February 2011 – FUNWORLD Magazine

To anyone in the amusement industry, the term “wave machine” is usually associated with surf generators used at waterparks. But to the scientific community, it means something quite different, as American Wave Machines (AWM) of Solana Beach, California, is well aware.

AWM was recently contacted by the Ocean Energy Research Lab at the University of Texas at Brownsville about securing one of its wave generators for use in a large wave tank system. The university lab is involved with research into harnessing energy from offshore ocean wave swells. The lab wanted a wave generator that produces controllable wave heights and frequencies in a wave tank 15 meters (49 feet) long, 1 meter (3.3 feet) wide, and 1 meter deep.

“We get a lot of attention from scientific people because of studies going on around the world in capturing waves for energy generation,” says Bruce McFarland, founder of American Wave Machines, “and when they are looking for wave machines, our name immediately comes up.”

The Ocean Energy Research Lab is investigating technology for a maintenance- and-corrosion-free, hurricane resistant wave energy converter. The lab will use the AWM wave generator to simulate ocean conditions for testing small-scale prototype wave energy converters by simulating deep-water and transitional-water waves of varying heights and endurance. Ocean Energy needed a wave generator that could continuously provide reliable, repeatable characteristics.

“The availability of this wave generator will significantly facilitate our research along this line,” says Dr. Yingchen Yang, director of the Ocean Energy Research Lab. “It allows us to systematically examine and improve the design parameters of the wave energy converter in a timely and cost-effective manner. With this help, we are more confident we can reach our ultimate goal—to make ocean waves become a competitive renewable energy source.”

Though this scientific application is a departure from AWM’s amusement industry business, McFarland doesn’t see it as being really unusual. “I guess it’s because we still think our core business is making waves in general and not letting ourselves be limited,” he says. “In fact, we have another job we’re doing for the Navy in making waves over sediments to see how it affects the sediments. It’s an even bigger job and includes our wave generator and a special tank.”

Though the underlying technology is the same for the wave generators used in amusements and those used for scientific research, McFarland explains that his company’s focus is different. “From our core business of making waves, if it’s for amusements, it has all of the safety components wrapped into it, and if it’s for science, it’s about the specifics of the waves sizes themselves.”

As for AWM’s waterpark business, the company continues to promote its two signature products—SurfStream, a standing wave machine, and PerfectSwell, a wave generator for wave pools and custom surf pools.

McFarland says AWM has recently experienced a shift toward more outdoor waterpark business: “We still have more indoor business, but it’s not as lopsided as it was—we’re seeing more and more outdoors.”