Wave omnivore Blair Conklin will ride & surf pretty much anything
A few years ago we interviewed Blair after he dropped some insane clips from his jaunts to Waco. That same year he scored in the inaugural Stab High event, blowing minds with his foamie and finless escapades. But at the time there weren’t a whole lot of wave pools in the world, except for Kelly’s and Typhoon Lagoon. Since then he’s been able to travel, vlog, skim and invent new kinds of surfing.
Blair sat in on the WavePoolMag Innovation panel at Surf Park Summit. Joined by the facts-and-figures elite of the artificial wave space, Blair quickly became the audience favorite with his stories of surf park exploration and experience. We caught up with Blair to get his perspective on the pulse of the wave pool world.
So what pools have you surfed, Blair?
In the last two years or so, I’ve had an opportunity to surf probably about five different wave pools. The most recent one I got to surf was the Palm Springs Surf Club. Got to go there last week and try out some of Cheyne Magnusson’s new creations. Before that, I was in Boa Vista in Brazil, just outside of Sao Paulo and I’ve surfed Waco Surf, The Wave in the UK, and I’ve also surfed a couple of stationary waves. So I’ve surfed quite a few citywave facilities, one in Spain, one in eastern Washington called Lake Chelan, and then also the epic surf wave technology. I feel like I might be missing one, but I’m pretty sure that’s it.
Would you rather skim or surf in a pool?
Every pool has its different settings. Some settings are beneficial for having fins, and others are beneficial for riding finless. At the Wave in Bristol, I was kind of riding their advanced setting, and it was like their standard kind of turn wave. When I was riding a traditional shortboard, it felt kind of slow, and maybe the board was too small for me, but I gravitated towards my finless board because I was able to carry a lot more speed on the face of the wave there and really lay in the turns a lot more. Same with a lot of these other pools that have good barrels, like if there’s a slab or any type of heavy barrel, I’ll usually ride a board with fins, especially backside. Going backside on a finless board can be really challenging and can be hard to keep a rail. So on these air sections, I kind of like to ride a finless board because you can come into the air section with way too much speed, and it’s almost a matter of controlling your speed so you don’t hit the section going too fast. Every pool has different waves that I like to experiment with different boards.
What sessions stand out in your mind? Do you have like an all-time session?
That’s a great question. Some of my best and favorite surf trips ever have been to wave pools. Waco was my first time ever surfing the wave, and I was invited to the first Stab High event there. So I got the wildcard invitation to that event, and it was just so insane being a part of all these surfers that I’ve looked up to my entire life and having a shot to surf with them in this confined area. We’re all hanging out, all drinking beers together after the contest. It was such a surreal moment for me. So that was pretty exceptional experience, and I was able to do better than I thought I was going to do in that event, riding a soft board. I was the only guy riding a Catch Surf in that contest.
And then another really special experience for me was when I got to go back to Waco with Mason Ho, and we had the wave engineers develop new waves for us. So we were the test dummies for some of their new technologies, and we got to try out three different weird wedge waves. I was able to land probably the biggest air I’ve ever done on a skimboard. And that was like a moment where, when you picture something in your head and imagine it for so long, and then you actually land it, it’s very rewarding, especially when you have Mason Ho cheering you on and he’s all stoked for you. So that was a really cool moment.
And then the last special moment I’ll talk about is being able to winch in at the Palm Springs Surf Club. Cheyne and Kalani were incredible in letting me bring in this cable park feature to their wave pool, and we were whipping into waves. But we were doing it in a controlled environment where we could get this peak in the middle of the pool and come into it with a lot of speed from from the cable or from the pulley system and kind of just launch off of it as fast as you could handle. So this last week at Palm Springs Surf Club, I got got a couple of attempts at basically launching off of their slab wave. There was a wave that they made to get barreled, and we were able to actually winch into it. And I kind of took off from one side of the wave and then landed on the other side. And that was one of those moments that’ll be with me for the rest of my life. So I’ve had a couple of experiences in wave pools that have, like, really changed my outlook on on surfing and just like the potential in pools.
Looking forward five to ten years, how do you see surfing changing with so many wave pools opening?
Wave pools are going to be incredible for people who don’t traditionally have ocean access. Take Patti Zhou, for instance. She comes from a snowboarding background and has become an amazing surfer practicing in the Texas wave pool. Wave pools are also great for surf therapy and helping people with disabilities or those uncomfortable in the ocean. The accessibility surf parks provide is already changing surfing. I’ve met lifeguards who have learned to surf in pools and are fantastic at it. One lifeguard from Waco was so used to the pool’s controlled environment that the ocean’s sensory overload on his first visit made him think jets were flying overhead.
Of the 10 pools opening next year, where do you want to surf?
That’s a tough question. I can’t name any of the new pools off the top of my head. Munich sounds interesting. They have that cool river wave, and I haven’t surfed with Endless Surf technology yet. It would be cool to try their first pool.