The story of Wavegarden

April 10, 2020 | Surfing
Wavegarden: the developers of the world's first wave pool | Photo: Wavegarden

The history of surfing will always remember Wavegarden as the developer of the world's first public, surf-oriented wave pool.

It was not the first to design and generate artificial waves, and not the first to pump surfable waves outside the ocean.

But Wavegarden was the fastest to deliver a sustainable and commercially profitable surf lagoon concept.

It all started in 2005, when Basque Country surfer and engineer, Josema Odriozola, and German surfer and economist, Karin Frisch, decided to sit down and sketch a wave generating system.

They studied and analyzed several methods and models for producing man-made waves, using computing simulations and small-sized prototypes.

The idea, though, was not new.

Wavegarden: the Spanish wave pool company has its headquarters in San Sebastián, Spain | Photo: Wavegarden

An Old Dream

The history of wave pools dates back to somewhere between 1845-1886 when King Ludwig II of Bavaria electrified one of his private lakes to create artificial waves.

Since then, there have been many attempts to develop and install wave generating technologies, for example, at theme and water parks.

A quick search in Google Patents delivers an interesting result.

In 1983, Dutch inventor, Dirk Bastenhof, filed a patent application for the "Surf Wave Generator."

"The system aimed to repeatedly produce and launch singular waves across the surface of a swimming pool," patent number 4,522,535 reveals.

"The waves are produced in the swimming pool by an adjacent water-filled caisson, which is coupled into the swimming pool at the base of the pool and caisson."

"Except for the opening into the pool, the caisson is sealed, and a charge of high-pressure air is vented into the upper portion, forcing the water from the chamber into the swimming pool in a single forceful motion."

"Through the use of a baffle, the expelled water is directed within the swimming pool to produce a surf wave propagating across the surface of the swimming pool away from the wave-generating caisson."

The patent application (pictured below) was granted on June 11, 1985.

Interestingly, it cites patents from 1936 ("Method and apparatus for producing surface waves on a body of water," Karl Herz Frederick), 1969 ("Apparatus and method for producing waves," Dexter Phillip), 1971 ("Method and apparatus for wave formation in swim pools," Siegfried A. Schuster), 1980 ("Pneumatic wave generator for a wave," Siegfried A. Schuster), and 1981 ("Apparatus for wave-making," William H. Baker).

Bastenhof's 1983 invention would later be cited by today's wave pool makers, including Thomas J. Lochtefeld (Waveloch and FlowRider) and Bruce McFarland (American Wave Machines).

Surf Wave Generator: the 1983 invention patented by Dirk Bastenhof

Odriozola & Frisch Inc.

Wavegarden is the result of a fruitful partnership between Josema Odriozola and Karin Frisch, co-founders of the company.

They are the heart and soul of this surfing dream.

Odriozola was born in La Laguna, Tenerife. He earned a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Navarra in Spain.

The entrepreneur had previously gained experience selling skate parks and working in marketing at O'Neill and other surf industry companies.

Frisch has a degree in sports economy from the University of Bayreuth in Germany.

She co-founded and managed Tip Top, a skate park company with more than 110 facilities installed.

In 2005, alongside Josema Odriozola - her husband - Karin Frisch helped develop the economics that supported the Wavegarden business model and took on the role of marketing director.

This dynamic duo now leads a large team of mechanical, electrical, civil, and computational fluid dynamic engineers.

Wavegarden: one of the first prototypes was a circular surf lagoon | Photo: Wavegarden

From San Sebastián to the World

Wavegarden kicked off its ambitious, time-demanding business adventure in a low-key area.

For many, it would seem obvious to install and develop the technology in the areas where there's a booming surf industry like California, the Gold Coast, Hawaii, or Biarritz.

Instead, they opted for a discrete inland property located in the mountains near Zarautz, on the outskirts of San Sebastián in the north of Spain.

The duo adopted two different approaches in their early scale models - a linear wave pool concept, and a circular surf lagoon (pictured above).

Between 2005 and 2009, Josema Odriozola and Karin Frisch worked tirelessly on both fronts, until they reached a conclusion.

Their first demo center would recreate a linear surfing experience, identical to the one surfers enjoy in the ocean, with waves breaking and peeling almost parallel to the beach.

The first experiments were quite simple and rudimentary.

Wavegarden used a tractor to pull the foil, which then generated 1.6-foot (0.5 meters) waves.

At the end of the decade, Wavegarden was ready to open its gates to the world, and the results spread like swells across the planet.

Mick Fanning, Gabriel Medina, Owen Wright, Bobby Martinez, Reubyn Ash, Nic von Rupp, Kolohe Andino, and Miguel Pupo were some of the first to try it out in 2011.

And it worked pretty well. The R&D facility had opened interesting doors to the whole industry.

Surf Snowdonia: the world's first public wave pool opened in Wales in 2015 | Photo: Wavegarden

The Bi-Directional Revolution

The founders of Wavegarden were excited.

The feedback they had received filled their inner passion and dreams. And the team quickly got back to work.

Two years later, after the first inland surfing experience, Odriozola and Frisch presented a large scale, bi-directional wave pool that pumped perfect right and left-hand waves.

Wavegarden 1.0 was born.

The new wave pool revealed a formula in which, once each wave cycle was completed, the machine would turn around and create another set of waves in the opposite direction.

So, in August 2015, the world's first £12-million public wave pool powered by Wavegarden - Surf Snowdonia - opened in Wales.

A few months later, the same technology was used to mimic ocean waves in Austin, Texas. However, and despite high expectations, the NLand Surf Park would close its doors in 2018.

Wavegarden: a 24/7 open wave pool that can be used for night surfing | Photo: Wavegarden

The Cove

The wave pool industry was beginning to attract new players, avid to position themselves as the best, commercially viable solution.

Kelly Slater's Surf Ranch was a quick and solid answer to the Spanish concept. With an identical two-way surf track concept, it had something that Wavegarden hadn't been able to deliver - barrels.

Slater was able to show the world that perfect freshwater cylinders were possible, even though his concept was not commercially viable.

The cost per wave and the long waiting period between sets were - and still are - its Achilles' heel.

American Wave Machines also put pressure on the early movers, creating PerfectSwell and successfully installing it at the BSR Surf Resort, in Waco, Texas.

Meanwhile, Wavegarden was already working on its 2.0 technology. In secrecy, at least since 2016.

With The Cove, the wave pool manufacturer wanted to prove several things - they could make perfect, transparent barreling waves, they could reduce the space needed to recreate a fun, inland surfing experience, and they could make it even more profitable and less expensive from an operating and maintenance standpoint.

Consequently, The Cove delivered more and better waves and, in a certain way, embedded all their opponents' order winners: innovation, flexibility, design, reliability, quantity, and quality.

In 2020, two Wavegarden facilities featuring the brand new technology opened almost simultaneously - Urbnsurf Melbourne and The Wave: Bristol.

The Cove produces 1,000 waves per hour. The cost per wave is $0.10. The installation investment is set around $13 million (€12 million).

Why Build a Wavegarden?

A Wavegarden pool is a complex structure that combines surf science and surfonomics.

The surf lagoon embeds a series of innovative patents, breakthroughs, and machinery that must be balanced by a financially sustainable business model.

Wavegarden facilities feature several additional revenue streams, including surf schools, restaurants, training centers, bars, and accommodation, to support the costs generated by a 24/7 operation.

The venue can also be rented by companies or private individuals for events, parties, competitions, and even music concerts.

Wavegarden developers made sure their man-made surf pool can work as an anchor to help promote other large scale businesses and commercial projects.

Therefore, it can act as a parallel attraction or add-on to existing hotels, resorts, shopping centers, adventure parks, luxury real estate developments, public sports centers, and private properties.

Wavegarden: South Korea's Turtle Island gets ready for the world's largest surf lagoon | Illustration: Wavegarden

Safety and Environmental Sustainability

Wavegarden follows several European safety directives when building its facilities.

The Spanish artificial wave pool concept adopted CE compliant protocols for machine safety for amusement park installations (EN 13814), swimming pool safety requirements for design and operation (EN 15288), electrical equipment designed for use within certain voltage limits (2006/95/EC), and electromagnetic compatibility and repealing (2004/108/EC).

Wavegarden is also proud to state that a surfer's carbon footprint can be lower if he or she surfs at one of their lagoons when compared to a drive from home to his or her favorite beach.

The assumption is valid as long as the wave pool is located at least a quarter of an hour nearer to his or her home than the chosen beach.

Wavegarden: you can get barreled at The Cove | Photo: Wavegarden

First Mover vs. Fast Followers

But the game is on, and Wavegarden is surrounded by smart and highly competitive opponents.

Australia's Surf Lakes stepped in with the world's first concentric wave generator promoted by former world surfing champion, Mark Occhilupo.

The Queensland-based surf system also offers a groundbreaking concept that could potentially threaten Wavegarden's early move.

One thing is certain: the wave pool industry is booming, and not all players will see the light at the end of the barrel.

Who will prevail: first movers or fast followers? And what will Wavegarden do next? How will it reinvent itself?

How can existing Wavegarden facilities upgrade their older formulas to up-to-date products without losing financial competitiveness?

The answer to these questions will probably define its future as one of the world's leading man-made wave pool experts.

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