The Top Wave Pool Stories of 2022
If this year felt like a blur, you’re not alone. So much happened in the wave pool world that our heads are still spinning 10 days before 2022 comes to a close. And this surf park sphere in which we live is only going to accelerate more rapidly with each subsequent trip around the sun. Our minds are blown in the best way possible.
This year, we decided to look back on the Top Stories of 2022 through the lens of the people on the ground, those folks who make the wave pool world spin. In this end-of-year review, you’ll hear from the developers, dreamers and doers in the surf park space.
What did we learn? The two biggest stories of the year were the WSL jumping into other wave pool technologies and the defeat of Kelly’s system at La Quinta. What were the others? You’ll have to scroll down to find out.
The WSL holding a comp outside of The Surf Ranch signaled a willingness for surfing’s best-known organization to admit that there are other technologies out there besides their foil track system. And, despite no one asking for it, they re-instated the Surf Ranch Pro, the least favorite event on tour.
Jina Kim of Wave Park said the WSL adding wave pools to the official QS, LQS and JQS tours was a huge deal for competitive surfers. Why? “Because, it’s the WSL!” she said. “They hold the biggest surf events in the world. They already visited Wave Park to see if they can make an event happen in Korea next year. I hope more and more WSL events will be held in wave pools.”
Baptiste Caulonque of Endless Surf adds that the since the WSL is now open to showing other manmade wave techs, that we’ll see a period of rapid growth in the next few years. “The WSL is bringing competitive surfing to virgin, urban areas to extend its reach,” said Baptiste. “Crazy formats will arise and the different pool layouts will offer the most amazing views for TV and web production alike.”
Shunichi Matsuuchi works at Surf Stadium Japan. He believes the WSL’s move to include wave tanks will rapidly evolve what we perceive as “Competitive Surfing.”
“This is the moment when surfing becomes not only a “competition in the ocean” but also a “competition in the pool” which can be compared to disciplines like swimming and artistic swimming,” said Shunichi. “Opinions on what surfing should be vary from person to person. And a new question will arise as we wonder if surfing will soon be distinguished by terms like” ocean surfer” or “pool surfer.” Or will surfers just be surfers?”
On the competitive expansion, Dr. Jess Ponting pointed to the Rip Curl Cup Urbnsurf as a positive example of where this will take us.
“It was by all accounts an incredibly successful competition that the competitors loved,” said Jess. “I’d still like to hear from spectators of the event unaffiliated with any commercial interests in it or the facility but my sense is that this is going to be a breakthrough for professional competition surfing in surf parks that, because of the increased throughput of waves will allow contests to get past the undeniably kind-of-boring events at the Surf Ranch. This could be huge, opening the door for WSL sanctioned events in land-locked countries and counties beyond Central California.”
Jess added he meant no disrespect to the KS wave, “it is incredible to ride, but it doesn’t produce an edge of-the-seat viewing experience, even if you’re there in person.”
Brendan Buckley, Editor-in-Chief at Stab didn’t mention the WSL’s jump into other pool technologies, but he did lament the return to the Surf Ranch.
“Back by popular demand, right? Right??,” said Buck. “Not a huge deal if the WSL had just kept it on the CT schedule. But, the fact that they removed it (we know it wasn’t a permitting issue) and then brought it back — it’s kinda funny.”
Just two short years ago the Coachalla Valley of California was being touted as the wave pool’s very own North Shore of Oahu. With four pools in the works it looked to be ground zero for the blossoming of inland surfing. But adjacent the proposed site, neighbors living in a irrigation intensive golf resort opposed the project, citing drought and many other issues. Overnight, the city council flip flopped from a position of support to one of opposition to appease the residents. So what did we learn? That there’s a lot of work to be done for projects at a community level.
“Surf parks face numerous challenges when going from a concept to operational,” said Alex Murphy of Surf Park Central. “These issues include everything from funding to environmental concerns. The City of La Quinta, California, blocked Coral Mountain from moving forward over drought concerns. While this is a specific example, all surf park developers should take note of the potential roadblocks they face.”
Skip Taylor of Surf Park Management said Coral Mountain’s downfall represents a really valuable learning experience.
“Early steps in the development cycle are key to avert concerns on environmental impacts and to ensure the location selected matches the values of the community you are entering into,” said Skip. “Projects that go this deep into project planning and design and then don’t get approved make it more challenging for future surf park projects and the industry needs to take heed that by just having a great development idea and a great piece of land isn’t always the the road to success.”
Skip brought in the short-lived San Jaun Capistrano project as another example of what developments need to be aware of.
“On the surface both these projects were excellent, but ultimately were scuttled with millions of dollars lost by their investors who then become hesitant to invest in future surf park projects. We need more wins to show the investment community that this business model is sound.”
Closest to the action in the Coachella Valley is Palm Spring Surf Club’s Cheyne Magnusson. His disappointment about the defeat at Coral Mountain shows how surf parks, while competitive with each other, want to see the space prosper and grow with all entities moving forward.
“I was extremely bummed out to hear that it got blocked,” said Cheyne. “I was really looking forward to having another wave park next door to us and the potential cross pollination of customers, events, and competitions we could both host. I really feel for those guys and hope they can find a way to move forward on their project. Everyone building these projects should be aware of the challenges they face with regard to water usage and take any sustainable steps possible to minimize the impact on the environment.”
Cheyne noted that the journalistic balance covering wave pools is tipped in favour of search engine results. It’s a space where sensationalism equals clicks and traffic.
“I would like to see some of us vocalize the positive impacts wave parks have on the community and customers who we serve,” added Cheyne. “Just to name a few, surfing promotes a healthy lifestyle, we can utilize wave parks for surf therapies like surfers healing and wounded warrior foundations. In Palm Springs, we plan on working with the local school districts to offer a surf PE class and push the sport of surfing on to the local community who otherwise don’t have much access to the sport. These are really positive things that no one talks about and I’d like to see us talk about the positive impacts we can have on humans who surf or aspire to surf.”
We hear you Cheyne, and there were several stories that focused on the many positives happening in the wave pools space. From The Wave going solar and net zero energy use to how wave pools open up access for people who face several barriers to enjoying a session.
WavePoolMag met Joe Pradella during a Surf Lakes Demo tour. We innocently asked Joe why he was shivering in the balmy Queensland weather. He told us it was a side effect of MS. As a lifelong surfer, snowboarder, and skateboarder, his Multiple Sclerosis (MS) diagnosis at 25 brought on a cataclysmic life change. But out here in the bush on the Capricorn Coast, Joe was exploring how wave pools could offer therapy and help for himself and others.
“This story was heart warming and hit a chord for me,” said Andrew Ross of Aventuur. “My father was diagnosed with MS when I was six years old and he battled with it over the next 28 years, the last 15 years or so as a quadriplegic without the ability to speak. Knowing personally how isolating disability can be, using a wave pool as a means to provide opportunities for people of all abilities to enjoy the outdoors was a key motivation for me in getting into the surf park space.”
And Joe’s story isn’t an isolated one. The Wave in Bristol continues to push Blue Health and host adaptive surfing events. The big story in 2022 is that we are seeing how controlled surf environments are a medical breakthrough.
Work is set to start on a solar and energy storage array at The Wave in South Gloucestershire to kick out solar-powered surf by June 2023. The Bristol surf facility stated that planning, funding and contracts are now all in place for the solar installation, which will produce more energy than the wave pool and its surrounding facilities use every year – making the business Net Zero carbon in terms of its operational energy consumption.
In total the installation is forecast to generate 3,000,000 kWh (kilowatt hours) in year one – and The Wave’s current annual power consumption is c. 2,250,000 kWh. Excess power generated will be exported, contributing toward decarbonising the National Grid.
“The article that encapsulates sustainability going mainstream for me was the recent announcement by The Wave Bristol,” said Jess Ponting. “The £3.2 million solar install at The Wave, funded by the European Regional Development Fund’s Growth Program and a commercial loan from the South Gloucestershire Council will be sufficient to completely power the Wavegarden Lagoon component of the surf park with onsite generated renewable energy with zero carbon footprint beyond the manufacturing of the solar panels. That’s really cool and has set a new standard across the industry.”
While wave technology got a lot of attention this year, we’re slowly catching on to the fact that there’s more to a surf park than just the surf. Whether it’s a mixed-use venue or a hotel-slash-resort all designs require unique approaches when it comes to affecting the overall user experience. And although it may sound simple enough, there is a lot of nuance that goes into design and planning, that we just don’t see on the surface.
“This was a next level story for the wavepool industry,” said Jina Kim. “It was good to understand that we should focus not only on the wave machine but also on the rest of the environment. Basically, the wave is the main dish at a surf park, but we also know how important the place where we eat that main dish is.”
The increase in coastal property values along the Southern California shoreline and its many world-famous surf breaks is staggering with one report citing the average close-to-shore dwelling at $10.5 million. But coastal property is limited. So what do you do? Build a beach.
How much value does a wave pool add to a development? Increasingly, we’re seeing the true value of surf – and it’s a developer’s dream.
“Anyone who has recently looked at the housing market knows it’s not easy to find a home, especially one that lets you walk outside to great breaking waves” said Alex Murphy of Surf Park Central. “Home builders in Brazil are looking to change that by using Wavegarden as an amenity at their developments. This model shows there is room for wave pools to grow outside recreational parks and in some unique new ways. Branching out into new markets may also increase the rate at which wave pools open, and that’s good news for everyone.”
The annual event celebrated the post-covid era with a banger of an event in San Diego, attracting a growing number of participants and enthusiasts in the wave pool space.
“I feel that 2022 was a tipping point for the surf park industry,” said Skip Taylor of Surf Park Management. “The post pandemic 2022-Summit was the first true global gathering in several years and the attendees of the event clearly showed that our nascent industry is now evolving to a global industry with real merit. The number of sophisticated developers planning on using a surf park as the feature amenity with with residential, commercial and hospitality developments is so encouraging.”
The 3X World Champ is investing in a series of eponymous surf clubs across his home country of Brazil. Partnering with Endless Surf, Gabby could be way ahead of the curve as superstar surf personalities form their own special surf clubs outside of the ocean.
“This is the first time a pro surfer openly vetted a particular technology, ours,” said Baptiste Caulonque of Endless Surf. “It is so interesting to see Gabby think in terms of developing assets and showing he is a true believer in the surf park business model. Brazil is a huge market with a huge surfing population, so these projects can only grow in the future.”
THERE’S MONEY POURING INTO THE SURF PARK SPACE
As Jess Ponting points out, 2022 was the year that institutional capital arrived in surfing and the industry busted down the door of banks and pension funds. The result? There is more capital in surf parks now than ever before.
“Wavegarden Scotland is now Lost Shore Surf Resort and secured 8-figure-loans from the Scottish National investment Bank, UK based OakNorth Bank, and the pension fund of BAE Systems, a defense contractor with 90,000+ employees in 40 countries,” said Jess. “Since then KSM Realty in Brazil has partnered with BTG Pactual Asset Management who invest and manage assets on behalf of institutional capital to build a giant surf park, called Beyond the Club in Sao Paulo.”
Jess added that, “We may look back on these developments as the projects that opened the institutional capital floodgates for the surf park industry.”
Creating human-made waves is a business. There’s a huge demand for more surfing opportunities, and wave creators and park operators are capitalizing on this, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun,” said Alex Murphy. “This article proves that many in the industry are here because they love surfing. The passion behind catching waves is what truly fuels the growth that’s creating the future of surfing.”
Big shout out and thank you to our panel of guest contributors: Jina Kim of Wave Park, Baptiste Caulonque of Endless Surf, Brendan Buckley, Editor at Stab, Dr. Jess Ponting, Cheyne Magnusson, Alex Murphy of Surf Park Central, Shunichi Matsuuchi of Surf Stadium Japan, Euna Kim of Wave Park, Andrew Ross of Aventuur, and Skip Taylor of Surf Park Management.