Tracks - - Tunnel Vision - By Alex Work­man

‘Wave Builder’ wasn’t al­ways a term syn­ony­mous with surf­ing cul­ture, but it’s rapidly be­com­ing an en­shrined part of the ver­nac­u­lar. We are now in the midst of an ar­ti­fi­cial-wave space race, with pools planned for Ger­many, France, Texas, Cal­i­for­nia, Japan and Aus­tralia, and plenty of other desti­na­tions ru­moured to have de­vel­op­ment ap­proval. New wave pool com­pa­nies are spawn­ing ev­ery day. From Surf Snow­do­nia, NLand, Kelly Slater Wave Pool Com­pany, Amer­i­can Wave Ma­chines, URBNSURF, Surf Lakes and Tun­nel Vi­sion Wave Park — the lat­ter of which has be­come the li­censee to Web­ber Wave Pool tech­nol­ogy in Aus­tralia. Greg Web­ber, a bril­liant de­signer and deep thinker, is per­haps most fa­mous for the heav­ily rock­ered ba­nana boards he de­vel­oped for prodi­gious test-pi­lot, Shane Herring, in the 90s. How­ever, it’s Greg’s ob­ses­sion with build­ing the per­fect wave, which has oc­cu­pied his headspace over the last decade and proved a source of in­trigue for surfers. Greg has teased us with var­i­ous pro­to­type tri­als while pro­vid­ing provoca­tive in­ter­views ex­plain­ing why his in­ven­tion will trump his com­peti­tors. Mean­while we still ea­gerly await the first wave to be rid­den at a Web­ber in­spired wave park. Now bol­stered by a part­ner­ship with Tun­nel Vi­sion Wave Park and boast­ing a de­vel­op­ment ap­pli­ca­tion lodged with Lo­gan City Coun­cil in June 2018 (pend­ing re­view at time of print) it ap­pears Web­ber’s vi­sion is on the brink of be­com­ing re­al­ity. Tracks first reached out to Web­ber al­most a year be­fore this in­ter­view went to print. The back and forth cor­re­spon­dence saw topics shift­ing gears as both par­ties re­acted to Kelly’s Founders Cup event and the un­veil­ing of the mind-blow­ing Amer­i­can Wave Ma­chines wave in Waco, Texas. Per­haps by the time you read this con­ver­sa­tion it too will have been sur­passed by some other man-made rev­e­la­tion. At 58, Web­ber shows no signs of slow­ing down. His big­gest ri­val in the wave pool space race shares the same rest­less qual­ity. 11x World Cham­pion Kelly Slater sold his con­cept (sug­gested to be worth $10mil­lion in tech­nol­ogy by Aus­tralian Surf Busi­ness Mag­a­zine) to the WSL for an undis­closed sum. For pun­dits, the Kelly v Web­ber ri­valry over who has the more su­pe­rior wave pool may stretch into the next cou­ple of decades. And it could be more ex­cit­ing than any ti­tle race as both vie for brag­ging rights, com­mer­cial suc­cess, en­dorse­ment from the Olympic Games Com­mit­tee and surfers the world over. Be­low, Greg pro­vides an in­sight into where he is at in the great chlo­rine race.

Tracks: Your wave pool has been a long time in the mak­ing, are you con­fi­dent it will live up to ex­pec­ta­tions?

Greg Web­ber: Yes 100%

Yours is a kelvin wave, as op­posed to the soli­ton wave that Kelly Slater Wave Pool Com­pany em­ploys. Can you ex­plain the dif­fer­ence?

The Kelvin wake goes be­low sea level be­tween waves whereas soli­tons have no trough. In fact Kelvin wakes have this ef­fect more than ocean waves as they meet the shore­line. The Kelvin wakes are much more bunched up, just like waves in the open ocean. As ocean waves reach shal­lower wa­ter the crests rise up and the wa­ter be­tween the crests be­comes flat­ter. This de­creases the trough a fair bit but it’s still there. The longer the con­ti­nen­tal shelf the smaller the trough gets and the flat­ter the wave gets. So, by start­ing with a bunched up wave set, pri­ori­tis­ing one wave, and con­trol­ling the de­gree of this trough be­low sea level we can con­trol the curve at the bot­tom of the wave, and this has as much in­flu­ence on the hol­low­ness of the tube as what the gra­di­ent or depth of wa­ter does.

How will your wave pool eclipse all wave pools be­fore it?

How will it eclipse? By blow­ing away the best surfers in the world and be­ing com­mer­cially vi­able on all lev­els.

Do you think surfers will em­brace it? They will em­brace it be­cause no mat­ter how good they are now or how long they’ve been surf­ing they’ll soon be able to im­prove and do turns they’ve not done for years or have never done be­fore. If you make waves that are the same each time, then you can prac­tice cer­tain turns over and over so you’ll get it down, but then by adding ran­dom waves that change in size and shape as you go along, then you’ll never get bored. You need to do both things. Kelly has used a slick mar­ket­ing cam­paign to pro­mote his pool. Will you fol­low suit and have you reached out to any high pro­file surfers to launch your wave? We won’t use top surfers to launch ini­tially but just use the waves we make. Then we would like to work with the top few surfers to de­sign waves that they then re­ceive a roy­alty for. But it’s up to Tun­nel Vi­sion Wave Park how they would like to pro­mote. Will the mar­ket­ing be tar­get­ing the core surf mar­ket or are you look­ing out­ward to at­tract new par­tic­i­pants to the sport? Yes, the new surfers that can learn faster and more safely in a wave pool will be the fun­da­men­tal el­e­ment that will grow surf­ing glob­ally. The fact that you can stand on your first wave and learn to surf in one day will have the big­gest in­flu­ence . You don’t have to sell ‘surf­ing’ when it is ac­tu­ally the act of surf­ing which you are sell­ing. It’s al­ready amaz­ing. As a shaper, you would know that surfers are no­to­ri­ously tight. What makes you think they will pay per wave? I don’t think they’re no­to­ri­ously tight, they just know that since there is a sat­u­ra­tion of deal shapers and that that they they will can prob­a­bly ask for a get bit it. of The a same over­seas surfers surf fork trips. out And thou­sands an­other thing for their is that if a surfer gets a deal from a shaper then he usu­ally boasts about it to his mates as though he’s semi-spon­sored, so half the rea­son surfers push for a cheaper deal is based on that as­pect. Can you re­veal how much it will cost to ride a wave at a Web­ber Wave Pool? It’s not my call since we are not build­ing the pro­to­type. You’re en­gaged in a ro­bust de­bate with anti-wave pool com­men­ta­tors on Swell­net fol­low­ing a re­cent ar­ti­cle on your ven­ture. What do you say to the crit­ics who feel slighted by the idea of a wave pool? I’d ask them all to be as se­vere and ag­gres­sive with their crit­i­cisms as pos­si­ble, then af­ter get­ting tubed off their fuck­ing heads then write down in a new thread how wrong they were. One of the big­gest fears is that wave pools will open up surf­ing to thou­sands more surfers, which will lead to an in­crease in crowds at line­ups around the world. Do you dis­agree? I dis­agree. We have tens of thou­sands of kilo­me­ters of swells that close out be­tween the head­lands and reefs. This is a free wave source that’s wait­ing to be turned into waves that break to suit surfers. Sorry to say, but I have two ar­ti­fi­cial reef de­signs that will to­tally off­set for the in­crease in surfer num­bers. I’m hop­ing to slightly over­sup­ply waves. You have said: “The more peo­ple on earth who ride a wave the more peo­ple will have their values shifted purely by the act of rid­ing a wave.” Is surf­ing re­ally that pow­er­ful? There are plenty of greedy, self­cen­tered surfers op­er­at­ing with a pretty shit value sys­tem. Yes, for sure this will hap­pen. I’ll give you two sce­nar­ios. One hap­pened and one is imag­ined. I surfed down the end of back beach at An­gourie one day 20 years ago and got there to find this fuck­ing prick I couldn’t stand al­ready out there. I went out and we saw each other and kept our dis­tance. Af­ter a while I got sick of not be­ing in the out­side take off spot and pad­dled out to where he was hang­ing. A set came and he caught the first one, came off the bot­tom, did a quick snap un­der the lip and pulled into a lovely bar­rel that sheeted over him. Without mean­ing to I

hooted out of in­stinct. He pad­dled back out and I just said some­thing like nice one, and he smiled and said thanks. Now we never be­came best mates but we al­ways ac­knowl­edged each other from that day on. That’s pretty im­por­tant in my book, and it only took a wave, and a hoot and two words to bury some long term an­i­mos­ity. The sec­ond sce­nario is some­thing I’ve imag­ined at a pool. A bunch of young body­boarder boys are wait­ing pool side eat­ing food be­tween ses­sions. A fit old lady in her mid 70s, (prob­a­bly was a dancer or gym­nast as a kid) catches a wave as they offhand­edly watch her an­gle into the face neatly. Each young guy notices her line and keeps watch­ing while still chew­ing their burg­ers or what­ever. She drops down and then pulls up as the lip folds over her, cov­er­ing her en­tirely from their view but still vis­i­ble through the clear sheet of wa­ter over her. They stop chew­ing and stare half glazed won­der­ing if it’s pos­si­ble that this spindly old girl will get axed or ac­tu­ally make the bar­rel.... and sure enough she glides cleanly out of it and flicks off the top with a re­laxed 180, land­ing feet first on the back of the wave. Later on, as they cross paths, one of the boys says some­thing like “that was amaz­ing that tube you got lady” and of course she is stoked that she got it and then even more stoked that they even no­ticed let alone com­mented. This kind of stuff will hap­pen all day long in wave pools. And if they suc­ceed glob­ally and there are thou­sands of them, then yes, this vibe will make a dif­fer­ence be­yond just drop­ping our ma­te­ri­al­ism. Even the greedy self cen­tred will soften a bit! By putting your­self in the pub­lic fo­rum and speak­ing so openly has it crossed your mind that could scare in­vestors? So far, it’s only at­tract­ing new in­vestors. But build­ing the pro­to­type and prov­ing be­yond a shadow of a doubt that we have the best tech­nol­ogy is re­ally all that counts. I’m div­ing into these big state­ments and fo­rums since I want to prove that the vi­sions I have had about surf­ing, are not just fan­ci­ful ide­al­is­tic dreams but the byprod­uct of my imag­i­na­tion yes, but tem­pered by a purely busi­ness minded prag­ma­tism. If it doesn’t make the bucks then it’s just an­other lovely idea. Will there be demo boards and will a stan­dard surf­board work or are you de­vel­op­ing some­thing spe­cific to a pool? Yes the big­ger brands would want large num­bers of demo boards, and if pos­si­ble a few lo­cal shapers would be mak­ing boards and do­ing cus­toms out of the fac­to­ries that are likely to get built at or near to the wave pools. Of course ex­ist­ing boards will work and new things can now get built since there is no need to pad­dle out through the waves. If we were to build glide-in ramps or wake park pull ropes then neu­tral buoy­ancy and sinkers can be used. This will be very odd. High lift shapes with more mass than wa­ter. No fun be­ing hit by one though!

Kelly sold rights to his wave pool to the WSL for an undis­closed fig­ure. How is yours go­ing to be prof­itable?

I’ve been of­fered a large sum once to sell my ma­jor­ity hold­ing but I’m not do­ing this for money in it­self but to be able to use my own money in the fu­ture, how­ever I see fit. If I had had the funds to build this pro­to­type it would have been built over 10 years ago. The wave mak­ing method is un­changed, and the highly con­trol­lable na­ture of our hull drive sys­tem would have al­lowed all of the tun­ing and hon­ing to be done, at full scale, within a few days. But in­vestors un­der­stand­ably want to see some sci­ence to back up the claims, and an in­di­ca­tion of a re­turn, and this is in­her­ently hard to do in an in­dus­try that has had noth­ing but fi­nan­cial fail­ures for over 40 years. My ideas are nutty enough to scare most busi­ness peo­ple so that’s why I’ve had to hold onto con­trol and not say too much about what might come next. A great mate of mine who’s now global mar­ket­ing boss for Deloitte once

told me that it’ll take three huge suc­cesses in a row for me to get fund­ing easily for my next ‘great idea’. He was right. I thought, ‘Fuck that, I’ll do it my­self then’. I’m cu­ri­ous, was there ever an op­por­tu­nity to work to­gether with Kelly on a wave pool? Kelly and I get on very well, we are equally com­pet­i­tive and are ob­vi­ously key ri­vals in this new in­dus­try, but we also share very sim­i­lar vi­sions that are so far be­yond money or power that we have some kind of a bond due to that. But without money and power they are just lovely lit­tle dreams. How closely have you been watch­ing the other wave pool ver­sions hit the mar­ket? Very closely since they’re ob­vi­ously ri­vals but it’s so fun to watch without any busi­ness el­e­ment to it. What did you think of Kelly’s ‘Founders Cup’ – the wave looked dif­fer­ent to the orig­i­nal but still very pre­dictable. Do you think it can be tweaked fur­ther and be more un­pre­dictable while still per­fect? I thought Kelly’s event was pretty amaz­ing and yes there’s an el­e­ment of pre­dictabil­ity about the wave shape but for decades the un­pre­dictable na­ture of ocean waves has de­cided far more heat re­sults than the ac­tual level of surf­ing. So yes, if there is some level of scope to make a wave vary more as it goes along then that’s great. Amer­i­can Wave Ma­chines un­veiled their Waco, Texas pool im­me­di­ately af­ter Kelly’s event. What are your thoughts on their wave? It’s lovely. The tube is no bet­ter than Kelly’s and nowhere near as long but it’s nice to see a close­out sec­tion. And it’s also good to see a higher wave rate. Three waves ev­ery minute and a half is pretty good. That’s 120 waves an hour and if they made two pools back to back then they’d get to 240 waves an hour, which is get­ting to­wards what’s needed for com­mer­cial vi­a­bil­ity. Not amaz­ing but get­ting there. Peo­ple seemed to be drawn to the ramps at Waco and cru­elled Kelly’s pool for its pre­dictabil­ity, par­tic­u­larly with the tube. Has a tube in the pool sim­ply lost its mys­tique? What do you think peo­ple want? Peo­ple want ev­ery­thing that’s pos­si­ble. A ri­pable face, a bar­rel, then more wall and open face to end with an­other longer bar­rel or a close­out sec­tion. And af­ter watch­ing all the pools hit the mar­ket you’re still con­fi­dent your wave pool will eclipse them all? Yep. You have sub­mit­ted a de­vel­op­ment ap­pli­ca­tion to build your first wave park in Aus­tralia at Lo­gan­holme in Queens­land. If suc­cess­ful when do you ex­pect it to open to the pub­lic? Any­where be­tween six and 12 months. The ap­pli­ca­tion was lodged un­der Tun­nel Vi­sion Wave Pools. Why the name change from Web­ber Wave Pools? Your name has been syn­ony­mous with the wave pool move­ment for over a decade. That’s their choice on the nam­ing for the mo­ment and so long as they build what’s known as a Web­ber Wave Pool then it amounts to the same thing. You’re on the brink of a new fron­tier for surf­ing and de­liv­er­ing on your word. Do you feel anx­ious, ex­cited or con­fi­dent that you’re onto some­thing with no limit to how big it could be­come? Just con­fi­dent, it’s taken too long for me to be ex­cited! How­ever, I’m sure I’ll feel re­lieved when the first bar­rel starts grow­ing.

Real and imag­ined pro­jec­tions of what Web­ber’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with Tun­nel Vi­sion Wave Park may look like. Ac­cord­ing to Greg the bar­rel im­me­di­ately be­low is key, “It’s a cylin­der that you can ride a me­tre deeper in­side of than any of the Soli­ton tubes. At 2

Web­ber sug­gests that J-bay was one of the pri­mary in­flu­ences for his wave pool de­sign. Photo: Bosko

Greg and Kelly have a cu­ri­ous re­la­tion­ship – col­lab­o­ra­tors one mo­ment, com­peti­tors the next. Photo: Dun­bar Be­low: Kelly’s Ranch do­ing its thing. Will Web­ber’s pool ever pro­duce a bet­ter bar­rel? Photo: Glazer

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