Showtime: Circular wave pools past, present and (hopefully) future
A brief, heavily pixelated history of circular wave pools
Kelly had one. Greg Webber had one. Even Wavegarden had one. The quest for an endless wave peeling along a circular wave pool is embedded deep within our collective surf psyche. Even with all the surf-able technological wonders coming to light these past few years, we’ve yet to see the mythical endless wave surface.
Perhaps it’s the physics of water moving in a circle that, after a few waves, creates a current bogging down the formation of each successive wave. Maybe the whole thing turns into a very fast, very weird lazy river. As artist Phil Roberts points out, “once you send waves through in a ring it creates a current and the other waves can’t break.”
WavePoolMag is not giving up. While many of the designs are no longer on the wave pool makers’ websites, thanks to Google caching and Pinterest enthusiasm, we dug up designs from the era of anemic surfboards and freakishly oversized boardshorts. And hopefully, we can rekindle the circular wave pool dream.
The Wake Surfer from Murphys Waves boasts a large surface area for wave action. The surf-able donut can be surrounded by an artificial beachfront customized to developer tastes. According to the publicity materials, the design offers endless rides. The whole set-up taps the physics of wake surfing, as illustrated above in the company video.
“We have designed a pool with a maximum depth in the region of 1meter so that all of the pool will be useable by the majority of guests irrespective of age or height,” Murphys says on their website. “The wave machine is completely new and novel and as such is being patented… We cannot give away too much at the moment, but we are responding already to serious enquires on a first come first served basis.”
It is unknown as to whether Murphys is still working on this design. We will keep you posted.
Wave pool surfing’s King Midas picked up global attention a decade ago with his ring of water spitting out perfect barrels around a central island. The possibility of an endless barrel drew in internet surfers like moths to a 100-watt bulb. Could it really be possible? How long could Kelly stay pitted? How long could I ride before my knees cramped?
And then, a lawsuit.
In a famous Swellnet article a few years ago journalist Stu Nettle suggested that Kelly Slater and company raced to out-patent Greg Webber and his technology. Public opinion is divided on what actually happened behind the scenes, but Slater was rufffled enough to post an open rebuttal on The Inertia shortly after. Kelly chalked the whole thing up to “coincidence.”
“Greg and I spoke at length probably 5-6 years ago in Coolangatta about wave pools but didn’t catch on to the fact that we were both actually making our own, probably because we were both being tight-lipped or maybe didn’t realize the other person was serious,” wrote the 11-time world champ. “I’m sure we were both unaware the other was in motion to make one.”
The project, although never realized, launched Kelly’s relationship with the engineers who would go on to build one of the world’s favorite wave pools at the Lemoore facility.
Despite the legal wrangles the two still work together on surfboard designs.
In the early 2000s, Greg Webber invented an oval-shaped wave pool that pushed swell out from a central track. It looked so simple and obvious. The surfing world was smitten.
“The reason why I come up with a lot of inventions is purely because I like the feeling I get when the problem is presented and I start wondering how to resolve it,” Webber told us in an interview. “I already have the basic physical forces in my head from years of playing with water and surfaces and so I ignore them since they’re in there anyway, and then just seed my mind with the problem and let go. That’s a nice feeling. That’s addictive.”
Currently, Webber’s fertile mind is on to artificial reefs and some other wave pool mojo. He will no doubt surprise this year with something creative, out there and entirely plausible.
Basque engineer Josema Odriozola and German sports economist Karin Frisch created the most iconic brand on the current wave pool landscape. First, their Wavegarden Lagoon plow system woke the world to possibilities. Today, it’s the Cove. But did you know that in the early days the company was testing a circular wave pool?
In a promotional clip showcasing the company’s history, there are a vital few seconds of a circular design. What was it? Did it work? Knowing the uber-secretive nature of the company, it’s doubtful we’ll ever find out.
Although missing from the American Wave Machines website, the PerfectSwell Surf Colosseum lives on thanks to Google caching images. Our friends at Surf Park Central wrote about the tech nearly ten years ago saying at the time the design would revolutionize wave pools.
Beyond the odd Pinterest image, the PerfectSwell Colosseum also shows up on a 2012 Surfer Today item. The web site says this about the invention:
“The “Perfect Swell Colosseum” model promises total control of peel angle and wave patterns. Endless six-foot waves will be a reality, in any part of the world. American Wave Machines will be installing “Perfect Swell” in the Sheksna Resort, in Sochi, Russia. The 35,000 square foot artificial wave pool will be equipped with sophisticated computer controls modulating wave shape, ride duration, frequency, and energy efficiency.”
Tom is the sleeping giant in the wave pool world. Yes, he invented the FlowRider and designed the waterpark made famous in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but Mr. Lochtefeld has yet to have a soliton wave-generating pool open to the public. That will likely change in the next couple of years. His company WaveLoch is part of two solid projects, one in Spain and one in Australia.
Currently, on the WaveLoch homepage, there’s a tantalizing image of a circular pool simply titled “SurfLoch WaveSystems.” While no specific details are given about the circular design, the company does go on to say that “Surf Loch’s combination of cutting edge wave science and operational experience produces the world’s best surfing wave pools. Multiple reefs, patented wave dampening, precise equipment calibration and advanced software results in increased capacity throughput, increased efficiency, and variably-shaped, quality waves suited for all skill levels.”
This design is new. And it could be the first circular wave pool that comes to life. The design is a floating atoll that produces one wave every 15 seconds. The makers of the design say the ride will be a 30-second rush on a hollow and barrelling left or right. The system works a bit like the floating standing wave like the design by Surf Unit but instead of churning out one wave in a fixed place, Okahina uses a central hub that pushes out waves. So, like Surf Lakes, but spinning around, and portable.
The artist renderings show a device that looks like a fan, sending out waves from a central point. The machine’s wave-making hulls loop around, spitting out one continuous wave. On the very outer edge of the circular design sits a deep spot and a wall to absorb the wave action so it doesn’t erode nearby beaches.
The company plans to launch its first public wave pool in Poitiers, France near the famous Futuroscope theme park. Look for it in October 2020.
Perhaps we owe our whole fascination with circular wave pools to the Mad sketches made by this man. The artist has pen and inked several fantasy pools that stoked our collective imagination as to what is possible with surf parks. One of the most enduring designs is his Ring of Fire looping wave.
“It’s a complete ring with an island in the center with wall paddles on the side and I actually designed that for Kelly and Quiksilver. It was supposed to go in at an Air Force base. And Kelly had purchased the rights from Mike Roberts for the wave paddle concept. But it got challenged by two other inventors. So he dropped it. But the sad thing is that it didn’t work. Because once you send waves through in a ring it creates a current and the other waves can’t break.”
And maybe that’s why circular wave pools will only live on in the imagination.
For more on the area where wave pool ideas overlap, check out our piece “Can you patent a hunk of metal that runs down a track?” Or our in-depth profile on Phil’s work.