Is there really a demand for surf parks? We say yes.

Welcome to our first annual Wavepool Technology Review for 2017.

As a passionate team of surfers and developers known as Honokea Surf Villages & Resorts, we have had the pleasure of working with several artificial wave pool companies, and we’ve spent the last 6 years analyzing the evolution of these technologies. Our first project was in Austin, TX, where we partnered with Wavegarden to bring their Lagoon technology to the US for the first time. We chose Wavegarden for that project simply because they had the most viable technology at the time. With Wavegarden’s recent Cove announcement rippling through the surf and development communities, we felt it would be an appropriate time to provide an objective (as possible) assessment of each company that is currently making waves (or at least talking about them). Our goal with this review is to provide an un-biased overview of the positive and negative aspects of each technology with a focus on profitability, because that is currently the biggest hurdle in financing surf parks in general. Profitability is a function of proven costs (capital expenditure to build it, ongoing cost to make waves), proven capacity (wave frequency, wave variability, pool size) and proven wave quality (Is the wave worth paying to surf?)

We’ve included the following technical specs (when available) for comparison:

-Wave generation method
-What phase the technology has reached: (Concept, Prototype, Commercial)
-Wave quality (for high performance shortboarding)
-Wave frequency
-Wave variability
-Footprint of wavepool
-Cost to build
-Cost to operate
-Any projects that have been made public

*It should be noted that any technology still in the conceptual phase will not have any reliable technical info on wave quality, frequency, etc, because as we have learned: It’s all talk ‘til you can surf it.

**For the purposes of this review, only true ‘surf pools’ are being discussed, sheet-waves such as Flowrider, City Wave, Surf Stream, etc. are not being considered because they do not accurately replicate the surfing experience.

**This review is part fact, part opinion, so please take with appropriate grains of sea salt. The information was gathered through research of public documents, past knowledge, and web research, if any information in incorrect or missing, we are open to any factual corrections. Please email janos@honokea.com

The following is a list of companies making waves, in alphabetical order


American Wave Machines/PerfectSwell

Rendering for AWM’s first full size wavepool at Barefoot Ski Ranch, currently under construction

Bruce Mcfarland is a former partner of Tom Lochtefeld and current owner of American Wave Machines. Much like Lochtefeld’s Waveloch company, American Wave Machines has a sheet-wave technology, SurfStream, that has been implemented internationally, and a wave pool concept, PerfectSwell, that has yet to be proven.

The technology uses an array of 10 foot air chambers that displace water when fired, transferring air pressure into wave energy. In theory, this would allow for a variety of wave types in the same lagoon at the same time, depending on how the chambers are sequenced. AWM predicts that their technology will be able to produce constant waves for up to 2,160 surfers per hour. Wave sizes of up to 10 feet, and the pools are 1–2 acres in size. IF these numbers prove true, it would make their PerfectSwell technology the most profitable technology in existence.

Tabletop model of AWM’s PerfectSwell technology

They have 3 projects in the works. A resort in Sochi, Russia, reportedly broke ground on their PerfectSwell wave pool in 2013 (just before the Olympics) but no news about any progress has been made public. AWM also announced in 2013 that they were building a PerfectSwell wave pool in the Meadowlands Mall in New Jersey, though news on that project has gone cold as well. Their latest announcement was that Waco, Texas’ Barefoot Ski Ranch had broken ground on what would be AWM’s first full-scale 2 acre PerfectSwell pool, set to open this Summer. Best of luck to Bruce and his team.

Wave generation style: Pneumatic Displacement
Phase of Technology: Concept
Wave Quality: Unknown
Frequency: Unknown
Capacity: Unknown (2160/hour projected)
Cost to build: Unknown ($5-$7 Million projected)
Cost to operate: Unknown ($200-$300/hour projected)
Footprint: 1–2 acres
Projects: Barefoot Ski Ranch (due 2018), Meadowlands (?), Sochi (?)

Aquatic Development Group/Wavetek

1985 “World Inland Surfing Championships” in Allentown, PA

Aquatic Development Group has been in the amusement industry for some time, creating everything from waterparks to aquariums to wave pools. They became the exclusive distributor and manufacturer for Tom Lochtefeld’s Flowrider sheet-wave technology in 2014, and have built several hundred “wave pools” in waterparks around the world, including the one used for the 1985 Inland Surfing Championships in Allentown, PA. While their wave pool technology is marketed with surf-related verbiage, their technology is much better suited for high-capacity splash pool applications than for actual surfing, as their design creates very small, weak waves that lack the steepness and speed for performance surfing.

Model of the failed Ron Jon Surf Park’s Wave Pool

Their last attempt at tapping into the surf pool market was the disastrous failure of the Ron Jon Surf Park in Orlando in 2008. ADG was the technology partner for their ambitious wave pool concept, which included a movable bottom that could change shape to alter the waves. Engineers at ASR and ADG failed to account for the tremendous pressure exerted downward when waves break, and their prototype destroyed itself during testing. After their $9 million technology budget was exhausted, the project was halted indefinitely. This project, and the money it lost, continues to haunt the surf park industry to this day.

ADG has been immensely successful in the waterpark attractions industry, and will likely continue to do so without needing to dip into the surf park industry.

Wave pool testing before the financial clouds rolled in…
Wave generation style: Pneumatic or Hydraulic Displacement
Phase of Technology: Commercial
Wave Quality: Poor
Frequency: 15/min
Capacity: Unknown
Cost to build: Unknown
Cost to operate: Unknown
Footprint: <1 acre
Projects: Ron Jon Surf Park (failed), Allentown (1985)

Kelly Slater Wave Co

The best artificial wave created to date

Kelly Slater needs no introduction, and after the 2015 unveiling of his prototype wave pool, it came as no surprise that the greatest surfer of all time had helped create the best artificial wave of all time. KSWaveco began in 2008 with a well-publicized endless-ring pool concept that promised infinite rides. He would end up in a legal battle with Australian surfboard shaper Greg Webber over patents to that idea, but both have since abandoned the ring pool concept for the simpler linear version that Wavegarden pioneered in 2010, which drags a hydrofoil down a track through a body of water to create waves. Kelly’s wavepool is the longest ever created, 2100 feet from end to end, which translates to 30 seconds of barreling bliss.

Slater’s private prototype is located at a re-purposed 10.2 acre waterski lake in a rural Central California farm town called Lemoore. The company has been extremely secretive about any details of their technology, but industry rumors have suggested that their major issues are wave frequency and operational costs, which are both vital to profitability.

Kelly’s wave brought worldwide media attention to wavepools and the surf park industry

The first mind-numbing videos released went viral globally and immediately put the surf park industry in the media spotlight. Unfortunately for KSWaveco, their technology wasn’t commercially ready to capitalize on the exposure and to date no projects have gotten underway. In 2016 the World Surf League announced that they had bought KSWaveco, though further research would suggest that this was a foregone conclusion as the Ziff family that finances the WSL has been a major investor in KSWaveco for some time. In early 2017, Slater himself alluded to some adjustments in their prototype, namely changed to the bathymetry to create sections for maneuvers, and the addition of a left-handed wave. The surf world is collectively holding its breath for KSWaveco to figure out a way to commercialize their technology so that we can all lock into one of their mesmerizingly flawless barrels.

Wave generation style: Hydrofoil Displacement
Phase of Technology: Prototype
Quality of wave for surfing: Excellent
Frequency: 4–8/hour
Capacity: 2–4 Experts
Cost to build: Unknown
Cost to operate: Unknown
Footprint: ~10 acres
Projects: Proposed project in Palm Beach FL

Murphy’s Waves

Murphys wavepool at the Siam Park in Tenerife

As far as “surfable” commercial wave pools go, Murphy’s Waves is currently the industry leader with three or more, depending on your definition of “surfable”. The Scottish company installed their first pool in 1989 at Disneyworld, and have since built pools in Tenerife, Las Vegas, Al Ain, and more. Much like ADG, Murphys specializes in a wide range of waterpark installations, and surfable waves is not their only focus. Their technology uses a series of raised chambers that are pumped with water and then use gravity to force the water back into the pool, displacing enough to create a wave.

Wadi Adventure in Al Ain

Their issues in terms of surf park profitability are: wave quality, wave frequency, and costs. The technology is capable of creating quite large waves but the shape of the lagoon and angle of the waves mean the wave energy deteriorates very quickly, making the waves short and somewhat difficult for high performance surfing. They do, however, have some variability with the timing of their chambers, meaning they can make a right, a left, an A-frame, or a closeout barrel. The disturbance caused by the chambers and the vertical walls surrounding most of the lagoon creates a lot of backwash that must settle before another wave can be pumped, which takes about 5 minutes or more. If Murphy’s were able to tweak their design in terms of wave quality (possibly adding a ‘Reef’ or bottom contours) and use backwash dampening systems to increase wave frequency, they could greatly increase their profitability. Somewhat recent quotes by Douglas Murphy suggest that they are doing just that.

One of the most stunning surf short films of the last decade was Globe’s Electric Blue Heaven, which saw Dion Agius surfing the Wadi Adventure pool just after it opened, complete with a dozen Russian models and a yellow Lamborghini. The sheer visual impact of the crystal clear water and the desert landscape (and the models) was breathtaking. A handful of subsequent video clips would further confirm that this was Murphy’s best wave pool for surfing to date. Several regional surf events and Standup Paddleboard World Tour event have been held at the facility as well.

Wave generation style: Water-Gravity Displacement
Phase of Technology: Commercial
Quality of wave for surfing: Good
Frequency: 12–30/hour
Capacity: 8 Experts, 4 Beginners
Cost to build: $20-$50 Million
Cost to operate: Unknown
Footprint: >1 acre
Projects: Typhoon Lagoon (1989), Mandalay Bay(), Siam Park (2007), Wadi Adventure (2011)

Surf Lakes

An Australian based concept with little media coverage to date, Surf Lakes has a unique concept that involves a central tower that creates wave energy that propagates outwards, breaking in all directions on reefs on the perimeter of the lagoon. No details on the technology have been made public.

The concept is reminiscent of the glacier surfing done in alaska, that fake ‘dynamite surfing’ clip, or simply dropping a stone into a puddle, but on a much larger scale. Hopefully these guys were successful in their 2015 Indiegogo campaign and are pressing forward.


Wavegarden Lagoon

Wavegarden’s 2011 prototype

Wavegarden was the first of the new breed of wave pool technologies to make an impact with their 2011 prototype. Their revolutionary hydrofoil concept used a moving energy source to create waves of any length without losing power or shape. Two commercial installations have been built in Wales and Texas. The wave quality is excellent, nearly identical to KSwaveco’s prototype but smaller in wave height and not as hollow.

The major issues with this technology are the wave frequency, power draw, and reliability. The wave frequency of 1.5–2/minute (1 right and 1 left created simultaneously on either side of the central pier) is much higher than most other technologies, but since this is the single biggest issue with wave pool profitability in general, there is still much room for improvement.

Wavegarden’s first commercial installation in Snowdonia, Wales

The drawback to the hydrofoil is that it causes a secondary wake that must dissipate before another wave can be pumped.(Higher frequency means higher capacity, higher revenue, and lower prices for guests.) Dragging a large hydrofoil on a track in 6+ feet of water requires a large amount of energy, and more importantly, the power draw profile has a major spike of over 2 MW to get the plow from static to moving, which not all power grids can handle. Lastly, the installations in Wales and Texas have both been shut down for repair several times during operation. The majority of the shut downs have been due to problems with the High Density Polyurethane liner and the filtration systems, which are outsourced components and not necessarily part of the proprietary technology, but the fact remains that the parks did have to shut down entirely. Despite these issues, Wavegarden’s Lagoon technology remains the only commercially successful wave pools suited for high performance surfing.

Wave generation style: Hydrofoil Displacement
Phase of Technology: Commercial
Quality of wave for surfing: Excellent
Frequency: 1.5–4/minute
Capacity: 10 Experts, 50 Beginners
Cost to build: $4-$12 Million
Cost to operate: Unknown
Footprint: 5–10 acres
Projects: Surf Snowdonia (2013), Nland Surf (2016),

Wavegarden Cove

Hodei Collazo photo: pacotwo/Wavegarden

Wavegarden’s second generation technology addresses the shortcomings in their original technology, namely: wave frequency, energy cost, and reliability. The major shift in the technology from their previous is in how the waves are generated. The central pier and hydrofoil being replaced by a central double-sided wall that is outfitted with a modular electro-mechanical system that displaces water. Without the hydrofoil wake to mitigate, the Cove is capable of producing over 1000 waves/hour, making it by far the most economically viable technology. The undulating design has also shown a vast improvement in energy cost, much lower than any other tech, and a much more level power draw profile (without any major 2–3 MW spikes). Also, from a reliability standpoint, the Cove is still able to function when 1/4 of its hydraulic panels are not working.

Brazilian Mateus Herdy testing the wave’s air section. photo: pacotwo/Wavegarden

The wave quality is superb and very customizable from peeling pointbreak-like surf similar to Wavegarden Lagoon, to slabbing barrels reminiscent of the now-closed Ocean Dome in Japan. The wave size and length are only limited by available land.

The technology has been in opertion for nearly a year now, so extensive testing has been done. As with most new technologies, it can be assumed that certain weaknesses will be discovered, and hopefully remedied.

To date, only a full-size prototype has been built, but several commercial projects are in the works. With this massive leap in profitability, the Cove technology represents arguably the most promising development in the surf park industry to date. The potential for the proliferation of surf parks world wide and the subsequent funding of new technologies because of the success of the Cove is beginning to look very likely.

Wave generation style: Electro-Mechanical Displacement
Phase of Technology: Prototype
Quality of wave for surfing: Excellent
Frequency: 17/minute
Capacity: 100/hour (50 expert, 50 beginner)
Cost to build: $15 Million
Cost to operate: Unknown
Footprint: 5+ acres
Projects: URBN Surf (2018), Honokea Coachella Valley (2018)

Waveloch

You could argue that Tom Lochtefeld is the father of artificial wave technology. His Flowrider sheet wave tech debuted back in 1991, and has gone on to see over 100 installations world wide. He also started the Wavehouse brand, which has proven the ‘surfing as a visual anchor’ business model for food and beverage. It has been a huge success for his company, but largely ignored by the surf world since it doesn’t feel like surfing a real wave, and as a surfer himself, Tom has had his sights set on creating real surfable waves ever since.

His surf pools have a promising design concept that use a pneumatic air plunging system, but to date have failed to find the financial backing to build a full size version. The design involves a system of reefs that create hollow lefts and rights that reform into inside reefs, recycling the energy to maximize capacity. Wavegarden did a similar thing with their ‘bays’, which utilize the leftover wave energy from their ‘reef’ sections to create beginner waves. Increasing capacity, and catering to a wider skill level of surfer, makes this design concept quite important to profitability. If their projections are correct, the pool could produce waves 2–10 feet in height with one every ten seconds, which if true would make them extremely profitable.

Artist sketch of the Rotterdam project

The city of Rotterdam in the Netherlands has reportedly partnered with Waveloch to build his wave pool into their existing canal system. This very ambitious project was supposed to begin construction last August, but no new news reports have surfaced.

Also, Tom has been messing around with a hydrofoil-boat concept that would turn any body of water into an endless wave pool. No news on that yet either.

Wave generation style: Pneumatic Displacement
Phase of Technology: Concept
Quality of wave for surfing: Unknown
Frequency: Unknown (1,800/hour projected)
Capacity: Unknown
Cost to build: Unknown
Cost to operate: Unknown
Footprint: 1–4 acres
Projects: Rotterdam (2017)

White Water West

Sunway Lagoon

Whitewater West is a giant in the Water Park Industry with over 4000 projects to date. Based in Canada, the company has invented numerous water rides, including a couple surf-related concepts. Their only ‘surfable’ wave pool is in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The wave is very slow and and lacks the steepness needed for performance surfing. This fact did not deter Stab Magazine from sending a group of pro surfers to the lagoon in 2004, and with the use of a jetski to tow the surfers at the wave at high speed, they were able to nail a cover shot. WWW has found their niche in the waterpark industry and much like ADG, has little reason to dip into more surf-centric technology.

Wave generation style: Unknown
Phase of Technology: Commercial
Quality of wave for surfing: Poor
Frequency: Unknown
Capacity: Unknown
Cost to build: Unknown
Cost to operate: Unknown
Footprint: 1–3 acres
Projects: Sunway Lagoon (1993)

Webber Wave Pools

Legendary Australian shaper Greg Webber has shifted his focus to wave pools ever since he began surfing the wake made by a friend’s fishing trawler as he blasted by a shallow sandbank in the Clarence River in 2008. Legal battles and several re-designs later and he seems to be getting close to building his first surfable wave pool. The technology promises something similar to Kelly Slater and Wavegarden pools, except his design has hydrofoil-generated waves circling the central pier continuously in the same direction. According to Greg, his hydrofoil design is superior because it creates a trough in the wave, which is how natural waves break. The design also incorporates the wave energy recycling concept that creates beginner waves simultaneously.

Greg found his inspiration in a river

A Queensland project was mentioned in the media in 2014 but no news of late. Greg has recently hinted at some big news coming..

Wave generation style: Hydrofoil Displacement
Phase of Technology: Concept
Quality of wave for surfing: Unknown
Frequency: Unknown (500/hour projected)
Capacity: Unknown
Cost to build: Unknown
Cost to operate: Unknown
Footprint: Unknown
Projects: Queensland (?)