SPORTS

Kelly Slater's Perfect Artificial Wave Could Change Everything About Surfing

Even the pros are obsessed with this "freak of technology."

08/05/2016 3:54 AM AEST | Updated 08/05/2016 3:54 AM AEST
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When world-famous professional surfer Kelly Slater unveiled his artificial wave pool in December after nearly 10 years of research and development, the entire surf world was stoked.

This week, after Slater invited a group of professional surfers to try out what he has dubbed "a freak of technology," it became clear the sport may never be the same.

As wave after flawless wave rolled in, the surfers, including Carissa Moore, Nat Young, Stephanie Gilmore and Kanoa Igarashi, got some of the longest rides and most consistently perfect barrels we've ever seen.

While the company has yet to disclose the pool's location, Reddit users managed to find it using Google Earth satellite imagery. They located the pool in Lemoore, California -- about 100 miles from the coast.

In the past, artificial waves haven't met surfers' expectations. They didn't barrel -- take the shape of a hollow tube -- and weren't fast enough for surfers to get air. Slater's waves, however, live up to the real thing, not just mimicking the ocean, but seemingly improving it.

This ride by Stephanie Gilmore is a prime example of just how clean and glassy each wave is.

At most ocean breaks, that would be the wave of the day -- nay, the month. In Slater's wave pool, it's just one of many.

All of the surfers who tested the water had nothing but praise for the pool. And every one of them had an infectious post-surf smile plastered on their face.

Young said it was "probably the longest barrel of my life" and longboarder Robert "Wingnut" Weaver obsessed over the technical perfection of the wave.

"You don’t appreciate how much energy is involved moving around out there until you’re in the pond," Weaver said. "The way it sucks out, the way it dredges, the way it moves back and forth -- it’s mind-blowing."

From a business perspective, artificial waves make all the sense in the world. Wave pools could bring surfing to the most landlocked of places, expanding the sport from exclusive coastlines to every corner of the globe. The technology could even be a gateway for surfing in the Olympics, since consistently perfect waves would provide a predictable and fair playing field.

But not all surfers are convinced that Slater's waves are an improvement. Some worry that by opening itself to the mass market, surfing could become even more crowded than it already is. And for many surfers, removing the connection to nature is nothing short of sacrilege.

Slater himself has called the sport a spiritual experience. "Surfing is my religion, if I have one," he once told CNN. "The barrel is really the ultimate ride for any surfer. It's the eye of the storm. Some guys say it's like being in the womb."

He said he sees the artificial waves as a supplement to the natural ones.

"I know people have fears that man-made waves could change or ruin our culture in some way," Slater told Surfer Magazine. "But it’s not meant to replace anything. I’ve always said this is a supplement to surfing in the ocean, and something for fun."

Fun, indeed. Now if only Slater would let the rest of us in on his "freak of technology."

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