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Rewind: The Allentown wave pool comp 1985

Wave pool comps have a bad rep. Much of it due to the tense monotony of the CT elite at Kelly’s. Yes, there are moments of brilliance, but overall the splendor of surf spectating is dragging anchor at such events.

Conversely, the longboard event at Kelly’s was beautiful, graceful and engaging. Further up the wave pool comp please-o-meter the Alaia Winter Cup and the on-again-off-again Stab High are examples of exciting new possibilities.

So to see how far wave pool comps have come (or moved laterally) we’re posting an excerpt from Matt Warshaw’s 1985 Surfer Mag article on the Allentown Pennsylvania contest.

The Encyclopedia of Surfing is in the middle of a fundraising drive. For a nominal fee, you can support the work and gain access to the definitive platform on surfing’s history.

allentown wave pool 80s

No, this wavepool, the Wildwater Kingdom wavepool adjacent to Dorney Amusement Park, Allentown, PA, is not the future of professional surfing. This isn’t to say that something similar, perhaps simply magnified and more versatile, wouldn’t make it an interesting debate; it might. But this particular pool, by any objective means of measurement, is fairly pathetic. This was obvious before the competition even got underway, and the official attitude was one of “Sorry, it’s not what we thought it would be, but the contest is on and let’s all make the best of it.” Which was really alright. Two weeks prior, the pool wasn’t even operative and, as I understand it, an impenetrable bed of granite had been struck during construction, cutting down, by some fifty feet, the proposed size of the pool and thusly reducing the size of the wave it could produce. (Optimists, undeterred by the Allentown disappointment—the promo’s had said “Daring surfers can be challenged by five-foot waves”—are already looking forward to the next pool-in-waiting, a huge indoor lefthander in Edmonton, Canada.)

allentown wave pool 80s

The Allentown wave was a freak that you gradually grew accustomed to. By the end of the contest, for instance, it seemed totally normal to see contestants rapidly bobbing up and down over succeeding swells (every two and a half seconds, to be exact), counting down to the 15th and final wave of the sequence. But four days earlier, during my first look at the pool, the scene was shockingly bizarre. I’d jogged to the near side of the pool just as a practice heat was getting ready to begin. The water was still and very blue. The view in general colorful and pretty, with all the bright surfboards, trunks and wetsuits, a gently rolling grass hill in the immediate background and a clear blue late-morning sky radiating a comfortably dry heat. In a loose cluster, sitting on their boards near the business end of the pool, a scant few feet in front of and below where I was standing, chatting among themselves, was a stellar group of surfers including Shaun Tomson, Rabbit Bartholomew, Mark Occhilupo, Glen Winton, Wes Laine, Jim Hogan, Bud Llamas, Scott McCranels and Jeff Novak. Everyone around me, evidently, had already seen the pool in action, but waiting there for something to happen, for actual waves to shoot out from a machine, had me tense and focused. The anticipation, drawn out for a few minutes, was wonderfully excruciating; like when the lights go down before a big concert.

Read the full article on Encyclopedia of Surfing here


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