At the first sign of swell in mid-November, Troy Bottegal, a former electrician turned inventor, will be sitting forty-five metres offshore at Bunbury in West Australia waiting for the wave that he hopes will change his life and the lives of millions of frustrated surfers around the world. If the trial of Troy’s inflatable reef works, it will unlock the wave potential of the infinite number of beaches that receive plenty of swell but are bereft of decent banks to give them form.

The kind of A-frame Troy Bottegal is hoping to create.

If the extensive research and scaled testing proves correct, Troy’s sand-filled, rubber reef will deliver a peeling, seventy metre A-frame with a barrelling take-off. It will take less than two days to install the ‘Airwave’ in November and when the first reasonable swell rolls through the whole thing will be webcast on the Airwave site and the Bunbury council website.

Troy admits that there will be a lot on the line, with the cameras streaming and the concept scrutinized by surfers around the world. Best-case scenario – a perfect, tapering peak rolls through and Troy gets tubed and then rips it to the beach. Second-best case scenario: Troy takes off on a barrelling wave and muffs the take-off, but the empty wave keeps peeling gloriously for all the world to see. “I’ll probably blow it,” chuckles Troy. “But all they really want to see is the wave peel to the beach.” Bottegal also suggests he is working to recruit a couple of high profile surfers to take part in the mid-November trial. 

Will the Airwave transform close-outs into curling dreams? Photo: Stu Gibson

While ocean bathymetry and barrels have been successfully replicated in wave pools, no one has really cracked the code for artificial reefs. Troy suggests he is prepared for the prospect of failure. “Emotionally and mentally I’m geared up for that.” However, he also insists that he will not give up if the first trial does not live up to expectations. “Whatever it takes to make this thing work, we’ll make this happen.”

While Troy has private investors and ran a crowd-funding campaign last year, he owes much to WA’s Bunbury council for giving him the opportunity to play wave god. Eager to lure surfers to their stretch of coast south of Perth, the council has invested time and money in the Airwave concept, including ten gigabytes of optical cable to power the two webcams, which will showcase the wave.

Troy Bottegal will put his concept to the ultimate test in mid-November at Bunbury in Western Australia.

 “I’m blown over by how Bunbury has taken it on,” suggests Troy, going on to explain that if the first one works he already has the green light to install a further five on the same stretch of beach, each one within 150 metres of one another.

When Troy begins talking about installing multiple set-ups, the prospect of completely transforming a stretch of closeout coast into a surfing wonderland becomes apparent. “We’re trying to make it as quick and mobile as possible,” insists Troy. “We can get somewhere and put ten in, in about two weeks. That’s ten A-frame peaks for about five million Australian dollars.”

Troy points out that for councils looking to invest in a major recreation resource that’s a lot cheaper than a wave pool option. Figures suggest a KS Wave Pool can cost up to $US20 million to install. Then there is the fee to surf the pool. Slater’s pool is widely reported to be US$32 000 a day to hire in off-peak times and US$50 000 a day in peak season. At those prices, you are hardly going to please the punters.

At Bunbury, they’re adopting a different approach. This is a council eager to attract human traffic and spin-off commerce and investment to an area that is frequently overlooked as the Perth crowd head further south to Margaret River. Asked what he’d like to achieve with the first collection of reefs, Troy echoes a similar message. “I’d like to create a Gold Coast or a miracle mile on the back beach at Bunbury. So that everyone in the world looks at Bunbury and goes, ‘I wouldn’t mind living there’.”

The Airwave is already starting to generate public interest at home and beyond suggests Troy. “I’m getting bailed up in the street … Then the other day I was surfing Keramas in Bali and Matt Biolis paddled up and said, ‘ You’re the airwave guy, aren’t you? I’m a big fan’.”

Given the poor performance of artificial reefs in the past, it's hard to be too confident, but I for one am hoping the Airwave works and surfers are presented with a remedy to the torturous sight of clean swell lines that do nothing but close-out.         

Read more about the science behind the Airwave here and here.