Maybe you saw the Tony Hawk of surfing upload a video of a perfect man-made wave back in December. According to Bloomberg, Kelly Slater is trying to sell flawless artificial barrels to the world for somewhere between $US2 and $US20 million ($2.7 and $27.8 million) a pop, which is a bargain considering the R&D that went into making something like this work. Wave pools have been around for some time, but sloshing water back and forth is considerably easier than creating waves. Slater's machine is the first of its kind that can produce consistent, surfable waves. Although the exact technology behind the wave machine is secret, Adam Fincham, the researcher Slater worked with to build it, gives us a glimpse into the general concept:
Along with a small team, he built a 1/15-scale model of a concept that seemed feasible: a hydrofoil — imagine something like an underwater aeroplane wing — would create a swell, then turn that swell into a surfable wave by using a specifically shaped bottom to cause a break, as happens in the ocean.
The hydrofoil is shaped to create a long-lasting wave with enough power to be ridden, and then dragged along the bottom of the lake. The lake bottom also had to be reshaped to help generate the right kind of waves. Moving the hydrofoil through the water creates the ideal fluid turbulence to result in the barrels that surfers often fly across the world to find. And the entire device is solar powered!
While the Kelly Slater Wave Company is still tweaking and perfecting the technology, they announced this week that it's being acquired by the World Surf League's parent company. The holding company plans to use the technology to build high-tech training centres for surfers, among other things. Perhaps, Bloomberg speculates, if flawless waves can be recreated year-round in any location, surfing might finally become a full-fledged Olympic sport.