WHAT KELLY SLATER AND THE TEAM HAVE CREATED IS TRULY INCREDIBLE
The only time it got weird for me was at the end of the session. I was totally unsatisfied, I needed more waves, and when the surf guides pointed me in and ushered the next crew out – a group of flailing Japanese surfers – it felt weird. It’s a difficult concept to swallow at first that someone owns the pool, and has strict rules about it. They have to, in order to make money, but for a surfer who has never been out the ocean, it’s such an alien ideology.
Me: Why can’t I just catch one more? Took me a long time and good money to get here?
Surf guide: Your time’s up mate.
Me: What about if the Japanese surfers fluff their takeoffs? Can’t I sit on the shoulder, just in case?
Surf guide: Sorry mate, your time’s up. Please get out of the pool.
Me: Can I buy into another session later?
Surf Guide: We’re fully booked until 9 o’clock tonight. Sorry buddy.
Therein lies the dichotomy. It takes a different approach, a recalibration of everything we believe in and know about the sport, to accept wavepool structures and pay-for-wave ideology. I was truly grateful to get those few waves, and that was enough for me to be stoked. If one is appreciative, then a wavepool is definitely the win.
In 1985 the ASP lurched into Allentown, Pennsylvania, for their first ever wave pool event. In one-foot waves, being pumped out every three seconds Tom Carroll took the win and pro surfers turned their backs on artificial waves for a good time to come. Much was written about this event, and there were questions raised about the essence of surfing. Is it simply riding waves, or is it an interaction with the ocean? Does surfing imply more than a surfer, a board and a pulse of energy rippling through water, chlorinated or salty? The status that arose from this event was that it was somehow demeaning to see the best surfers grovelling in these tiny gutless waves. The final was between Tom Carroll and Derek Ho – both fearless Pipe Masters, and it didn't seem right.
Japan’s Ocean Dome, however, was the world’s best wavepool for many years. It was part of the Sheraton Seagaia Resort in Miyaza, Japan, and they got something right with the wave. It was shallow enough for the lump of water that was produced to fall over the bottom, and to barrel on the take-off spot, and then still running a little into the inside, allowing a few sections and some funky ramps. It was more a shore dump than a peeling wall, but it did have enough size and sections for surfers to pull off a few tricks and airs.
While there was much talk and speculation about the impending Kelly Slater Wave Co. and Greg Webber’s Webber Wave Pools, suddenly there was a new addition to the party with the Wave Garden. A perfect wave, peeling forever, suddenly appeared in a forest in the Basque Country. This was a wave that looked great, albeit a bit small, but perfect waves and plenty of them. This soon morphed into The Cove, and before long there was a Red Bull event at the wavepool in Snowdonia. It was won by Albee Layer, and while the surfing world was reeling from the progression, from the concept and where it was all going, Kelly Slater unveiled the coup de grace a few weeks later.
First glimpse of Kelly’s wave drew mixed reviews from pundits the world over. It was a mind-blowing experience
to watch, but no one could have dreamed of where it was headed.
After many glimpses, and after a number of pro surfer visitors and stoked responses from the leaders in our sport, it was time for Kelly to unveil the biggie. He did – and he did it with aplomb by having an event, the Future Classic, and inviting everyone important to the event. It was a massive success, and there were enough mind-blowingly perfect waves ridden that the collective surfing conscious of the world was blown away.
Slowly, as the dust started to settle and as the public started taking stock of this very private event and experience, so the people started talking. Despite Slater doing everything correctly, bringing out the legends to the sport, it still seemed that the grassroots surfers were not sold. It was elitist, it was boring, it wasn't for the bourgeoisie, and some surfers would never, ever, pay for a wave.
The surfers who were stoked with the concept, and with the wave, were the few surfers invited to attend the event, while everyone else who had watched it on the videos and on Kelly’s website were seriously questioning it’s authenticity and position it played in the big picture.
We live in crowded times. Remember that session at Snapper Rocks during the 2014 Quiksilver Pro? The session after the ladies surfed perfect Snapper for their Roxy Pro? Six hundred surfers counted in the water, give or take a few. Or how about any of the sessions at Supers around the Corona Open J-bay this year? While the surf did pump for nine days straight, it was still hard to get a bomb out there with so many people wanting their unfair share of waves. Why would the addition of waves, man-made or otherwise, be a bad thing for our sport?
Surfers slated the leg-rope when it came into existence, slamming it as a ‘kook-cord’ and only for surfers who couldn't look after their own boards. Those very same cords are pretty common these days. Shaun Tomson balked at the very idea of a twin fin when Mark Richards unveiled them in 1977, the very year Tomson won his world title. Tomson has since mentioned that by refusing to adopt the twin fin probably was his biggest mistake in competitive surfing, and when the Thruster came around in 1981, Tomson opened his mind and got onto them immediately.