It costs sixty cents to create a 4-foot (1.2 meter) wave at the Wavegarden in Zarautz, Spain. Of course, that’s a variable price. It’s dependent upon the natural resources available and average cost of utilities in the region. Think of gas prices in Dubai versus in Hawaii. It’s the same thing with manmade waves. Just basic economics. Surfers get this. We wish there were more empty set waves. We struggle with this economic principle so deeply – through violent localism, intimidation, and rigid hierarchies – that a real opportunity exists for an inventive team to tackle. Enter the Wavegarden, the team that has come exponentially closer to resolving this matter on a global scale than anyone yet.
After closely following Wavegarden’s progress for the better part of four years (and dreaming of artificial waves since I could legibly doodle), I was fortunate enough to travel to Spain and visit the Wavegarden facilities in June of 2015 to test it out, meet the team responsible, and learn a bit more about their approach to fulfilling the collective dream of a LOT of surfers on this planet.
I was curious to learn more of the top line information, but most of that isavailable on their website. Each facility costs between 6-7 million Euros to build (not including the land, which they believe is often the most difficult element to secure), and the lagoon can pulse up to 120 waves per minute and accommodate a maximum of 120 surfers of all skill levels at one time.
“The size of the wave is a key factor in the investment,” says Co-Founder Josema Odrioloza, a mechanical engineer who spent years building municipal skateparks before transitioning his focus to wave pools. “First, the power the wave needs depends exponentially on the height of the wave. Maybe just by increasing the wave height from 1.2 meters to 1.9 meters, you need three times more energy. And if I talk about the volume of the water in the lagoon, it gets way more expensive for this increase. And, of course, everybody wants to ride really long waves, so the lagoon has to be that distance. So there are many factors that are fixed to the price. The thing is that our technology is quite efficient in cost, and because of that we were able to create real, surfable waves quite soon.”
Odrioloza says that Wavegarden has 21 deals with signed contracts in the works, and his knack for aligning economic interests with surfers is fascinating. Ultimately, we all want bigger waves. We all want it to be cheap. So the proliferation of artificial waves could theoretically lead to efficient alternative energy sources. In a paradigm where surfing is widely considered a selfish pursuit, here’s one context where surfing could potentially pioneer innovation in renewable energy. Far-fetched? Yes. But so are artificial waves.
Honestly, I was actually scared to surf the Wavegarden. It wasn’t a physical fear. Rather, I was afraid I would discover two deflating truths that might ruin surfing for me forever. If all went terribly, I’d reveal the following:
1. Although I love surfing, I’m not very good at it.
2. Surfing in itself is not really that fun.
Fear number one is a veritable fact. I wish I were better at surfing, but I honestly haven’t put in the effort to be a great surfer, and the athleticism that carried me as a Division One wrestler doesn’t translate the way I’d like it to with surfing. As a result, I am not one. There was a moment in my early teens where I might have been better than the majority of kids my age (in Virginia Beach, mind you) who surfed regularly, but that was my peak. Now, I reluctantly accept my mediocrity. Also, I’ve joined a few pros on surf trips, and that totally squashed my confidence. We basically do entirely different things in the ocean. Whatever. I still really like surfing.
But the Wavegarden could potentially kill that. The Wavegarden could expose every shitty habit I’ve ever acquired, embellish my shortcomings in style, and put that nightmare soundtrack on repeat until I felt like a tortured POW.