086 wave pools per person.
    • For every operational wave pool, there are about 220 million EU residents.
  • Brazil has 7 planned wave pool projects and 3 operational wave pools. With a population of 213 million, this results in approximately 0.0000000329 wave pools per person for planned projects and 0.0000000141 for operational wave pools.
    • For every operational wave pool, there are about 71 million Brazilians.