AMERICAN WAVE MACHINES BRINGS SURFING INLAND
SurfStream and PerfectSwell are changing perceptions, stoking investors and inviting the whole world to take the ride
By Matt Pruett
Published:February 20, 2014
In case you hadn’t noticed, our global subculture is heading toward a mechanical renaissance — a bona fide robotic revolution in artificial wave technology that lists exotic lands like Malaysia, Dubai and the Basque Country among its conquests. Sunway Lagoon in Kuala Lumpur was hot, for about a minute. Then came the Wadi Adventure Wave Pool in the United Arab Emirates. Then the Wavegarden, Webber Wave Pools…
Here in the U.S., the latest, if not loudest, of the movement’s visionaries is American Wave Machines, who unveiled their SurfStream stationary surfing experience last fall at SkyVenture’s Surf’s Up facility in Nashua, New Hampshire. More info.
While athletes and investors alike were satisfied, if not thrilled, with the initial results, AWM insists the SurfStream is but a smaller-scale project — and in many ways a dynamic precursor to the PerfectSwell surf pool and what they hope will be their ultimate footprint.
“We have a criteria for making artificial waves,” says John Luff, head of Business Development at AWM. “‘What is surfing?’ Well, first off you’ve got to have a surfboard with fins. That was part of the development of SurfStream, a wave that never ends and can be put it in a tennis court-sized swimming pool right in the middle of every major city in the world. In that way, you could take surfing anywhere. That’s what we’re out to do. We want to create a surf culture where surf culture doesn’t exist.”
Ocean City, NJ’s, Rob Kelly who serves as Billabong’s Northeast Marketing Manager, was among the first to guinea pig the SurfStream last fall, and after three invigorating trips to the Granite State has unwittingly become the Surf’s Up mascot. However, recalling past wave tank fiascos (the 1989 ASP Allentown, Pennsylvania, event and the 2008 Ron Jon Surf Park implosion come to mind), Rob was skeptical. And this being the first deepwater artificial wave he’d ever surfed, Rob thought he’d just get pitched. Instead, he got barreled. More on YouTube.
“I didn’t have high expectations. The place wasn’t even finished yet when they invited some East Coast guys — Michael and Ben Powell, Todd Holland — to come test-run it to show off to the investors,” remembers Rob. “They were still sheet-rocking the building and cementing the floor, there were live wires… just super underground. It was the FCS fins that caught my attention. And the setup didn’t look like a FlowRider, where you’re riding the bottom like a skimboard. The best way to explain it is: you’re racing down the line on a wave that’s sucking off a shallow reef, like Uluwatu or Desert Point, so you’ve gotta be cooking the whole time. As soon as you stop moving, you get sucked back toward the barrel. That’s how you stall. You can do turns and airs as long as you’re projecting down the line; you can’t really cut back towards the lip.”
“In [this wave pool], you’re actually riding something that looks like a surfboard, feels like a surfboard, has fins like a surfboard — so it immediately feels more like surfing. You’re not sliding out; you’re actually doing bottom turns, little blow-tail snaps.”
This February, Rob invited fellow New Jersey shredder and gonzo media mogul Ben Graeff of NubTV to join him and document another shred for SkyVenture’s grand opening party, where investors saw their money put to good use. More on YouTube.
“They didn’t have heat that first trip, so we were wearing 4/3s and cold the whole time,” remembers Rob. “This time, the water was 80 degrees, it was 85 degrees in the place. We were in trunks, so that comfort level helped our riding level and we started to realize what was possible — trying out different boards, putting ourselves on different parts of the wave and getting better at riding the barrel.”
Meanwhile, AWM tapped Body Glove teamrider and cross-boarding aficionado Cheyne Magnusson to testride SurfStream installations in Peru and Sweden.
“At the Wave Loch or the WaveHouse, you’re in an inch of water, so the board you’re riding is more similar to a snowboard or skimboard,” says Cheyne. “That’s why those guys are immediately standouts every time. It’s all edge, so a surfer feels like he’s standing on a bar of soap. In the AWM one, you’re actually riding something that looks like a surfboard, feels like a surfboard, has fins like a surfboard — so it immediately feels more like surfing. You’re not sliding out; you’re actually doing bottom turns, little blow-tail snaps. On the wider ones, like Peru, you can snap, pump over to the other side then cut back against the wall. You’re using your normal surfing skills to generate speed to do turns. It’s much easier for a surfer to pick up.”
And if that sounds fun, then get a load of AWM’s next move: PerfectSwell — a digital control system working on exact replications of oceanic wave patterns to produce peeling lefts and rights, all of which can be run from an iPhone or iPad. The technology exists right now. A waist-high version is already operating at water park-size in New York. But the first full-blown dedicated surf pool is currently being constructed in Sochi, Russia, with a future project in the works for the Northeastern U.S.
“Again, ‘What is surfing?'” John proposes. “It’s not a line of people waiting for a single, perfect wave to come by every couple of minutes. It’s the ocean, in either a predictable or unpredictable form. So when we decided to make a surf pool, it was going to look like the ocean, not like a wave pool. We’ve had installations all around the world — Sweden, Turks and Caicos, Peru — and professionals surfing our systems before, so we had a ton of confidence going into it.”
“PerfectSwell, in terms of a surf pool, is the only technology that creates real waves for surfing outside the ocean,” adds Bruce McFarland, President & Founder of American Wave Machines, Inc. “What that means is you’ve got waves breaking constantly in different directions, different sizes, just like you’d see if you were standing on a beach looking at the ocean. It’s the total surf experience: paddling out, positioning, paddling into waves and taking off. You can create an infinite variety, anywhere from one-foot to our biggest system now, which will be delivering seven-and-a-half-foot, barreling waves. That’s kind of like the holy grail of surfing outside the ocean. That’s what everybody’s been waiting for.”
This is an overhead, top-to-bottom tuberide Bruce is talking about here. Too good to be true? Not if the money’s honest. Because the science sure is.
“We had a customer say, ‘I want the biggest in the world,’ ‘I want something new,’ and specifically, ‘I want a rider to be able to get in the barrel and come out,'” says Bruce. “That helped us spec the system for them. We went through our standard internal engineering design process and nailed everything down. We used engineering modeling, calculation, CFD and whatever it took to get this feature, and then committed to the mold. We had all the fiberglass molds procured and made it so that when this thing came online, it was not a prototype. It’s brand-new, shiny and ready to go.”
Still, there’s huge variation because the size of the pool and the waves themselves will be dependent on the customer, their land, their budget and their business plan. AWM is surveying several options: at the smaller end, they might be looking at a 150-foot-wide wave-generating area, a natural-looking pool shape surrounding that, and beach area and entry area to spare — with different wave types going to each area, so shortboarders can shred the middle while SUP’s cruise the sides.
The bigger version, however, could theoretically be as wide as a football field. So one can only imagine how many different peaks might be generated in 300 feet, or peeling waves that are 100 yards long.
“Our goal is to get lots of people in the water,” affirms Bruce. “This system is like a generator line: how much swell do we want to generate and how can we cut those waves up into pieces? It could look like a windswell with peaks shifting all around. It could look like a pointbreak with a wave peeling from one end to the other… We can do all these things. We’ve already got an operational model in the office.”
If it sounds expensive, that’s because it is. Expensive to conceive. Expensive to build. Expensive to maintain. Therefore, on the surface it would seem too expensive for good ol’ Joe Sixpack to afford.
“The business models on these places are extremely profitable and wouldn’t even have to charge a fraction of that number,” says John. “That’s why it will give people that opportunity, because if you put a high cost on it, you’ll block people to a certain degree. One of the biggest advantages with PerfectSwell is it will enable people to get a high-quality surf experience without putting out that much money — $45 will get you about a half-hour. And you’ll probably get more standing time than you would in the ocean over an entire week. It’s continuous surf — no waiting for waves. And it’s already happening with multiple projects worldwide. We’re well on track to have something finished this year. You’ll be seeing PerfectSwell in 2014.”
But for now, the SurfStream is the one that social media conduits are frothing on. And if its rideability remains a question — since all the “classic” wave pools like Typhoon Lagoon tend to be, let’s face it: amusing for rippers, a nightmare for average dudes — Cheyne sets our minds at ease.
“In Peru, a bunch of under-10-year-old kids bought an hour, and I’ve never seen anyone have so much fun,” he says. “What this does is introduces people to the sport without them getting frustrated with waiting around for sets or getting paddled around. In turn, that sparks the curiosity, and they’ll probably want to take it to the next level in the ocean. It’s a great introduction tool for beginners — and a great replacement for intermediate to experts when the waves are flat. And as far as getting a core workout, keeping your surf muscles up and training for stuff you don’t normally get to try each session depending on the waves you get, like airs, there’s literally nothing better.”
“It’s not a game changer as far as replacing surfing,” asserts Rob, “but as far as anything else out there that can be built in a small facility and actually have a good return on investments and be fun for surfers — AWM replicates the experience very well. It would be ideal to chase a swell up to New Hampshire and then when it blows out, go ride the SurfStream instead of going snowboarding or to the skate park. In fact, I think out of all those other sports, this is the most like surfing. As far as barrel riding and pumping down the line, the view and the foamball, it’s actually a really similar feeling…”
“And the barrel never gets old.”