The science behind how Kelly Slater’s wave pool churns out perfect waves

The golden era of wave pool perfection that we’re currently experiencing was a long time in the making. Wave pools have been around for many years, but recently the technologies from companies like Wavegarden and the Kelly Slater Wave Company have set the new standard for artificial wave quality.

However, for all the fanfare both have received, do we really know all that much about how their waves are actually generated?

Thanks to a new feature story in Science Magazine, we’ve gotten the first real insight into the actual science and technology behind Slater’s wave.

The article tells how Slater approached Adam Fincham, a researcher at the University of Southern California, in 2006 to replicate the nature behind waves in a tank. Fincham jokes how he had no idea who Slater was at the time. Slater created the Kelly Slater Wave Company, hired Fincham and the rest is history.

But the juicy details of the Science Magazine story are in the specifics of the Surf Ranch set-up. The pool is 700 meters (2,297 feet) long by 150 meters (492 feet) wide. A huge metal contraption called a hydrofoil is what creates each wave — it’s partially submerged in the water and attached to those train-like cars that get pulled down a track by a cable at speeds of 30 kmh (19 mph).

A diagram of the Surf Ranch pool in Lemoore, CA. Photo: Courtesy of Science Magazine

That much water moving in a pool creates something called oscillation, which is dealt with through dampers that minimize water from bouncing off the walls and back into the wave itself. It takes three minutes for the pool to become totally calm again. The different sections of the wave are created by different bottom contours, just like in the ocean. The bottom of the pool is similar to that of a squishy yoga mat.

The entire article and video above are well worth a look, as they give some insight into the engineering that it took to create man-made perfection. The future is happening now and we’re all living through it.

Joel Parkinson reaping the benefits of the hard work of Slater and Fincham. Photo: Courtesy of Steve Sherman/WSL

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