We'll be able to surf a 3D-printed replica of Pipe­line in a wave pool (once they make a more pow­er­ful wave pool)

Surfer - - Archive - By TODD PRODANOVICH

Re­mem­ber how just a few years ago, the thought of high-qual­ity ar­ti­fi­cial waves with lengthy tube sec­tions and air ramps seemed like the stuff of science fiction? Well, it’s amaz­ing how quickly science fiction turned into science fact, and to­day our In­sta­gram feeds are chock-full of surfers lock­ing into 10-se­cond drain­ers in Le­moore, Cal­i­for­nia, or aerial artistes per­form­ing all man­ner of in­ver­sions above the lip in Waco, Texas. So now that we’re of­fi­cially liv­ing in the surfy equiv­a­lent of a Blade Run­ner movie, where the lines are blurred be­tween the nat­u­ral and the ar­ti­fi­cial, what comes next? Well, for one thing, those lines may get a whole lot blur­rier.

“We cur­rently have the tech­nol­ogy to go out to any reef in the world, take pho­tos of that reef and recre­ate it us­ing 3D print­ing,” says PHD chemist and pro surfer Cliff Kapono. “I’ve been work­ing with a group of sci­en­tists who want to repli­cate these reefs and dis­play them as art, which will be a re­ally cool way to show these en­vi­ron­ments to peo­ple and raise aware­ness about the health of reefs around the world. But when I re­al­ized what this tech­nol­ogy could do, my first thought was, ‘This needs to be in a wave pool.’”

Kapono has been work­ing with reef ecol­o­gists John Burns, of the Hawaii In­sti­tute of Ma­rine Bi­ol­ogy, and Clint Ed­wards, of the Scripps In­sti­tute of Oceanog­ra­phy, to an­a­lyze the chem­istry of reefs around the world, as well as cre­ate three-di­men­sional maps of those reefs us­ing a process called “struc­ture from mo­tion pho­togram­me­try.” By plac­ing “geo ref­er­ence points” in the reef, spe­cial cam­eras can be used to cap­ture its spa­tial di­men­sions, en­abling sci­en­tists to map the reef ac­cu­rately down to the last cen­time­ter. Struc­ture from mo­tion pho­togram­me­try has been used by every­one from arche­ol­o­gists cre­at­ing 3D mod­els of proto-hu­man bones to video game de­vel­op­ers try­ing to mimic a real-world lo­ca­tion in a dig­i­tal space. In the last few years, the same tech­nol­ogy has been adopted by ocean sci­en­tists to map the seafloor as well.

“John Burns was cre­at­ing mod­els of the seafloor to bet­ter un­der­stand how it might change un­der cer­tain cir­cum­stances,” says Kapono. “If a hur­ri­cane hap­pens, how does that event dis­turb a reef? What are the con­se­quences of that and how can they be mea­sured? To find out, you’d need to ac­tu­ally mea­sure ev­ery cen­time­ter of the reef, which isn’t re­ally fea­si­ble, but you can cre­ate a 3D model and then use that to see how the reef changes over time.”

As fate would have it, around the same time Kapono started work­ing with Burns and Ed­wards on reef map­ping, the field of ar­ti­fi­cial wave tech­nol­ogy was also ad­vanc­ing by leaps and bounds. The Kelly Slater Wave Com­pany, Wave­g­ar­den and Amer­i­can Wave Ma­chines have all since en­gi­neered sys­tems ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing im­pres­sive surf. But while en­gi­neers from these com­pa­nies have likely spent count­less hours work­ing out the ba­thym­e­try re­quired to make more rip­pable ar­ti­fi­cial surf, the blue­prints for some of the world’s most-proven breaks are al­ready right there for the tak­ing.

“We could use this tech­nol­ogy to recre­ate Restau­rants in Fiji, The Box in West­ern Aus­tralia or Padang Padang in Indo,” says Kapono. “What­ever reef wave you can think of, we have the abil­ity to map it out and recre­ate it in its en­tirety. As far as the print­ing of the reef goes, this is some­thing we can do now. It would be pos­si­ble to print a reef the size of Back­door and in­stall it in a pool.”

Kapono says that this fall, he and his col­leagues plan on us­ing struc­ture from mo­tion pho­togram­me­try to cre­ate a 3D model of Pipe­line. How­ever, the big­gest lim­i­ta­tion to repli­cat­ing surf­ing’s most iconic waves in pools is, of course, the amount of en­ergy wave pools are cur­rently able to pro­duce. But given time, as wave pool tech­nol­ogy ad­vances and en­gi­neers are able to pro­duce more pow­er­ful fresh­wa­ter swells, we could be watch­ing surfers get­ting blown out of stand-up, Pipe-dop­pel­ganger tubes in, say, a Phoenix, Ari­zona wave park in 2029.

“With the tech­nol­ogy avail­able now, we’re prob­a­bly pretty far from be­ing able to recre­ate a le­git­i­mate, 6-foot, ar­ti­fi­cial Pipe wave,” says Kapono. “But we could def­i­nitely cre­ate the end bowl at V-land, or all kinds of fun, smaller waves from around the world.”

So what’s the next step? Ac­cord­ing to Kapono, the big­gest chal­lenge is con­vinc­ing one of the wave pool com­pa­nies to take in­ter­est in ocean reef repli­ca­tion. The ac­tual mod­el­ing and print­ing of the reef, de­ter­min­ing the ideal depth and an­gle to place it based on his­tor­i­cal swell data, and the in­stal­la­tion are the easy part. Sure, it sounds crazy. But then again, so did a fresh­wa­ter bar­rel in Cow Town, Cal­i­for­nia, un­til just a few years ago.

Photo by RYAN CRAIG

Eli Ol­son

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