Futuregazing: What will the wave pool space look like in 2031?

Predictions, Trends & Questions For The Coming Decade Of Wave Pools.

Heading towards the latter part of 2021 there are currently more than a hundred wave pools around the world in planning stages, the midst of land acquisition or under construction. But despite the millions of dollars being poured into these projects, how many will be completed? Will wave pools become the new darlings for hedge funds and property consortiums? And will some become abandoned and overgrown?

In reality, it’s probably going to be a mixture of both. These pools aren’t cheap to run and maintain and no industry on earth has a 100% success rate. Even religious sites close sometimes. But a complete Blockbuster-esque collapse is improbable. Surfing isn’t in danger of becoming obsolete. And while surfing isn’t mainstream in most countries, it’s been around long enough to outlast trends.

True, some pools may meet the same fate which has befallen numerous theme parks around the world. Succumbing to overestimated visitor numbers and local economic shifts. And to go one further, could this then lead to a surge of giant skate parks? You heard it here first.

And will wave pool culture stand on its own two freshwater feet, be regarded as counter surf culture or become something else entirely?

Caroline Marks at the surf ranch
Caroline Marks at the Surf Ranch in Lemoore during WSL competition. Photo by WSL/Cestari

Wave Pool World Tour?

Will the real Rick Kane please stand up? An unprecedented amount of new surfers, some of whom will have never touched saltwater, are a given. But how many will really pursue surfing as a passion as opposed to an occasional hobby?

With the numbers of pools set to be built, the statistical likelihood of a pool raised, world-beating surfer, could well move from a possibility to a probability. Even though the vast majority of people through the gates are going to be one session, surf lesson wonders, a number are going to excel. As to how many and how far they’ll go, we’ll see.

From a sponsor’s perspective, a pool-based event is a winner. Being held in a particular place at a specified time means it can run as any other mainstream sporting event. No need for contest windows or relocating to different venues chasing the best conditions.

Yes, this may remove some of the spontaneity, but surely is easier to market. Though it does run the risk of becoming as boring as watching golf or, Huey help us, cricket. But with some of the wave pool tech around nowadays (think the BSR pool in Texas) waves and contours can be changed at the touch of a few buttons. If a surfer doesn’t know exactly what the wave is going to do before he paddles into it, as in the ocean, it could make the whole event more interesting. Will we see a coveted clash between surfers whose home breaks are wave pools in the Swiss alps, the California desert, the English countryside and the Korean Peninsula?

If the explosion of social media over the past decade has taught us anything, it’s that there’s a market for everything. As to the size of the market share who’ll want to watch wave pool events, it’s a hurry up and wait scenario. Wave pool surf contests will certainly grow, it’s just a case of how many, when and how organized they’ll be.

covid surf trip to a wave pool
Your next surf surfari could have a chlorinated dream at the end of the rainbow

Overseas Wave Pool Vacations?

For anyone who’s spent thousands of dollars on a surf vacation and been skunked for waves, dealt with dodgy boats or arrived to angry aquatic crowds, the potential of an easy trip with a guaranteed wave count is not to be ignored. And for surfers with families, those who are time short or people who prioritize convenience, a trip to a foreign wave pool for a few days has its appeal.

Don’t get me wrong, the coastal jungles of surf-rich Indonesia, Central America and the Pacific are certainly amazing. But it’s hard to find a decent coffee, let alone enjoy one, when you’re trying to stop the swarm local insects carrying off the kids. All the while watching, with a sinking heart, yet another boat or busload of surfers arriving.

We could well see a chain of wave pool resorts, with select global locations offering surf sessions and accommodation deals for frequent surf travelers. Nowadays it seems there are almost more reward programs and hotel-themed bonus points than there are hotel rooms. Another one’s not going to hurt.

You can pre-book your session hours, surfboard and accommodations, giving you plenty time for other activities. In other words you can keep non-surfers happier and surfers can remain sane. Who knows how many marriages and relationships wave pools will be responsible for saving? This factor alone could be more important than green energy ratings for future wave pools.

Specialized surfboard construction is already happening

A Boon For Surfboard Manufacturers?

Less water density, due to freshwater, means more foam is needed for boards. But at the same time, paddling is less of a priority at wave pools than surfing in the ocean – so who knows where board shapes may be headed? Boards will also be made tougher, to handle any wall contact. Firewire have already produced wave pool-specific boards and others surf companies will be sure to follow. You can already find surfboards shaped specifically for river waves and boat wakes.

And if you don’t have convenient access to a near-empty point break to test new boards and fin setups, to see which suits you, a wave pool will be your best bet. And they’ll likely be a large selection of boards and fins to rent.

solstice surf party
Groups gather to hang out at the Twin Fin restaurant at Alaia Bay © Alaïa SA – Scott Visuals

Wave Pools As Social Hubs?

An all-inclusive club atmosphere is highly likely. Surfers of all skill levels and stages of their surf lives can be included. You’ll have a location where people can store their boards – which doesn’t sound like a big deal – but is incredibly useful for those living in small apartments, are city-bound or rely on public transport. Businesses have been built for just this need in Asia, Europe and more recently with the Traveler Surf Clubs in California.

A social side to surfing where people are actually, you know, social. Where people communicate rather than glare at each other across the bar for dropping in, paddling around or any of a million perceived saltwater slights. Surf movie, trivia, party and fundraising nights can be held, with a restaurant or common area becoming a de facto neighborhood hall. This could be something to benefit the entire local community, not just surfers.

And wave pools may well become as much of a destination as the beach. Or more so. The allure of having everything on-site; warm showers, food, shops and parking has its appeal. How much time have you spent over the years trying to find a car park by the beach, a decent post-surf feed or looking for a surf shop to replace a broken leg rope or busted fin?

crowd at urbnsurf melbourne
The crowd at Urbnsurf Melbourne know exactly what kind of waves they want

Balancing Act

The number of people through the turnstiles versus the fun factor. This is the delicate balance wave pools are aiming for and it’s a difficult one. Beginners are going to gravitate towards a safe and predictable learning experience. Seasoned surfers are going to expect bigger, faster and longer rides with an exciting variety waves on offer. And this expectation is only going to grow. Wave pool sizes may need to increase or adapt with unique technologies, think circular pools.The winners will be those venues that can cater to all, or appeal to a particular market segment well enough to make it their mainstay.

As the market matures and wave-generating technologies evolve, we’re likely to see wave pools aimed at specific types of surfers. They’ll be some for beginner to mid-level, attracting school trips and corporate outings, with others focused on solid barrels and aerial sections for experienced riders. Surfers already drop serious money on traveling to the ends of the earth for specific waves. In the future, particular wave pools will be no exception.

There are wave pools being built on every continent, bar Antarctica (for the time being), and their growth, at the moment, is exponential. Are wave pools going to offer a sporting revolution? Provide surf stoke to legions of beginners? Simply be a fun day out? Bring sanity to land-locked surfers? Be destinations in their own right? Likely some, possibly all.

So by 2031; Wave Pool world tour, yes. At least a couple of abandoned pools, possibly. Some wave-pool-only surfers, undoubtedly. Vacation/destination wave pools, you bet.

Whatever eventuates in the next decade, it’s going to be a fun time to be a surfer with an open mind.

Writer Neil “Moonwalker” Armstrong