Surfboards for wave pools: What works and what doesn’t

The best surfboard for a wave pool will be made with lighter, stronger materials and tend to be shorter in length with more rocker, as well as curve in the template. A touch more foam for all that paddling is a good option as well. Below are guidelines from some of the best shapers in the world.

The best surfboards for wave pools are ones tailored to the type of wave you’ll be surfing. The waves in each of the world’s wave pools vary a great deal from one to the other. Kelly’s is a powerful Kirra-esque keg, Waco is a freaky peak and NLand/Snowdonia is an open-faced boat wake. The Cove and Surf Lakes? You could ride a different board for each of the different settings or peaks.

However, we are discovering a few basic principles that work when altering board design to customize surfboards for wave pools.

“You often need extra flotation, so ad a sixteenth (of an inch) in thickness or an eighth in the width,” says Christiaan Bradley of Bradley Surfboards. “You might find that you need just that little more flotation or tail area in the board which creates lift. A lot of surfers need that lift to get more drive.”

A shorter rail line and more curve to suit the tight space of human-made waves are other go-to adjustments (more on that later). The biggest trend we’re seeing is that EPS is emerging as a favorite construction for wave pool surfboards.

EPS Construction and Liveliness

More surfers are turning to Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) construction in their pool sleds than Polyurethane (PU) because EPS is lighter in weight. A surfboard that weighs less, will have more buoyancy. This comes into play when navigating the slightly less buoyant freshwater wave pools of the world.

In addition, the flex properties between the two differ. Most surfers describe PU flex as more sensitive and tuned-in and EPS as more springy and forgiving.

“I’ve surfed Snowdonia about three times and it’s sick,” says British grom Stanley Norman. “I use epoxy or something a bit thicker because the wave’s pretty weak and it’s easier to get flow and more speed off turns with epoxy.”

Christiaan Bradley agrees that epoxy’s performance characteristics including the additional buoyancy, are well-suited to wave pool use.

“For me, epoxy gives that additional float, and at Snowdonia it helps a lot more because that wave doesn’t have a lot of push,” adds Christiaan. “Epoxy would be an advantage for most surfers, but some will prefer PU because they are that good and don’t need any help from their equipment. But others will be struggling with the wave, so you’ll need to change to epoxy so they can get down the line easier. Although some will find it harder to set a rail when you have all that float. But some surfers deal with it better than others.”

Although typically stronger than PU, epoxy boards also need to be glassed stronger as waves like Kelly’s and Waco pack a punch. Bradley team rider Not Dupouy broke several epoxy boards on a recent trip to the BSR Surf Resort.

New Construction

Firewire introduced a new and reinforced build called Artificial Wave Technology specifically designed for wave pools.

“We developed the Artificial Wave Technology construction to withstand the daily demands of surfing standing waves,” says Firewire. “It’s to counter the concrete, rocks, shallower water and the walls and barriers surrounding the world’s best standing waves.”

The construction principle applies to wave pools with concrete walls and bottoms as well.

Firewire’s Helium technology is what you find on the racks at your local surf shop. It’s paulownia rails sandwiching eps then sandwiched with deck skins. For the Artificial Wave Technology construction they’ve added reinforce carbon strips at the nose and tail as well as fin box reinforcements.

Other wave-pool-specific constructions include a “soft skin” of foam over a standard glassed board, a popular option by companies like Cush Surfboards.

Shorter Lengths for More Template Curve

Jo Dennison talks about adjusting her quiver for the Snowdonia wave pool

One trend that’s emerging for wave pool-specific shapes is going shorter in length. For example, Stanley Norman added that he usually rides a 5’8″ in the ocean but at Snowdonia he uses a 5’6″ or a 5’7. This reduction in length is even more drastic when you note the change is happening with grom dimensions.

This reduced length in template helps the board fit into tighter spaces. More length in a board creates a longer, straighter rail line which tends to draw out your turns. This works great at an open-faced wave like J-Bay, but doesn’t work in a smaller lip-to-trough type of wave like found at Waco and Snowdonia. Consequently, by decreasing length, a standard shortboard’s template becomes curvier.

One surfer who has probably logged more waves in a wave pool than anyone else is former Snowdonia resident pro Jo Dennison. Jo said she drops the length of her standard board from 5’7″ to 5’4″ when tailoring to wave pools.

“My boards are so small I can’t even paddle them out in the ocean anymore,” says Jo. “Wherever you surf you have to try and find a board that fits the wave shape. It’s been a really interesting process trying to find the perfect board for Surf Snowdonia. You don’t really need to paddle in the wave pool so you can get away with smaller boards than you normally would in the ocean. The pocket of the wave is small but punchy, so you want something that fits in nicely, otherwise, you just have too much rail.”

More Curve for Quick Turns in Tight Pockets

Matt Biolos and his Lost team spent a lot of time last year testing materials and builds at wave pools around the USA, most notably, the BSR Surf Resort in Waco

The small punchy pocket that Jo describes is a common trait of wave pool surf. Standard ocean-going surf craft are laid out to cover more surface area when traversing the water surface on a wave.

Matt Biolos has made several trips to the BSR Surf Resort in Waco. He found that adjusting a board’s curve in both rail and rocker helps.

“The wave is relatively short and punchy, with plenty of power, and tight transitions,” says Matt. “This lends itself to shorter, quicker turning boards. The transition is tight 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.”

The other line of thought is that if the surf in the wave pool is good enough, there’s no need to adjust equipment. Granted, most shapers see the world of board design through the eyes of their pro team riders hitting a performance level most of us can only dream of. But if your go-to favorite shortboard works while salted, chances are it will still work when unsalted.

“If the wave has enough power to drive the surfer, you can use your standard shortboard,” says Bradley. “BSR has a lot of punch, so a standard shortboard would work. Same with Kelly’s wave so your standard shortboard is going to work.”

The Future

Check just how different each wave at each wave pool can be. There is no one particular design that works well in all wave pools

In the near future, as more wave pools pop up globally, we will get a consistent reading on wave characteristics. With more consistent input and feedback for future models, you might not need to adjust your quiver for a wave pool.

“I’m still looking for further improvements and new designs,” adds Jo Dennison. “I think surfboard makers will develop a completely new range in equipment to surf wave pools in the future.”

Surfboards for wave pools

This article originally ran in June 2019. It has been updated to include new technology available for wave pool-specific surfboards, something that didn’t exist at the time of the original story.

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