The Top 10 Wave Pool Stories of 2023
What are the key innovations in the wave pool landscape? How are surf parks incorporating artificial intelligence? What impact does riding waves have on human well-being? We did and learned heaps this year and wanted to share what we think are the top 10 wave pool stories of 2023.
KSWAVE CO has made significant advancements with their latest project, Surf Abu Dhabi, which the GOAT recently unveiled to a hungry world. The innovative wave pool, reputed to be filled with saltwater sourced directly from the Persian Gulf, challenges the previously held belief that saltwater is too corrosive for wave pool systems. Despite industry concerns regarding the increased cost of saltwater compatibility—estimated at an additional $2 million to counteract the harsh environment—KSWAVE CO has pushed forward with this initiative.
In addition to the use of saltwater, the company has introduced a new “W” shaped reef design. This design marks an evolution from their original wave system, which was criticized for catering predominantly to expert surfers due to its long, intense waves. The updated design now features softer, beginner-friendly rollers, addressing the need for more accessible surfing experiences. This change represents a significant leap from the first version of the design introduced in 2015 to a dumbstruck world and demonstrates KSWAVE CO’s ability to evolve in the space.
Three companies have made significant strides in automated session capture by launching AI video systems designed to enhance the user experience and reap a financial boom for wave pool operators.
Flowstate leads the way with its “style fingerprint” technology, capturing the unique nuances of each surfer’s style. Flowstate’s advanced AI models compile surf session footage into downloadable highlight packages, including a 30-second personalized clip for each surfer, while also integrating social media content for wave parks. The system aims to remove the hassle of clip organization, storage, and editing, providing surfers with easily shareable content. The company hit the “1 million waves captured” milestone late last year.
Wavegarden introduced CheckMySurf this year, a comprehensive video service that uses AI for face recognition and is integrated with the Cove wave generator. Unlike others in the market, it has special outdoor screens for instant wave replays and real-time information. This system not only aids surfers in improving their performance in real-time but also serves as a tool for surf park operators to display advertisements and safety announcements.
Additionally, Surfline has implemented a similar system at the Lineup at Wai Kai, indicating a broader adoption of AI technology in the pool sector. All of these innovations mark a new chapter in surfing where we can now easily access videos of ourselves surfing without having to use a filmer.
The pioneering wave pool, known for being the world’s first dedicated surf park, announced the permanent closure of its surf basin. When the closure was announced, it launched media speculation and click-baiting that inland surfing was dead in the water. What reports failed to recognize is that the shutdown was more representative of the park’s early-generation technology.
Adventure Parc Snowdonia, which opened in 2015 and rebranded from its original name Surf Snowdonia, faced recurring technical difficulties with its Wavegarden plow system. The park’s management cited unsustainable repair costs and operational downtime as the primary reasons for the closure, acknowledging the disappointment and impact on its dedicated employees.
Despite the closure, the park’s history is marked by numerous achievements, including hosting adaptive surfing competitions and being the first to add a hotel and spa. These contributions have set a benchmark for future surf parks to follow.
But what we’d like to emphasize in this story are the advancements in water treatment, preventative maintenance, and engineering that have developed since the surf park’s inception. Basically, such issues are unlikely to affect upcoming and existing projects utilizing current technologies.
While the closure of Adventure Parc Snowdonia marks the end of an era, it also opens the door to speculation about the site’s future. The park hinted at a possible revival with a “new and reimagined experience from 2024 onwards,” leaving industry enthusiasts hopeful for another chapter in the site’s storied existence.
The Wave is setting a sustainability benchmark in the wave pool sector with its ambitious solar energy project. The £3.2 million initiative, supported by a significant £1.45 million grant from the European Regional Development Fund and a loan from South Gloucestershire Council, should produce 3,000,000 kWh per year—more than the park’s annual energy consumption.
This project not only aligns with The Wave’s commitment to renewable energy but also positions it as a leader in eco-conscious business practices within the industry. The installation comprises solar PV modules, a solar canopy, and a ‘Smartflower’ to educate visitors on renewable energy. An electric vehicle charging station and a recyclable battery system further underscore the park’s green credentials.
Founder Nick Hounsfield’s vision for The Wave from the start was to harness 100% renewable energy to power the facility. The local council’s support and funding reflect a wider movement towards renewables. Here’s hoping the solar energy project is not just a milestone for The Wave but also serves as a model for environmental responsibility for future surf park developments.
In North America, Virginia Beach will see the $325 million Atlantic Park development, complete with a Wavegarden Cove surf pool, welcoming visitors by the end of 2024. The project, supported by Pharrell Williams, will offer a mix of retail, dining, and entertainment. Further west, Arizona’s Revel Surf Park is set to open in Spring 2024, with SwellMFG technology at the heart of the Cannon Beach development. On the east coast, the Crest Surf Clubs in New York are gearing up for a 2024 launch, promising a luxury surf experience outside Manhattan. California’s Palm Springs Surf Club is also opening in January 2024, after successfully testing its wave technology in the Coachella Valley.
Moving to Europe, Munich’s O2 SurfTown MUC in Germany is scheduled to begin operations in the summer of 2024, featuring an Endless Surf system and a multifunctional “Hybrid One” space. The Hague’s Surf Poel, Europe’s first commercial indoor surfing wave pool, is also set to open in 2024, while Rotterdam’s RiF010 is expected to introduce the world’s first urban tank, a 1.5-meter right-hander, in the same year. Belgium’s Allwaves system will begin testing its new wave machine in winter 2024.
In the Southern Hemisphere, Sydney is anticipating the opening of URBNSURF by Autumn 2024. Set to become New South Wales’ premier wave pool destination, the park follows the trend of integrating surf parks with a variety of leisure and training facilities.
The Middle East is not to be outdone, with Riyadh’s Qiddiya gigaproject in Saudi Arabia launching an Endless Surf wave pool in October 2024 as part of a larger entertainment zone. As mentioned earlier, Abu Dhabi’s Hudayriyat Island unveiled the Kelly Slater Wave Pool.
South America is also expanding rapidly. Brazil’s Surfland Brasil in Garopaba soft-launched in November 2023 and will go “hard open” in Spring 2024. The Surf Center in Curitiba is breaking new ground with the first indoor and heated wave pool in South America, launching in the second half of 2024.
The cancellation of the Wisemans Ferry surf park shocked everyone. The ambitious project, aimed at creating a premium inland surfing destination, was shelved due to skyrocketing construction costs and a record-breaking wet season in Sydney.
The industry is taking note of the potential financial and environmental challenges these projects face, as the news of the cancellation quickly spread among surfers and industry insiders. The Wisemans Ferry venture, which began in 2016 when Ace Chief Group bought land for $7.25 million with a vision for a $120 million surf park, offered the promise of high-quality waves close to home.
Investors, who backed the project with substantial funds, have been assured of full refunds since their capital was held in a trust account, untouched by the project’s expenses. While the project’s failure is a setback for everyone involved, the resilience of the wave pool industry suggests that this is not the definitive end for the Wisemans Ferry site, especially with existing land ownership and council approvals.
As the wave pool sector continues to mature, the insights gained from the Wisemans Ferry project’s obstacles will be crucial for future developments. The industry remains hopeful, viewing this event not as a failure but as part of the learning process that will shape the future of inland surfing experiences.
In Canéjan, near Bordeaux, a new wave pool project is set to tackle the notable hardships faced by such developments in France. These challenges include navigating stringent environmental regulations, complex zoning laws, and a rigorous permitting process that can lead to significant delays.
Despite these hurdles, a dedicated partnership has meticulously planned this particular project for over two years, capitalizing on a privately owned industrial plot to facilitate a smoother initiation.
Bordeaux was selected for its heavy surfer traffic and inland location, which currently necessitates a lengthy trip for locals seeking beach access. Its convenient train connection to Paris and relative closeness to the surfing coast enhance its appeal as a wave pool location.
With permits secured as of February 2023, the project is on the verge of commencing construction, with a targeted two-year timeline to completion. The development is designed to accommodate both local and visiting surfers, featuring a comprehensive sports complex, dining options, co-working space, and lodging. Although branding specifics are still under wraps, the facility is anticipated to emerge as a leading surf spot in France.
The transformative effects of surfing on mental well-being have been substantiated by a recent study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Conducted at The Wave in Bristol, UK, the research tracked the emotional and psychological impact of surfing on a group of women over a six-week period, revealing significant enhancements in happiness and mental health.
The study’s findings highlight a dual benefit to well-being: hedonic, marked by increased pleasure and enjoyment, and eudaimonic, characterized by a greater sense of purpose and personal achievement. Participants consistently reported feelings of exhilaration and positivity, attributing these emotions to their surfing experience.
Surfing’s capacity to improve self-efficacy emerged as a key outcome, with physical activity leading to better self-perception and cognitive health. This aligns with the theory that well-being encompasses the pursuit of enjoyment (hedonic) and meaningful activities (eudaimonic), both of which were experienced by the study’s participants.
The report underscores the holistic nature of surfing, combining physical exercise with exposure to nature and sunlight—elements known to foster serotonin production and enhance mood. The social and community aspects of surfing also play a crucial role, with the shared culture and sense of belonging contributing to overall happiness.
This comprehensive study not only confirms the anecdotal evidence of surfing’s positive impact but also provides a solid foundation for future research in more diverse populations. As surfing therapy programs gain popularity worldwide, the sport is being recognized not just for its physical benefits but as a significant contributor to mental health and happiness.
O2 Telefónica has signed on as the title sponsor for Surftown MUC, now rebranded as O2 SURFTOWN MUC. This marks a significant shift in surf park partnerships, following a model akin to American sports stadium sponsorships. The agreement includes O2 branding at the Munich facility, signaling a new era for surf parks.
O2 Telefónica said they are proud to be the eponymous partner of an extraordinary project. The facility is expected to open in early summer 2024 and is poised to become a landmark for Munich and Bavaria.
Chris Boehm-Tettelbach, CEO of SURFTOWN, notes Munich’s status as Germany’s surfing capital and emphasizes the surf park’s role in providing sustainable leisure activities. The park aims to offer a CO2-friendly surfing alternative, with the potential to significantly reduce the carbon footprint associated with the surfing trips many German surfers take several times per year. O2 SURFTOWN MUC will implement eco-friendly initiatives such as a bonus system for sustainable travel, e-bike and car charging stations, and the use of local suppliers to minimize supply chain length. The facility will also harness solar energy and operate a water management system that combines groundwater with rainwater, treated on-site.
The wave pool will be the first public peek at the Endless Surf technology which was brought to market by amusement giant Whitewater.
The World Surf League (WSL) has successfully expanded its wave pool competitions with events in Melbourne, Lemoore, and most recently in Itupeva, Brazil, and Siheung, South Korea. The Banco do Brasil sponsored event at Praia da Grama saw surfers like Sophia Medina and Miguel Pupo emerge victorious, with Medina overcoming an initial score deficit and Pupo capping off his year with a win before heading to Pipeline.
In Korea, the Siheung Korea Open made history with snowfall during the competition and saw significant wins by Japanese surfers Amuro Tsuzuki and Keijiro Nishi in the QS 3000 event, while Natsumi Taoka and Kai Hamase claimed the LQS comps. Melbourne’s URBNSURF hosted another Rip Curl WQS event and a national grom competition. The event showcased the high caliber of Australian junior surfing (all frothing to get in the pool), with seventy-two top junior surfers competing and Owen Wright, yes, the Olympic bronze medalist Owen Wright, making a surprise appearance.
What does that all mean? Well, it’s now possible for a QS surfer to trot the globe from wave pool to wave pool racking up qualifying points.