Want to become a wave pool designer or engineer? Here’s how

If you want to be happy, do what you love. An old trick used the world over by school guidance councilors is to ask you, “If you had a million dollars, what would you do all day?” And whatever your response – aside from “nothing” – be it working on old cars, computers, beekeeping, or sketching skyscrapers, is what they recommend you pursue. 

That’s all good and well for career paths in established industries, but what if your passion, such as creating manmade waves, has few avenues to follow? Simple, you forge your own. 

This is what 23-year-old Axel Terradillos has done. His fascination with wave pools has led him on a journey from dreaming to studying, getting an internship, being a trainee, and finally becoming an engineer for wave makers Endless Surf.

I had a chat with Alex to find out what he does and how he landed his dream job of creating waves.

wave pool engineer axel trudillo
It’s great when your passion becomes your work. Axel’s journey started with his love for surfing.

To explain to non-engineering folks, in simple terms, what is it you actually do? 

I’m part of the Engineering team at Endless Surf. I’m involved in the development of our wave pools and the engineering behind the many different projects we are currently working on. I get to work on a wide variety of tasks. From the improvement of our wave-making system to simulations to visualize and study the waves in the pool for client renderings. 

I can say that I’m lucky enough to work alongside highly qualified people such as, Clement Ginestet (Endless Surf product engineer) whose reputation is already well known in the wave pool world and Ander Wynne-Edwards who’s installed hundreds of pneumatic wave pools for WhiteWater.

What’s truly exciting at Endless Surf is that the engineers touch on almost every topic: R&D, discussions with clients, experiments, etc. It’s impossible to get bored when creating waves.

How did you become interested in working with water and when did the wave pool bug bite? 

I discovered surfing when I was 13 and was immediately passionate about it. My father lives on the French Southwest coast so I could practice regularly. After that, I knew I had to find a job related to the ocean. 

But I think that like many people, the revelation took place when the first video of the Kelly Slater Wave Co was put online in 2015. I was literally blown away by the perfection of that wave and I could not stop wondering how it was possible. After that, I started to be truly interested in the surf market and wave pool projects around the world. 

Studying Naval Architecture at ENSTA Bretagne Engineering School in France, I needed to find a graduation internship and I started to search how to enter the field of artificial waves. I quickly found Endless Surf around the same time they launched the La Vague Grand Paris (LVGP) project. Since I firmly believed in their wave generation method, I picked up the phone and was intent on doing an internship with their Engineering Department. My Hydrodynamic profile seemed to meet their needs as the workload was picking up with upcoming projects in LVGP, Munich, the Gold Coast, and more.

I was sent to Munich as a trainee to work for Endless Surf in WhiteWater’s European office, and here started the dream. Now I have a full-time job as an Engineer with the Endless Surf team.

Endless Surf wave system for Surftown in Munich
Artist rendering of the Endless Surf wave pool at Surftown MUC

Can you tell us anything about any future projects you’ll be working on? 

We never stop developing our products, so I continue to work on improving the wave generation system in conjunction with the engineering team. I also spend a lot of time following ongoing projects and advising clients on their operations, so it’s then possible to draw up detailed energy consumption breakdowns. To do so, we rely on numeric tools that are either widely used in marine and coastal engineering, or that have been developed internally and validated experimentally on WhiteWater pools. That makes us confident about the quality of our product.

As they [clients] demand more and more premium waves, we’re currently working on a new pool model that would deliver up to a 35-second ride. I will be spending most of my time on this brand-new project that will keep us very busy. That’s all I can say for now!

What path would you recommend people follow (and study) if they want to become engineers working on wave pools? 

I’m 23 years old, so I’m definitely the junior on the team. Subjects relevant to working on a wave pool are very diverse, so a general engineering background may be enough to have the basics. But I have to say that my training in Naval Architecture and Hydrodynamics might have boosted my chances since I had swell theory as one of my classes. I think the most important is to be extremely passionate about surfing and deeply motivated to design artificial waves that offer an incredible surf experience. 

The skills can be taught, but the passion must already exist. And for a good reason, there is no member within the Endless Surf team who’s not addicted to the surfing environment! It can be very helpful in understanding customers’ needs. 

Endless Surf Velocity Map
Endless Surf Velocity Map shows the intensity of the system’s waves

What are your current and future goals? 

One of my objectives is to surf our wave when it is up and running. But in all seriousness, I would like to continue to work for Endless Surf for as long as possible. The whole team can’t wait to see that “wow” effect of the first pool to be built. That’s why I want to continue to develop the product and accompany our ongoing projects to see them come to life. One thing is for sure, I don’t plan to leave the surfing world anytime soon.

What’s got you most excited about the future for wave pools? 

What’s exciting is to see how surfing’s popularity is increasing, especially now being a part of the Olympic Games. More excitement around this sport means more aspirations for surfing in both coastal and inland areas. Knowing that, the contribution of wave pools is gigantic: they offer a place where localism and overcrowding don’t exist. 

As more pools open around the world, wave technology will become more efficient. But they will have to adapt to the market changes as well: how to handle low capacity, privatization, tracking of the surfer’s progression, etc. These challenges all require flexibility in various technologies. This makes me excited about the future of tech innovation, and especially within my role at Endless Surf.