December 20, 2013- Quartz

American Wave Machines PerfectSwell Surf Park

QUARTZ | 12-20-2013

By: Todd Woody at Quartz

Bruce McFarland’s San Diego office is just a skateboard ride from some of California’s prime surf spots. And right now, McFarland is gazing at the perfect wave—a glassy, barreling wall of water. But it’s breaking inside his building, and McFarland, an engineer and surfer, is controlling the wave with an iPad.

Sure, the wave is only three inches tall and is contained in a pint-sized pool built by McFarland’s company, American Wave Machines. But two surf parks deploying the company’s PerfectSwell technology are set to open in Russia and New Jersey, generating four- to six-foot (1.2 to 1.8 meter) waves at the push of a button. “We want to create waves so that anyone, anywhere can surf,” says McFarland.

Bringing surfing to the landlocked masses could be the biggest change to hit the sport since Hawaii’s Duke Kahanamoku taught Californians how to ride the waves a century ago. American Wave Machines is just one of half a dozen companies developing artificial wave technology, including a Los Angeles startup founded by 11-time surfing world champion Kelly Slater.

With a mix of hope and hype, the $7 billion surf industry is embracing wave parks as way to grow a flat-lining business. Kids in Kansas and Qatar could become real surfers, not just boardshorts-wearing wannabes. Pro surfing executives, meanwhile, are pushing surf parks as predictable, television-friendly venues to stage competitions as they lobby to make surfing an Olympic sport. “Surf parks will create an entire new generation of aspirational surfers,” says Jess Ponting, director of the Center for Surf Research at San Diego State University. “These new surfers will not just buy for fashion but for equipment as well, and not just in the US but in Russia, China and Europe.

Surfing has always been as much a way of life as a sport, the exclusive domain of a coastal wave tribe with its own rites and rituals. (Disclosure: I’m one of them.) Now with dozens of surf parks under development worldwide, surfing is about to get Disneyfied—buy a ticket, stand in line, and go for a ride.

In the ocean, no two waves are alike. Each one is formed by constantly changing conditions—winds, tides, swell, sandbars. Even if you’re lucky enough to live on the coast near surf breaks, there’s no guarantee there will be rideable waves on any given hour or day. That unpredictability can make honing one’s surfing skills a time-consuming process, demanding a commitment bordering on obsession.

That’s also problematic for pro surfing. Small surf and long lulls between sets of waves do not make for exciting television, so it’s hard to attract the viewers that advertisers and sponsors covet. Contests last for days, stopping and starting as ocean conditions dictate. They cannot be scheduled into two-hour, TV-friendly time slots. The window for holding the annual Mavericks big wave competition in northern California, for instance, runs from November until April and the contest is called on 48 hours notice when huge waves—30-foot plus—appear. “There’s no way a surf contest will ever be on ESPN Live,” says Matt Reilly, director of marketing at Surf Park Central, a website that covers the nascent artificial wave industry.
A surf park, on the other hand, can ideally churn out one identical wave after another. Replicating Mother Nature is not so easy, though. Most wave parks built over the past 20 years offer a so-called standing wave: A sheet of water is pumped into a pool and over a barrier to create a continuous breaking wave that stays in place. Riders can balance on a surfboard and maneuver to some degree. But the wave does not move and there’s no wave face to ride across. It’s more like surfing a waterfall.
The Holy Grail is a wave that mimics the physics of an ocean wave, moving through the pool, rising up and breaking to the right or left so surfers can catch it and ride up and down the face or propel themselves off the lip to perform aerial turns.

The future of surfing: No ocean required

 

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 7.20.10 PM

REUTERS   |  11-22-2013

By: Richard Valdmanis on Reuters.com

(Reuters) – A surfer drops down the face of a crashing swell, crouches low and stalls his board into the tube, achieving the sport’s ultimate goal of a ride inside the barrel.

But instead of being on a sunlit beach in Hawaii or southern California, this surfer is inside a glass-and-concrete building in New Hampshire – at America’s newest surf park, an hour’s drive from the Atlantic.

“Part of our mission is to bring surfing everywhere, including where there isn’t an ocean,” said Bruce McFarland, president of American Wave Machines.

The company’s SurfStream wave system is being used at the Surfs Up New Hampshire park in Nashua, which is set to open in December.

Surf parks have been around for decades, but a surge in the sport’s appeal and rapid advances in wave-making technology have triggered new construction in unlikely places such as South Dakota, Quebec, Sweden and Russia.

Using proprietary designs meant to emulate waves formed in nature, companies like American Wave Machines, Weber Wave Pools, Waveloch and others are racing to bring the ocean sport to the landlocked masses.

Fernando Aguerre, head of the International Surfing Association (ISA), said their efforts could be a big boost for surfing and businesses built around it.

“Surf parks will give the opportunity to learn to ride waves in a safe way to millions of people around the world,” he explained, adding it could also help ISA to make surfing part of the Olympic Games.

“Without man-made surfing waves, our Olympic surfing dream would be just that – a dream,” he said, adding that reliable, identical waves, virtually impossible to find in nature, are needed to insure fair judging in Olympic competition.

SURFING INLAND

Once seen as a fringe sport, surfing now has around 35 million enthusiasts worldwide. It is a roughly $6 billion retail industry in the United States, according to the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association.

“The industry is doing a good job selling surfing as a lifestyle. It is fun. It influences culture, music, fashion, all that. It is imbedded. But it is hard for anybody who doesn’t live near the ocean to do,” said McFarland.

Surfers, desperate for a good wave, have sought out wind swells on the Great Lakes and tried surfing on river rapids and in the wake of passing barges on the Houston Ship Channel in Texas.

“There is definitely a huge demand,” said Matt Reilly of Surf Park Central, a website that tracks global surf park construction. “The speed of growth that you’re seeing is the result of improvements in technology and increases in efficiencies.”

The most commonly used surf park wave designs are modeled on standing river waves, where thousands of gallons of water are propelled against an immobile object to create a stationary curl.

At a recent Surfs Up New Hampshire test run, a handful of professional surfers – including Todd Holland, who was once ranked No. 8 in the world – carved up different types and sizes of standing waves in front of a panel of engineers and photographers.

“This is great,” said Holland. “Once you get going down the line, it feels just like racing a big section.”

Research has also been done on designs more closely related to waves at the world’s finest ocean spots, where a moving swell is produced that breaks when it hits shallow water along an artificial reef or sandbar.

Although less so than in the past, the cost of building an artificial wave system is still substantial. A standing wave system like the one in New Hampshire costs about $3 million to$6 million, while a traveling, or ocean wave, system is much more expensive.

Despite the surf park industry’s efforts to mimic real surf, McFarland, whose company is now also building a traveling wave park in Russia using his PerfectSwell technology, said artificial waves will always have their limits.

“We’re not trying to compete with the ocean, or replace it in any way,” he said. “But this is fun, and I think it is good for the sport and for people.”

(Writing by Richard Valdmanis; editing by Patricia Reaney and Gunna Dickson)

Surf’s Up New Hampshire breaks ground

Construction of the largest SurfStream in the world is officially underway at the Surf’s Up addition to SkyVenture New Hampshire. Congratulations to owners Rob and Laurie Greer. We can’t wait to surf in Nashua! Learn more about the project here.