Catching the Perfect Wave ...100 Miles From the Ocean
A surfer rides a wave at the Kelly Slater Wave Co. site in Lemoore, California.
(Kelly Slater Wave Co.)
Eleven-time world champion surfer Kelly Slater dropped a bomb last December when he released a video of an 8-foot man-made wave in what looks like an old ski pond nowhere near an ocean.
“This is our little secret spot about 110 miles from the coast,” says Slater in the video.
In the video Slater sees the wave for the first time and freaks out saying, “Oh, my God. No way."
Slater later surfs down this long skinny lake on what seems like an endless perfect wave. His friends go wild, just like the rest of the surfing community has over the last seven months.
“I’m 100 percent positive our team built the best wave anyone has ever made,” Slater says. “It’s a freak of technology.”
The video has gone viral, and in the aftermath the wave’s location was found through public permit records for a fish pond about an hour south of Fresno right outside Lemoore.
It’s in the middle of the Central Valley.
I’m not a surfer, but my friends Graham Brock and Kyle Millward are. So we drove to Kings County to find this perfect wave.
“I honestly expect to see a flat pond, but I hope to see Kelly Slater surfing it. That’d be awesome,” says Millward. We found the property surrounded by an 8-foot-tall fence on one side and a row of tall trees on the other. There'd be no surfing for my friends today.
Since we couldn’t see much, we talked to neighbor Sonjia May, who lives next door. She says construction on this project has been going on for two years.
“The people that owned it originally put that lake in,” says May. “They sold it and moved to New Mexico. He drained it. It’s all cement, probably a million bucks in cement.”
"Coming here was a total unknown,” Perrow says. “It’s so surprising to come and see how powerful the wave is. It’s got so much push behind it."
Perrow is one of the lucky few. Legendary surfer Michael Willis says he’s interested in riding the wave.
“You’d go anywhere around the world to catch a wave like that,” says Willis. “It looks sort of like Kirra, a surfing spot in Australia that peals across the beach.”
Michael and his brother, Milton, are sort of legends in the surf world. Michael was a world record holder for successfully catching some of the largest waves ever surfed. He’s concerned that this artificial wave may be too controlled and may lack some of the spiritual factors that surfers feel.
“I like wiping out, I like getting caught inside by waves, I like losing my board and having to swim to shore,” says Willis. “Ocean surfing is an extremely difficult art to master.”
Willis also wants to know how this perfect wave works. The wave company says a very precise geometric object is pulled through the water creating the wave. There’s a bunch more science to it, but that info is proprietary. In that same video from earlier, pro surfer Stephanie Gilmore surfed the manufactured wave.
“You know you dream of this stuff as a kid,” Gillmore says. “Imagine. When you talk about it with your friends, imagine if we had a wave pool that pumped out perfect waves all day long. And to sit here and see it within my lifetime is like the coolest thing ever.”
Jess Ponting, with the Center for Surf Research in San Diego, thinks the perfect wave could make Gilmore’s childhood wishes come true in surf parks around the world.
“Anywhere that has these installations is going to become a tourist destination in and of itself,” Ponting says. “There’s one in the United Arab Emirates that’s right in the middle of the desert and it’s booked out eight months in advance.”
The World Surf League, the governing body for professional surfers, is acquiring the rights to the perfect wave. CEO Paul Speaker says the technology will also create a new way to hold surf competitions. Imagine a perfect wave for every surfer.
“We see in the future, two or three or four years out, that there would be a hybrid tour,” Speaker says. “Ocean locations, but also complementing that with a wave pool experience and something that allows us to move into markets that maybe aren’t coastal markets.”
Maybe man-made waves will never replace the feeling people get out on the open water, but the league expects this technology will open a new chapter for surfers around the world.