GREG WEBBER AND THE WAVE POOL THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR.
‘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.