Wave Pools. Should we stay or should we go?

Feature Image by Dany Taylor

by Louise Dever

A work trip to Melbourne, well this should be fun…because there is a wave pool there!!!  To add some context, I live in SE QLD.

Already having surfed the ‘5 Waves‘ technology in Yeppoon QLD a month earlier, my expectations were high. 

5 Waves technology was nerve-wracking, but only because Occy & Ben Player were my Wave Ushers. As I sat under the industrious steel bowl, which resembles a ship’s hull, I waited for the buzz and then hissing of the compressors to pass. I watched the ship’s hull lift up and fall back down only 10 meters behind me. A small swell surged under me. I was lifted up and the final call from Occy came, “PADDLE NOW”. And just like that, the first wave of the day was all mine. 

What did it feel like? The wave itself was nothing less than perfect. But what else is surfing about, I thought to myself as I cruised across the clean face. No one to hustle, no one to dodge, no bluebottles and no tides or rocks to juggles. Myself and the wave. Relaxing.

There is a calm channel to watch the others ride their perfect 10 and cheer them on. We all paddle back out together and share the stoke. It is real. And off we go again. Three waves later and my cup is full.  I am happy to pass up the opportunity for more waves to others as I am not chasing or waiting for a better wave, as it’s the same every time. Not like in the ocean, you are unsure of what the next wave will be like so you must seize every opportunity. Always wanting more.

1 month later, I head down to Melbourne for work and make a side trip to URBNSURF.  There is no wind, perfect! I paddle along the concrete wall and chicken wire fence to reach the take-off point which is like a pigpen. I can not see anything other than my fellow surfers who are chomping at the bit to get their cup filled. Our young guide, clearly happy about their new job, is super excited for us to catch our first waves and gives us plenty of tips on where to sit and what to do if we don’t make the take-off. We feel the drawback of the water and the rise of a small swell, I am immediately transported back in my mind to 5 Waves. Game on. All 15 of us are trying to hold our place as we each take our turn on the take-off, one after the other like a conveyor belt at a chocolate packing factory.  The wave itself is soft and bumpy, the take-off not overly difficult but also not the kindest. There are some casualties we have to weave around and at times I was the casualty. 

There was no break. Just wave after wave after wave.  Each wave was slightly different, sometimes there was a little barrel, sometimes the wave didn’t go all the way and sometimes it was a nice long smooth ride. Hard work is how I would describe it.  It was a great workout and no time to rest. I exited the pool completely wrecked and not relaxed. If I had to move from the Sunshine Coast to Melbourne I would join URBNSURF as a member in lieu of my gym membership. 

So what’s all the fuss about the wave pools and is it worth it?  My personal opinion is, let them build the pools. Here is my rationale, and be warned, it’s a long one… I ask myself, what are the implications of surfing on the natural environment? 

But before I can answer this I need to ask, what is a surfer looking to gain out of their surfing experience, whether it be in the ocean or a pool?

  • Fitness
  • Build resilience by overcoming environmental, physical & mental adversities
  • Contact with the ocean
  • Meeting up with friends
  • Meeting strangers who become friends
  • To feel connecting with their mentors & idols
  • Competition
  • A break from the day to reset

Another area of surfing that has an impact on our environment is the hardware we need to carry out the activity.  Specifically, the manufacturing of surfboards. I wonder have you ever thought of these manufacturing issues when suiting up for your usual surf session at home or while on holidays?

  • Do you think about the person who made your board and their nonregulated, unsafe work environments?
  • What about the mass production of boards in Australia and overseas?
  • Did you know factories are undercutting each other in the industry for the sake of $10
  • Did you know office workers and hospitality workers make more money than someone who is making your next board?
  • Did you know the factories are using substandard materials in an effort to make something that resembles profit?
  • If you were getting paid less than your mate who makes your morning coffee, but you have to work with flammable and carcinogenic chemicals would you love your job or maybe feel undervalued and potentially start to make second rate boards?
  • The most serious issue of all is the workers develop serious health issues and can not master their craft.

This is just a thought-provoking piece, so we are not going to solve all those issues right here right now. 

Next, I want you to think about how the surfer has a direct effect on the environment in their hunt for waves. Here are a few scenarios to get you started.  

  • Local or home breaks may not offer what the variety or extremity or perfection the surfer is seeking; leading surfers to travel. Did you pay to offset your carbon output on your multiple flights?
  • Travel; long flights to remote islands seeking the perfect wave
  • Surfers enjoy surfing in remote locations to get away from the cityscape and enjoy the natural environment around them.
  • The pressure of many travellers to small communities that don’t have the resources to handle more than the local population
  • The materialistic mentality is developing by needed a new board or more boards or a board for every type of wave 
  • Bi products; sunscreen (oxybenzone & Octinoxate), personal litter, erosion, broken boards, petroleum-based surf wax/leg ropes/wetsuits, microfibers of beach clothing
  • People like to live by the water, leading to the landscape being built up with property development.
  • Purchases a low-cost board, being less durable boards due to substandard materials and lack of craftsmanship.

So why would you go to a wave pool instead of a beach? Well let me ask you these questions… yes more questions:

Why do you swim laps in a pool and not the ocean?

Why do you ride your bicycle in the velodrome or on the road and not down a dirt track?

Why do you run/walk on a treadmill and not outside?

Why do you skate on an ice rink and not on a frozen lake?

Why do you ski at the cable park and not behind a boat?

Why do you shoot at a stationary target and not at a live target?

Why do you climb up an indoor rock wall and not on a cliff in the bush?

Why do you skate in the skatepark and not in the street?

Why do you hit golf balls at Urban Golf and not on and 18 hole course?

Why do you go sky diving in a tube and not our of a plane?

Have I solved any problems yet?  No, but I’ve got you thinking and no doubt you’ll tell me what you’re thinking.

It is my personal belief the ocean needs a break from us for a bit. How long? I don’t know. I feel wave pools are an opportunity for us to take the pressure off the ocean for the time being. Yes, there’s still the fact that we are digging a gigantic hole in the ground and using water and chemicals. But think of it this way, currently, it is said we have 2 million surfers. Let’s be real generous and allow those 2 million surfers to catch 10 waves a day, every second day. How many waves would need to be produced per day? The answer is 10,000 waves a day.  The latest wave pool technology is set to produce 1000 waves per hour. Can one wave pool operate for 10 hours a day? Sure it can!

With surfing now in the Olympics, it is inevitable the number of surfers is going to increase. 

Is there room for these additional surfers in the ocean? “It’s only one straw said 8 billion people”  If we replace the ‘straw’ with ‘surfer’, can the ocean handle more oxybenzone & octinoxate?  Google what that chemical in your sunscreen is doing to the water temperature and coral. 

Maybe you are worried the wave pool will feel too industrial or artificial. A wave pool can be built on a rural space with natural surrounds, appealing to those who enjoy the scenic landscapes, such as surfing on remote islands or something similar to Noosa’s Tea Tree Bay. The pools can be built with an infrastructure in place to be able to manage the large influx of guests, therefore not putting added pressure on the natural environment or current minimal amenities. 

“If you build it, he will come” and so will his mates.

Connect with Louise – @notoxsurfaustralia


PC: Dany Taylor of Lou at 5 Waves Yeppoon
Lou at 5 Waves Yeppoon
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