The wave machine debate is maybe one of the most comical debates out there. It has so much conflict and so much hatred is shown when an opposing view is given. I’ll give points from both views and round off with my opinion but I think whether you like them or hate them wave pools are going to be in the future.
Well, let’s start with the production of wave pools. If you follow any surfing news you’ll see wave machines are popping up everywhere and all around the world. However, I’m just going to stick with the UK. Surf Snowdonia is the only wave machine in the UK at the moment and again opinions on this are very strong and opposing.
(https://www.surfsnowdonia.com/) However, more wave machines are coming. Bristol due to open in autumn 2019 has been going ahead for what seems to feel like forever and announcements of a wave machine in London has just recently been published. https://www.wavelengthmag.com/everything-know-bristol-wave-pool/?fbclid=IwAR0mAu_UMwPO8RFP73Uo9mEkzQ9iNHH50RNoulmnPDCaMp9olXqNx1Vw4V8
The strongest argument against wave machines in my opinion is that it affects the environment. There’s not much more to say.. That’s a point you can’t debate, turning something completely natural into using carbon emissions and power just isn’t a great move when we’re going through a stage of trying to cut emissions.
Wave machines get a negative outlook by people because it is taking the sport in a different direction and away from the ‘traditional’ surfing, which includes looking at weather maps, swell charts etc. It takes away the search of coastline trips and treks looking for the best spot. Some say it’s a marketing scheme and only there to make money not to progress surfing. Speaking of money, for an hour at surf Snowdonia you’re looking at anywhere from £30- £50 and that gives you 12 waves no more no less there are no refunds on waves either if you miss it, it’s gone.
However, wave machines do purely focus on the surfing side so arguably making it a more entertaining sport for spectators. This can bring a whole load of new benefits to the sport. The waves are a lot more consistent so you know what you’re going to get (ish) and if you have someone watching it’s a lot easier to coach. If we take it down to the beginner level you have a consistent wave that is going to allow you to repeat the same skill every time, unlike anyone who has learnt in the sea, will know that the ocean can be very unpredictable, often leading to beginners not being able to read the wave correctly, dealing with many currents and cross waves of different power making the experience a lot harder and potentially putting people off.
Firstly I want to add that I think EPS boards will be the future of wave machines purely because they’re so much easier to whip around and as anyone that has surfed surf Snowdonia that’s what you need.
The debate about wave machines is very interesting to me and the conclusion I have come to is that they are good and I think we need them in the future and for surfing as a whole. However, I personally feel they are not specific to me. It all depends on how you look at them and what you are using them for. If you live where you have consistent waves anywhere from 10mins – 60mins drive (like me) then, of course, driving hours to get 12 waves that are a bit above average if I’m being kind, then of course wave machines will not suit you. Still not an excuse to slate them though. However, if you live hours from any consistent coastline and a wave machine is suddenly close to you then it becomes ideal purely for the ease of access. Just like if you're an intermediate or beginner surfer, wave machines are the way forward to progress your surfing, with an easy roll in take-off leading to a green-faced wave. If you're at the level for that then it's perfect.
I think the issue with wave machines is that it has all been marketed as this perfect and consistent wave so when people realise it's far from perfect they are understandably disappointed. I've surfed surf Snowdonia and I will be surfing the Bristol wave at some point and I know it's a tricky wave. It's hugely different to the ocean, in some respects a lot less forgiving. It is sloppy and every bottom turn you struggle not to bog a rail but I won't lie, I had great fun and saw real potential. Being able to do 4-5 turns every single wave, it taught me a lot and with the help of photography or video you can get instant feedback from your coach to help. My biggest negative about it is that you have it for an hour then your day is over. For a surfer like me or my brother, just 12 waves aren’t enough even if they are consistent. With the help of the rip curl watch (not an ad) (https://www.ripcurl.com/us/shop/watches/) being able to track how many waves we catch in a surf session, we found we can catch up to 20 waves per hour and we do that for around five hours in a day. For us, this means travelling from the coast to a wave machine would be not only expensive but also slightly pointless, but this is why they’re in locations a bit distant from the coast which I love to see. If I didn’t live by the sea I’d be hanging around the premises whenever I could.
To conclude I can see why people don’t like the idea of wave machines and how it takes the ‘purity’ out of the sport but if you look at other sports that have had similar changes (snowboarding, rock climbing) I am yet to see a negative. It is merely just an addition to the sport rather than a replacement. Looking at wave machines for the sport as a whole I can't see any negatives. It will increase participation level meaning more chance for elite performers and more of a chance for some government funding which surfing desperately needs.