Wave pools are a divisive subject in surfing. You’re either for them or vehemently opposed. For those that have surfed them, they’re amazing. While for the rest of us, it’s fun to throw pitchforks from keyboards prophesising surfing’s looming dystopia with the rise of the machines.

It’s no secret the WSL, owners of the KS Wave Pool technology, are furiously building pools the world over. One in Tokyo, coincidently where the 2020 Olympics will be held. Surfing’s first time inclusion in the Olympic Games is a big deal. The world watches the Olympics.

Many believe the WSL are angling for their wave pool to get the tick of approval from the International Olympic Committee and for them ditch the proposed venue of Chiba. The beach break will likely produce less than ideal conditions with the Games runs and there’s fears that surfing will underwhelm on the world stage.

No doubt a behind the scenes battle is underway between the WSL, ISA and IOC. With a CT stop at Kelly’s Surf Ranch in September, and more tipped on the horizon, pools will be in the spotlight again and again as surfing’s governing body makes a case for man-made perfection over the variability of ocean waves.

With the countdown to Tokyo underway the Australian team were recently over in Lemoore road testing Kelly’s wave pool. The training camp in preparation for the Games raised some eyebrows from surfing elders like Maurice Cole, who questioned why the pros had been sent to Lemoore rather than slogging it out on a mushy beach break like Chiba. Athletes however, have been far more positive about the experience advocating for the venue via an endless stream of Instagram posts.

Tracks spoke to Bede Durbidge, former CT veteran turned Surfing Australia Elite Program Manager who is ushering the Australian squad towards their Olympic debut.

Surf Australia Team Training at Surf Ranch from Kelly Slater Wave Co on Vimeo.

Tracks: Can you tell me why the Australian Team chose Surf Ranch for their training camp?

Bede Durbidge: There’s a couple of reasons. Obviously because of our affiliation with the WSL and also because of the potential that the Olympics could be in the wave pool with the KS technology and the Surf Ranch event in September. A lot of our athletes hadn’t even surfed it before so it was perfect training for them leading up the September CT event.

What leaps in performance did you see based on running the training facility there?

The skill acquisition component running it there was ridiculous. It was a controlled environment and you knew what you were going to get. The results that were accomplished were insane. It was mind blowing to see some of the progression, especially with the girls and their barrel ridings, and the guys dialling in their equipment and working out different combinations. Real time feedback with iPads on the back of the jet skis and coaching in the water was just insane.

You had shapers on hand during the camp. Tell me how they and coaches fit into the mix – from developing equipment specific to pools or anything else that came up on their radar?

It’s just good to have everyone there in the same place. As a surfer, you have your support crew in your corner and it was good for the team to have everyone there to get that integrated performance component humming. To be able to bounce stuff off each other and try things, it’s just the perfect environment for it with no distractions.

Aside from Surfing Australia and each surfer’s pit crew, the Australian team has the support from the AIS and NSWIS now. Can you tell me how have they integrated their approach to support elite surfing?

Well obviously surfing is a big part of the Australian lifestyle but in the past decade or two it has become more and more professional. So it’s just treated like all other sports and the AIS wants to invest in surfing. They want to breed champions.

Do you think the feedback from athletes will persuade a decision by the IOC to swap out Chiba as a venue and for a KS wave pool?

Um…. it’s hard to say. [Laughs]. There’s probably a lot of politics in that decision. I feel that once the event in September runs I’m sure the WSL will have more plans for other events coming up and they [the IOC] will definitely be looking at it. But our strategy is to plan for both obviously. We train every day in the ocean but it was really great to train in the pool as well.

If not in Japan 2020, do you see the future of surfing on the Olympic stage in pools?

Yeah… [sigh] it’s hard to know. It makes sense that it’s in a controlled environment and you won’t have to have waiting periods so it would fit really well into an Olympic schedule. I think it’s a pretty good platform for the Olympics but in saying that one of the beauties of surfing is the ocean. So I dunno. If you had a crystal ball and knew that Chiba was going to be good fun peaks and you were going to get waves it would be amazing but it can get small as we all know. We’re still in the dark so we have to prepare for both.

On a personal level does it blow you away with how far the sport has come from a counter culture to this athletic pursuit for some surfers and finding yourself in the role you have now?

You kind of knew it was always heading that way and it has just evolved so quick. It sort of happened seven or eight years with Mick and now everyone is an elite athlete and has a super strict regime. It’s just great for the kids coming through with them as role models. I think it’s great how pro surfers carry themselves. It’s never going to take away why people start surfing which is the fun and lifestyle element. But if you can make a career out of it and do something you love then why not? If you don’t you’re still going to go surfing anyway. [Laughs]. The lifestyle element will never get lost from surfing.

Australians love gold medals. Based on what you’ve seen so far how confident are you that our surfers will bring home gold in Tokyo?

I think we’ve got a brilliant shot. All the athletes and Surfing Australia are doing everything we can to prepare and train and get ready for it. It’s still a fair way away but we’re trying to tick all the boxes and train the best we can. Everyone is super hungry for it and I think if we can keep doing all the little things we’ve got a bloody good chance.