Artificial reefs have long been touted as the saviours of a surf dry locale. But the scope sometimes outweighs reality, like in Bournemouth, UK, when a reef made up of sand bags was dropped the sea bed, and it failed miserably – becoming the media darling of things that went wrong with ambitious surfing projects.
But, that was years ago, and tech has advanced, pencils sharpened, heads scratched and drawing boards filled with magical ideas to drench your beachie with pristine waves. And here steps in Airwave, the company responsible for the world's first inflatable reef, invented by Troy Bottegal, and is due a test run out at Bunbury in Western Oz.
The reef is an inflatable dome, designed to mimic the shallow leading edge of a reef in the ocean. It's supposed to sit in shallow water, with the aim of creating a peeling top-to-bottom wave, capable of handling a variety of swell and tide conditions.
Of course we had some questions, so we hit up Troy to talk through his ideas and the viability of this under water dome. And, spoiler, he came up with the idea while sat in the bath tub. Enjoy!
Hey Troy. This looks like a crazy project. Talk us through the idea of an inflatable reef, how did this come about?
It came about from the frustration of surfing closeout beachbreaks in Perth. At the time, I was working really hard building up our family businesses and didn’t really have the luxury to get in my car and travel to good surf. So the local beachbreak it was.
I found myself coming home after having got wet, but missing the euphoria only waves with great shape provide. After these sessions in closeouts, I’d soak my cares away in the bath and my mind would wander to the what ifs.
One day in the bath I actually looked up at a dome shaped light fitting and it hit me. The Airwaves shape has evolved from that first bath. The designs first started out as a sail like structures anchored to the ocean floor with air underneath creating the tension and shape. The Airwave has evolved from this early ‘art’ concept to the contemporary air bladder concept today.
That's interesting. So, how’s it made?
High strength, saline resistant rubber, cut into panels to achieve its shape. An internally engineered system of bladder structures to achieve the exact shape and ballasting required.
And how does it work? Does this mean it won't be fixed in place?
It works on mimicking a perfect sand bank. No fixing, just internal sand ballasting. We may use some screw anchoring if necessary.
Gotcha, when is the first trial being launched?
November 2019 in Bunbury, Western Australia.
Perfect. Artificial reefs have tried and failed before, what makes you think this one will top what has come before?
The Airwave concept doesn’t try to do too much, merely just enough to affect one part of the swell line, in order to change the peel characteristics of the entire wave.
The Airwave concept doesn’t try to do too much, merely just enough to affect one part of the swell line, in order to change the peel characteristics of the entire wave Placing it in shallow enough water ensures the wave will not dissipate into deep water after it starts peeling. Previous ASR’s have failed because they have tried to recreate whole surf reef systems, instead of just installing only the necessary parts of the reef.
It’s such an interesting concept, is there any environmental impact?
Airwave has been designed first and foremost to be insert in the natural environment, utilising very subtle curve and angle to allow for the natural sand flow to remain unchanged.
Take it, once it’s been tried and tested, this could be housed anywhere with a certain swell range?
Yes. Bunbury has a 0.5m – 2m swell differential and a 0.25m – 1.0m tide differential and that’s kind of an easy range for Airwave.
On a greater tide differential, say up to 3 metres, there would be higher tides that the smaller swells wouldn’t show up as breaking waves. As with nature tide and swell play a role in wave characteristics. Airwaves aren’t designed currently for high swells of greater than two metres. In saying that, a two metre swell can produce almost double over head wave faces with a suitable tide.
The ultimate question then, what kind of waves are you hoping to produce, something surfable, or something epic?
We are aiming for as many epic days as possible as would be the case with all perfect sand banks. Airwaves are close enough to the beach to ensure that every swell has the chance to break on them. As opposed to 100 metres offshore where only certain swells and tides allow positive wave results. It will depend on swell and tide of course. But we are recreating the back of a perfect sandbank, thus the intention is to have the possibility of a perfect peeling a-frames across a reasonable tide and swell range.
As a commercial entity, is this a single-buy product then free to use, or will there be concessions for use?
Our vision is that because of the relatively low purchase cost they would be a single buy product for most councils even if stake holders in the community contributed to the purchase. Ten Airwaves installed, will cost around $US3.5 million dollars. That’s potentially ten new a-frames for around half the cost of single conventional artificial surf reef.
Oh wow. Thanks Troy, looking forward to seeing how the test goes in November.