I couldn’t stop laughing on the inside as I watched Torrey Meister fly down the line on a chunky right-hander at NLand Surf Park, trying to keep a shiny white cowboy hat firmly affixed to his head in a stiff offshore wind. He managed to keep it in place as he approached the middle section of the wave, but moments after drifting his fins at the lip, the hat flew off and rode the breeze across the pool, where Albee Layer picked it up and put it on for his next wave. And so it became a sort of game for the rest of the session, with everyone trying as hard as they could to complete a wave while wearing a Texan head ornament.
There’s been a lot of talk about the technology behind wave pools, the ways in which they could affect surf competition and how they could change the culture of surfing worldwide. But what people seldom talk about is the far more tangible truth about artificial waves: They are ridiculously fun to ride. If you’re used to riding waves in the ocean, the plastic bottom instead of sand or reef, the placid water between waves and the strange sounds of the wave-generating machinery make you feel like you’re surfing in a distant future, or on an alien planet.
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It provides a completely novel experience, and, of course, a thoroughly rippable wave. There’s also a strange kind of secondhand pride that comes from riding man-made waves. To think that human beings were able to look at waves in the ocean generated by distant storms and shaped by specific bathymetry, then decided to replicate them in a pool and then actually engineered a system capable of doing so, is nothing short of astounding. It’s a testament to what people are capable of when they set their mind to solving a problem and refuse to give up, no matter how unworkable it may initially seem.
This issue is about surfers who figured out new ways to approach surfing and living, some of whom have left us blueprints to do the same. Thomas Campbell, Ryan Lovelace, Bianca Valenti and Trevor Gordon are experts in the fields of surf filmmaking, board building, swell chasing and living at sea, respectively, and they offer a wealth of information on how you can become the same (“Do Something”). Former SURFER editor Drew Kampion discusses what he learned from the late John Severson, who took the DIY ethos to an extreme by creating a surf magazine (along with countless films, photos, writings, illustrations and paintings) in an era when there was no example to follow (“Lessons From John”).
Surfers have always been natural-born problem-solvers, whether we’re talking about George Greenough building his own housing to capture in-the barrel footage in the late ’60s or a group of Basque engineers designing an artificial-wave facility that can be built anywhere in the world —like, say, Austin, Texas.
That’s where I found myself while researching a piece about surfing’s potential inland expansion alongside advancements in artificial-wave technology (“If You Build It, They Will Surf”). And while I sat there in the pool, watching Meister and Layer tear the bag out of man-made waves while passing a cowboy hat back and forth, I thought about the backlash that has followed almost every advancement in wave pools — online rants about how artificial waves will somehow suck the soul out of surfing. In some cases, I understand their arguments: Many of surfing’s best qualities derive from the incredible fact that you’re riding waves in something as dynamic and alive as the ocean. However, I’d also argue that a big part of what makes surfing special is the way that surfers are wired to follow crazy ideas, tinkering away in garages and backyard shaping bays, problem solving our way into more enjoyable surf experiences. Because surfers are always making something, and we’re at our best when we’re making fun.
TODD PRODANOVICH, Editor