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Red Bull Unleashed Director on Wave Pools and the World Tour

Can Wave Pools Become a Part of the World Tour?

Published on June 1, 2016 by Josh Rakic on

Kelly Slater sent shock and awe through the surfing community when he dropped a round of clips this month of the world’s best surfers getting barreled in his prototype wave pool. World champions Steph Gilmore and Carissa Moore were there. World Tour surfers Nat Young, Josh Kerr and Kanoa Igarashi, too.

And so talk quickly turned to the possibility of Kelly Slater Wave Co. playing host to a World Tour event more than a two hour drive from the actual ocean. A first, to say the least. But is talk of Kelly’s pool playing host to an event any time soon premature? Most say yes, arguing a wave pool contest wouldn’t be a World Tour contest at all but instead a H20 equivalent of a snowboard halfpipe, where the best routine wins. A sex doll tryst, by comparison to the real thing.

For a full understanding from both a surfing and competitive perspective, we reached out to former pro surfer and pro surf coach Jarrad Howse, the director of last year’s Red Bull Unleashed contest at Wales’ Surf Snowdonia – the largest official wave pool competition in recent memory.

Red Bull Unleashed | World Tour | Surf Park Central

The Wavegarden at Surf Snowdonia in action during the Red Bull Unleashed event last year. Photo: Red Bull So what’s your opinion of Kelly’s wave pool?

Jarrad Howse: Kelly’s is the best there is, for sure. It’s sick. I’d love to get an opportunity to ride it. I contacted Kelly to discuss it as an option for this year’s Red Bull Unleashed event. There were a few obvious conflicts, but with KS Wave Co. being a business, he said he’d be happy to chat. We’ll see.

From your experience, what are the major differences to Kelly’s pool?
From what I understand, Kelly’s technology and Wavegarden’s are actually quite similar. There’s a central pier and it pulls a plow under water to create waves. Kelly’s obviously spent more time in turning it into more of a world-class wave; It looks like the Superbank.

Aside from the obvious, what’s different about surfing a pool vs. a wave?
When you ride a wave in the ocean, you paddle into it and you look down the line 20 or 30 yards to get an idea of what’s coming up. You get to your feet and you decide whether you’ve got time to do a top turn and then a cutback. Between every turn there’s a split second glance where you make a decision — based on instincts — about what maneuvers you’re going to do next. With the wave pool technology, that central pier remains the same distance ahead of you at all times.

Is Kelly’s style of pool ready to host a genuine CT event?
My educated opinion, which admittedly is uneducated by comparison to someone like Kelly, Greg Webber or Wavegarden, who’ve been at it for 10 years or more, is that it’s not ready yet.  It’s not that it won’t be eventually. But what you lose in a wave pool contest is the history and soul of surfing — man v. ocean, the decisions made in a 30-minute heat determined by tide and swell direction and wind and the rest. But it’s going to be a game changer for broadcast reasons. Like motorsports, we’ll know when the contest will run and at what times. It can be packaged up with perfectly timed replays and all that. You could watch John John surf live at 6:05 p.m. PT on your TV. It’s a specialty event in my head, not a World Tour event for points.

Kelly Slater Wave Company World Tour | Surf Park Central

Is this the future of the World Surf League World Tour? Photo: Kelly Slater Wave Company

So it won’t be man-on-man 30-minute battles?
That wouldn’t work because none of the unpredictable factors of the ocean are there. I’m yet to see a wave that offers more opportunity than a couple different moves. Somewhere like Lowers, guys can get barreled, do airs or do a cutback. A wave pool doesn’t offer all that. But who knows? That may still be to come.

How could it work from a specialty event standpoint?
The format needs to change. Like Formula 1 time trials where you do 10 laps and take your best two — that’s how it’d have to be. I love what is being done with wave pool technology. But from a competition standpoint, I don’t think anything is going to beat a heat at macking Teahupoo in 8-foot waves.

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