The wave pools are great, but is there another path to human-enhanced perfection?
Don’t get me wrong; the various wave ponds popping up around the globe are marvels of modern technology. The fact that a bunch of engineers can transform the wave fantasies of the best surfer ever into something so enticingly real is incredibly exciting. The only downer is that, for now, so few of us have access to the man-made miracles.
However, long before the incarnation of the modern wave pool, the rock-wall was surfing’s happiest, man-made accident.
The rock-wall's intention is generally to prevent erosion or create safer entry for marine craft, but they frequently create powerful wedging peaks, often with hollow sections and sling-shot entries that make them a joy to surf.
Think D’bah, Iluka break-wall, Sandspit in California and this chocolate-coloured doozey in Nigeria (see below). And of course the latest revelation in rock-walls, the right-hander at Saquarema, which transformed the Oi Rio Pro from the WSL’s least anticipated event into one of its most exciting.
Admittedly, the rock or harbour wall has also been responsible for the demise of some of the world’s better waves. The mythical Jardim do Mar, which was romanticised in William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days is just one example of a world-class location where the construction of a break-wall caused a significant depreciation in wave quality.
The reality is that the good or bad fortune surfers associate with rock-walls is only ever a by-product of some other intended purpose. Up until now at least the spines of man-made rock are not built (or rarely stopped) because of surfers. With a few exceptions, governments and councils rarely consider surfers in their major infrastructure plans.
However, if surfers could learn from the accidental wave science of rock-walls and actually garner support to construct them (or more refined versions) with surfing specifically in mind, then it seems we might be able to dramatically increase the number of quality rideable waves on the planet.
Yes, there are environmental and aesthetic debates to be had in relation to this Pipe dream, but you have to admit that half the work has been done. There are miles of coastline around the world where swell is in abundance, but the sand or coastline is never quite right for sculpting lumps of moving water into rideable waves.
The quick-march towards wave pool technology is thrilling, but in our haste to manufacture that which nature has mastered is there a way surfers can better utilise the infinite swell resource that is already available?