Diane Cardwell and Matt Higgins report for the New York Times on artificial surf parks. I started out feeling bemused by the entire idea. But the article is interesting and the technology and challenges are fascinating.
The quest to surf on artificial waves has long been challenged by the difficulties of mastering the fluid dynamics, engineering and mechanics necessary to mimic the ocean. And the energy required was often too expensive.
Mr. Townend was also an investor in the Ron Jon Surfpark, in Orlando, which was scheduled to open in 2008. It promised to produce saltwater waves eight to 10 feet high and to transform artificial waves from water park attractions into stand-alone operations.
The wave test run at Ron Jon Surfpark was “unreal,” Mr. Townend recalled. “But it tore the bottom up.” Investors lost millions in the failed experiment.
So what's changed?
The newer surfing pools have been made possible by advances in computing, allowing for better simulations of how the water will behave and for more sophisticated controls. Slight changes in timing, pressure or angle of the water can determine whether a wave will form a curling barrel — the holy grail for skilled surfers — or a soft hump that’s easier to ride.
The focus of the article is the new NLand Surf Park, in the Texas desert. (I just love the visual of ambitious investors trying to bring the most quintessential beach activity to one of the harshest and least beach like areas in America.) What is NLand?
a much-delayed attraction under development by Doug Coors, a scion of the beer-making family ... a giant artificial body of water within 160 acres of cactus-studded former ranch land here in Hill Country.
And how does NLand produce its waves?
The waves at NLand, like those at Mr. Slater’s site in California, which uses its own closely guarded technology, are produced using a hydrofoil. The large blade moves through the water, pushing it into formations as it hits the contoured bottom of the pool.
“Essentially a chairlift motor with a snowplow on it,” Mr. Coors said, the mechanism travels beneath a central pier, creating waves that flow off both sides until it reaches the end, where it resets and runs back the other way. The water comes from a rain catchment and filtration system, and the approach is less energy intensive than older wave-making practices that involved pumping.
Still it takes a lot of energy to make a wave — roughly equivalent to running 10 cars. Mr. Coors is considering installing solar panels to help generate the electricity.
What are the advantages to surfing in Texas instead of in California?
“It takes a long time to become a surfer,” said Fernando Aguerre, president of the International Surfing Association, the global governing body for the sport. “If you’re in the ocean for an hour, and you get six, seven waves, you’re very lucky. Learning to surf is like learning to play the guitar when you can only strum once every 30 seconds.”
Some who have surfed NLand say it feels just like natural waves but with more frequent and longer rides — up to 35 seconds — that give novices more time to properly position themselves and advanced practitioners the opportunity for more maneuvers.
The entire article is interesting and includes some video of the NLand Surf Park. Sure, real beaches are the best, but I'd like to have some other options for waves when I'm stuck in Wisconsin, far from the beach.