Surf pools have made their debut in the competitive surfing scene. But do we want wave technology to become a key part of competitive surfing? Is it a perfect marriage? Maybe not.
Yes, wave pools are part of the future of surfing. And yes, artificial waves will bring surfing to inland territories.
But that doesn't necessarily mean that professional surfers should compete in controlled environments where they know what to expect.
In fact, there's one big issue that humans will never be able to solve or overcome - we can't mimic the variables of the ocean and the influence of a beach and its surroundings in a sport like surfing.
Even from a commercial point of view, the advent of man-made wave pools will not be a synonym for increased revenue and profit.
Spectators want the real deal - the liveliness of Pipeline and the sensitiveness of Trestles.
The more event organizers force fans to watch a wave pool contest, the fewer viewers they will attract.
It will be fun and entertaining in the beginning, but sooner or later, it will be passé.
Is there any engaging format that could be explored? Sure.
Specialty events like the Founders' Cup and Red Bull Unleashed or expression sessions with specific challenges may keep the audience's attention for a couple of hours.
And the World Surf League (WSL) has been wisely exploring uncharted waters, assuming the risk associated with early movers, and testing its business model in uncertain times.
But professional competitive surfing is a delicate ground where innovation is not always a synonym for evolution and success.
And it was not selected as an Olympic sport because of the quality of the lab-produced waves.
Let's take a look at the downsides of surf contests held in wave pools:
Predictability is Not Always Good
Predictability makes things easier to deal with, but that isn't necessarily good in a sport like surfing.
Having different types of conditions during an event is good for putting surfers to the test. Even lay days happen for a reason.
In a wave pool, pro surfers will know what the conditions will be like beforehand.
Intervals Between Waves are Long
Because they're powered by hydraulic and sophisticated air pumping systems, surf pools need time to generate the next set of waves.
These lulls can be longer than real ocean wave lulls.
A Static Scenery is Boring
From a broadcasting perspective, it's quite hard to keep the stoke high.
There aren't too many exciting and creative angles you can get in a wave pool surrounded by concrete, machines, and giant LCD screens.
At a beach, you'll always find people walking, crazy dogs, perfect unridden waves peeling across the reef, ships passing by, landmarks, and urban and natural landscapes.
The Randomness of the Ocean Waves Matters
The best surfer in the world is the one who adapts to changing variables and outperforms his opponents in all types of waves and weather conditions.
In the ocean, all waves are different, and that is precisely what makes surfing a magical outdoor recreation.
Surfing is the art of running away from the whitewater.
And sometimes, there are sections to be flown over and unexpected floaters to be landed.
Surfing is not a Stadium Sport
Surfers spent half of a century imagining their sport as a stadium sport.
Now that we've been able to recreate ocean waves in a closed environment and we've organized the first competitive events, we may have concluded that it simply doesn't work.
It is impossible to entertain 5,000 people with a group of surfers riding the same wave for several hours.
And there's nothing like cheering and greeting surfers personally as they leave the water after winning a heat.
It's Harder to Compare Rides
With time, as pro surfers adapt uniformly to the artificial wave, the differences between performances will be marginal, making it impossible for judges to distinguish the quality of the rides.
When we thought we had discovered the solution for the traditional judging criteria, we ended up with an even harder problem on our hands.
Waves Aren't Big Enough
While it's true that many Championship Tour (CT) events are run in small wave conditions, you can also say that those events are condemned and will be, sooner or later, removed from the pro surfing calendar.
Holding a world-class contest in a predictable surfing environment would necessarily demand a bigger and more challenging wave.
And that, for now, it's simply not feasible.
People Will Not Pay to Attend Surfing Contests
Why should anyone pay a ticket to watch their favorite surfers riding a repetitive wave when they can go to the beach and watch them for free in the always spectacular ocean arena?
They might pay for it once or twice, but time will make it less exciting.
People Love Perfect Waves, Not Robot Waves
When we saw it for the first, we couldn't believe it was real. Perfect-peeling, artificial waves are genuinely amazing.
But as time passes by, it becomes less of a novelty, and we always get back to our favorite secret surf break, hidden somewhere along a wild stretch of the coastline.
Paddle Battle and Interferences are Part of the Game
Humans aren't perfect, and surfers are no different. Spectators love controversial attitudes and fierce clashes for waves and points.
Paddle battles are also part of the game, and interferences are the salt of the competitive surfing side.
Wave Pools Hinder Natural Progression
While it's evident that a perfect-peeling wave allows surfers to perform a wide range of maneuvers, it is also true that man-made waves tend to homogenize performances.
Athletes are never invited or challenged to take unexpected risks and go for broke in a closeout section.
In that way, and in the long term, wave pools will normalize behaviors and make competitive surfing less appealing for spectators.
Words by Luís MP | Founder of SurferToday.com