Kelly Slater Is One Step Closer to Bringing His Man-Made Wave to Palm Beach

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Joe Scarnici / Getty Images

When Kelly Slater unveiled his wave pool in December 2015, the surf world was awe-struck by its perfection. Not a drop of water out of place, the engineered wave produced dreamy 30-second barrels. Multiple pro surfers made the trek out to Lemoore, California, and came back with rave reviews of Slater’s creation. Meanwhile, a steady stream of video clips taunted the surfing masses with the wave’s elusive perfection. And now the rest of us might be closer to having a chance to experience Slater’s wave technology. 

The Kelly Slater Wave Co. has applied for a zoning change in Palm Beach that would allow it to develop Surf Ranch Florida. Based on the application, it appears that KSWC is looking to develop a wave park at the Palm Beach Park of Commerce. The parcel is 80 acres, and the projected park would include a concrete-lined lake covering approximately 13 acres, according to the proposal.

Last May the World Surf League acquired a majority stake in the KSWC. That move has led to speculation that the WSL plans to include a stop at the wave pool in its flagship world tour circuit. Without a venue, though, that idea remains a pipe dream, but approval from the Palm Beach County planning commission could change that.

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The Palm Beach site is about two hours from Slater’s hometown of Cocoa Beach. Florida is home to white-sand beaches and frustratingly inconsistent surf. With a solid hurricane swell and the right sandbar, Florida can provide world-class waves. But often, those conditions are few and far between. The proposed wave pool site is inland from the coast, but could prove a manna for wave-starved Florida rippers.

Though Slater’s prototype wave pool in Lemoore has received high marks from those lucky enough to experience it, expanding the project has moved more slowly. A KSWC wave pool was one of six proposals submitted to redevelop the 36-year-old Seaport Village area in downtown San Diego. Slater’s project lost out to an ambitious “Seaport San Diego” plan from 1HWY1 developers that includes multiple hotels, an aquarium, and a man-made beach.

Slater’s wave project began more than ten years ago when he approached Adam Fincham, a professor at USC specializing in fluid mechanics. A natural wave requires the force of a far-off storm to interact with specific characteristics on the ocean floor, such as a reef, a sandbar, or a point. In 2008 Fincham designed a small-scale prototype of the machine behind Slater’s wave. The prototype used an airfoil-like mechanism to create a wave motion in the water. The KSWC team also designed an artificial ocean floor that replicated the shape of some of the world’s best surf breaks.

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Work began on the Lemoore site in 2014 and remained a tightly held secret. The out-of-the-way property contained a waterski lake that KSWC soon transformed into a surfers’ playground. In December 2015 Slater released the first clips of himself riding the endless barrel, and internet sleuths quickly uncovered the site’s location.

Since then, a steady wave of VIP guests and pro surfers have visited and revved up the hype machine around the technology. Slater’s team of engineers have also refined the mechanism further. The Lemoore pool can produce beginner-friendly rollers, in addition to the eye-candy barrels.

"Who wants to get out of this barrel?" from Kelly Slater Wave Co on Vimeo.

The wave pool videos have prompted some hand-wringing among surfing traditionalists who fear that the man-made waves will dilute the sport’s essence. Despite increasingly accurate weather forecasting (thanks, NOAA!), finding perfect surf remains a challenge in the real world. For some long-time surfers, the unpredictability of natural surf is central to the experience, and well-honed ocean instincts are the mark of a true surfer.

Hand-wringing aside, we’re not about to say no to the idea of on-demand, perfect barrels. And if the KSWC has its way, we might soon have the chance to try out Slater’s new toy. The first hurdle for the proposed Palm Beach site is the zoning application. The Palm Beach County Commission will hold a hearing on March 23 on the proposal. 

Saturday Super Session from Kelly Slater Wave Co on Vimeo.

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