New Wave Pool Tech: Surf Lakes Uses Giant Plunger to Create 8 Foot Slab

Matt Rott

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Updated 145d ago

With major swells in both the South Pacific and Indian Oceans this week, there hasn’t been much talk about wave pools as of late. But in a couple of weeks, the ocean will take another rest, the Surf Ranch event will run, and everyone will jump on the chlorinated bandwagon again.

And right around that time, Australian wave pool company Surf Lakes will be opening its prototype pool near Brisbane to its team of designers and ambassadors—guys like Barton Lynch and Mark Occhilupo, the later of which apparently has a peak named after him in the pool.

Surf Lakes’ technology is unique in that, it is the first to utilise a plunger-produced, tsunami-style wave that moves outward in 360 degrees—essentially a concentric wave. The upside of this is that multiple surf spots can be caused to break at the same time, all from a single expenditure of energy (imagine a large pool with a plunger in the middle sending out waves, and various surf breaks spread around the pools edge).

According to Surf Lake’s website, the pool is capable of generating one pulse every six seconds, causing four a-framing peaks (eight waves in total) to break. For the mathematically challenged, that’s 80 rideable waves per minute, or 4800 per hour (although the design schedules short gaps in wave generation every minute or so to allow the displaced water to return to the lineup, so the current plan is only for 2,400 rideable waves per hour).

Whether it’s 4,800 or 2,400 waves, that’s a lot of rideable water surface. If this theoretical design actually performs as expected, it seems like it will be the most financially viable wave pool design thus far—a pool for the proletariat that can’t afford Slater’s design.

We should know in a couple of months if Surf Lakes is legit, or just another pipe dream. But in the meantime, we sat down with Wayne Dart, Surf Lakes’ media boss, to see what else we could learn about the pool.

This sounds like a pretty ambitious undertaking, Wayne—and one that could potentially be a big success if it pans out as projected. It seems that we often get big reveals about wave pools when they are actually ready to go...the Surf Ranch and Waco were both pretty secret until the working models were fired up and filmed, then suddenly the public was saturated with media. You guys have taken a different approach, and haven't been too bothered with keeping things secret. How long have you actually been working on this concept?
Yes, we are excited about what we are doing, and there is much interest in our concept. We also want to raise awareness for potential licensees globally. The concept has been worked on seriously since around mid-2015.

The plunger tsunami concept seems pretty obvious, yet you appear to be the only company that has run with it thus far. Why do you think that is?
While the concept makes perfect sense now, as with any new creation, the road to making it a reality has been long and difficult. We’re sure others may have thought about something like this before, but the development of the engineering required to create large concentric waves from the centre of a lake is such a huge undertaking.

What we haven’t talked about in the media yet is the fact that there are a number of patented engineering world firsts involved. These will come to light once the waves are pumping. The potential for the technology to be used in other applications is also enormous, so we have plans for expanding on this in future.

Scaled down prototype.

Scaled down prototype.

With the plunger sending ripples out in 360 degrees, you have the ability to create a number of different breaks that all break on the same wave. This really scales the model up in terms of number of rideable waves, and how many customers you can cater to at once, which is obviously the point. Slater's wave seems pretty limited in how many people can ride it, and is subsequently cost prohibitive. The Waco model appears to be a lot cheaper and more financially accessible to the masses, but still rather limited both in how many waves are available per hour, and what the waves are capable of doing (compared to your design). Was your plan at Surf Lakes to create an option that anyone can afford to surf? Can you give us any sort of idea of what the cost will be for surfers once you have a commercial model up and running?
Yes, the motto behind Surf Lakes is “Everyone Gets A Break.” The design obviously allows for the creation of waves that cater for all skill levels of surfing and all surf craft. From a cost-per-wave perspective, yes, 8 to even 10 rideable waves per swell brings the cost per wave right down. In theory, with the pool running at 2,400 rideable waves per hour (not including learn-to-surf waves), you can have up to 240 surfers in the water and everyone can get 10 waves each per hour

At the moment we don’t have a precise methodology for charging, as there are a number of potential collection modes (e.g., cost per wave, cost per hour, cost per entry, etc.) but looking at what is in the marketplace already, we are estimating cost at around US$30 to US$50 per hour. Ultimately, the revenue model will be determined by the licensees who we build Surf Lakes for.

In theory, with the pool running at 2,400 rideable waves per hour (not including learn-to-surf waves), you can have up to 240 surfers in the water and everyone can get 10 waves each per hour. Add to that the swimmers around the perimeter, and it makes for a very profitable and fun model.

Your press releases and website have mentioned eight waves in your prototype pool—four peaks with lefts and rights off of each. You mention a slab, Occy's Peak, a rippable wave and a beginner wave. Can you detail all eight different breaks for us? Will there be numerous waves that have barrels available? Will there be a quality logging wave (similar to Noosa?). Could someone ostensibly bring their entire quiver and have three or four surf trips all rolled into one, getting shacked, doing airs, and riding the nose on the same day?
To answer the last part of the question first…yes, you could bring a full quiver of surfcraft along and ride them all on waves to suit.

We don’t want to detail each wave too much at this stage, but suffice to say that there will be four levels of waves, from beginner (easy take off, slow peel rate for turns) through to slabby barrels. There will most definitely be something for everyone, and lots of variety with 4 lefts and 4 rights.

Also, at the touch of a button, we can adjust the amount of water displaced so the size and shape can essentially be altered to suit the ability or craft in the water. In the commercial locations, the operator can choose to have any combination of waves, but many will have more of the easier waves to cater for learners and intermediate surfers, as they will likely make up the bulk of the visitors in the earlier years.

You’ve got me pretty intrigued with this slab. I assume it will be pretty short. Will it be a slab peak? And if so, does it have a roll-in, or is it something you'd have to backdoor as you sideslip down the face? Seems like the need to backdoor any of your waves could create problems, if people are trying to split the peaks?
These are some of the things we will be testing out once the facility is operational—lineup, rotation... If someone wants to backdoor a wave, they will probably have to arrange it first so they are not interfering with the guys on the other side. I’m sure backdooring an eight-foot slab will be in the cards As this is a test facility, we will be trying out all sorts of things – and I’m sure backdooring an eight-foot slab will be in the cards.

Speaking of interfering with other surfers, have you put any thought into etiquette rules and how sharing of the waves is going to be regulated? That is something that hasn't really come into play at pools such as Wave Garden and Slater's Surf Ranch, but in models such as yours and the one at Waco, it seems a lot more like an actual ocean, and that creates potential for hassling, drop-ins...
Yes, we will be ensuring that a full operations manual is in use at each location. This is a must to ensure excellent management of expectations and service levels. We will be taking note of how large theme parks operate to make sure all the little experiences in and out of the water are awesome.

With the concentric circular wave generation technology, is it possible to create an extremely long, barrelling wave...something that bends along a reef and creates a 20-second barrel, for example? Any plans to design something like that?
Yes, in theory you can create whatever you like, but this might come at a big cost. This is our first demo site—we will look at further development of the system once we understand the full potential and limitations of the Yeppoon facility.

The good thing with the model is that it can be efficient at any size, and provides quite a large operating range (from tiny to large waves) and many wave types, all at the same time.

Along those same lines, how easy/difficult is it to change the bottom contours of the pool and create different waves? Have there been any surprises when it comes to taking conceptual bathymetry and actually sending waves across it?
The reefs themselves, at this stage, are set when the lagoon is shaped. We will look into changeable designs down the track. History tells us that having movable reefs can be troublesome—submerged mechanical parts, corrosion, breakdowns and so on. This is something we will explore as part of our ongoing R&D.

The surprises in our prototyping and CFD modelling have come from just how good the waves actually are, and how natural looking they are. When people see the small-scale lake vision for the first time, one the first things they say is, “Wow, that looks like a real ocean wave!” For me, personally, it was seeing how the waves break, then how the water naturally drains across the reef back out into the channel.

The big limitation we have seen in wave pools thus far is that there seems to be a size threshold (somewhere between chest high and slightly overhead), and that seems to be governed by the exponentially increasing cost of putting out enough energy to make larger waves. Does this threshold exist with the plunger concept as well? Surf Lakes has mentioned one of the waves in your prototype will have around an eight-foot face. What about something substantially larger, for anyone who wants to surf double to triple overhead barrels (and even bigger waves) in a controlled environment? Is that theoretically possible?
The wave size we are aiming for will be around eight feet top to bottom, on the takeoff. It’s theoretically possible to make bigger waves by simply scaling everything up—the lake size, size of wave machine, water depth, etc. This would come at a larger cost to the licensee/operator, and they would have to weigh up the practical costs versus the actual demand for waves larger than eight feet. But we believe it could certainly be done.

An artist's impression of how the pool could look.

An artist's impression of how the pool could look.

It sounds like you are planning to open your doors to test-riders and media in September. That's not too far away, and it seems like there's still a lot of work to be done. Do you have a confirmed completion date? Will there be a large public event, or will it be more like Slater's pool, where he let a couple of people come try it out, then trickled out footage...
We don’t have a confirmed deadline as yet. We will announce this once we are confident. There is still a lot of work to do. It’s a complex build, and there are external factors such as weather and suppliers. Rest assured we are driving this project to completion as fast as possible.

The plan is to have our team—Occy, Barton, plus our shareholders—to be amongst the first surf it. Soon after that, there will be a media day where we will invite surf and general media to film and have a surf.

I’ve been speaking to numerous parties around the world about Surf Lakes on a daily basis, and the excitement levels are seriously high…we can’t wait to ride those waves!

Well we can’t either. Let us know when you guys open your doors!


Matt Rott

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