WPM Video: (Almost) All You Need to Know about Surf Lakes

Did you know that the test plunger you see was designed for 150,000 cycles, but that the new one will be made for 50 million cycles (or roughly 75 years of daily use)? The machine currently delivers a 3-wave set and the new plunger will up the ante to 5-wave sets once it starts dishing out tasty waves to the public in late 2024. What will the breaks be? Why is the water that color? Watch the clip and read the feature to learn more about Surf Lakes going public.

Located between Australia’s beef capital, Rockhampton, and the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, Yeppoon, the Surf Lakes test facility stands out in the Australian scrub. It’s huge. And while you can see it from the main highway, it’s tucked away and requires a scramble along a washboard road to get there complete with quaint directions like “turn left at the purple house.”

The setup is corporate glamping complete with a helipad, lawn, imported sand and metal fire pits with the Surf Lakes brand and the first impression is tranquil lakeside recreation area. Then you hear a siren bell. What follows is a deafening whoosh of steam and the splash of the plunger. It’s a visceral moment. Surfers in the water sit just a few meters from the hulking steal bobber and must resist the urge to paddle away from this perceived danger (Don’t worry, it’s actually pretty safe.)

The first wave of the set goes unridden. This measure is to save the lake’s bottom liner as the wave is smaller and breaks closer to shore. Sarah Beardmore busted out a fin box riding a wave from Occy’s left too far in. The next three waves are larger and each is a peak. There are several other “test” breaks around the lake, some have chewed up the bottom liner.

Surf Lakes Yeppoon is a proof of concept project. The difference in cost between a thin concrete bathymetry bottom and a thick will-endure-years-of-use bottom is millions of dollars. And the blue water you see in the social media clips? The first two sets of waves peel off in that blue pristine liquid. But the rest of the day is surfed in the brown sediment stirred to life. The pool revamp will solve this problem. Likewise a muffler will quiet the whoosh and the plunger will be designed for 55 million plunges instead of a few hundred thousand, as is the case now.

sarah brown barrel at surf lakes
The barrel has a learning curve. But Sarah figured it out pretty quick. Photo Andrew Shield

The new expensive, permanent build is backed strongly by the community. In the town of Yeppoon we met hotel and restaurant owners anxiously waiting for the new surf park. The area doesn’t have the population density of the Gold Coast, so revenue would have to come from visitors.

And it’s definitely worth a visit.

We saw wallaby on the road coming into Surf Lakes and took a day trip to nearby Emu Park. There’s also that unique level of enthusiasm with which Australians embrace outdoor sport that will help push this park. On the weekend heading out of Yeppoon every other car had some type of sporting kit strapped to the top. For an American, it looks like Labor Day weekend all year long, minus the pressure to outdo last year’s camp at Burning Man.

Surf Lakes also has investors at the meta level with their marketing department saying four wave pools could come online at roughly the same time at spots around the world including the USA. One of the main appeals is that the design creates beachfront property. And with a kinder, gentler plunger design and quieter machine and crystal blue water, it’s easy to see the appeal of the design.

And then of course there is the surf.

The plunger pushes out three ride-able waves per set. This will go up to five-wave sets. Six surfers sit in the lineup and split each wave. At the test facility the interval between sets is six minutes due to something terribly complex with the power loading and pressure. At commercial facilities that time will be reduced to 90 seconds. There are buoys in the channel, floating platforms really that surfers can sit out on when they rotate through and take their turns. A Surf Lakes representative told us that while they won’t tell a licensee how to use the system, the rotate through system does offer more capacity and throughput.

occy and sarah
For the moment, every surf includes a session with Occy.

Currently there is no other human made wave with as much of an ocean feel as Surf Lakes. 2012 European WQS Champ Sarah Beardmore surfed Occy’s Left and had a difficult time at the start. The perfect barrel is not so easy to get the hang of. While it looks like a turn-and-tuck setup, it’s really only Occy who has that mastered.

“Yeah, you have to drop all the way to the bottom and then set up for the tube, but with a full bottom turn you outrun it,” he told us.

Sarah listened and once she had it dialled it was tube city. The only snag was an uber-frothing Occy who at one point paddled out and informed the lineup that it was someone’s turn to rotate out and sit on the floating platform so he could grab a few waves.

“Yeah, uh, if one of you could rotate out and sit out a set on the buoy and then another one of you can sit out the next set while the other rotates back in, and we’ll be all set. Easy.”

Occy’s job title is Ambassador at Surf Lakes. But whenever the machine is on he’s more inclined to be surfing than shaking hands. Occy’s 50 and it’s a struggle for him to sit out and miss waves. During conversations the pulsating sets, which he’s witnessed hundreds of times, would distract him. Consequently our interview recordings are peppered with “ohhhh look at that one!” I thought that Mark of all people would be blasé about it by now. But that’s the appeal of the surf here. Each time you hear that whoosh of steam and the sets spill out, everyone surrounding the lake, staff and visitors stop whatever they are doing and watch. That’s the power of the surf here.