California Today: Crafting the Perfect Wave
For decades, surfers chasing the perfect wave have been subject to the vagaries of nature.
But what if the field of play — oscillating water — could be sculpted into its ideal form as with other board sports (think skateboard half-pipes)?
The idea now appears to be tantalizingly within reach.
About a year and a half ago, a company owned by the surfer Kelly Slater released a video from “a secret spot about 110 miles from the coast.” In it, Mr. Slater, an 11-time world champion, is seen in a wave pool gliding in and out of a glassy seven-foot barrel.
The surf community was mesmerized — and brimming with questions.
“It’s just astoundingly perfect and beautiful, way better than anything anybody else has come up with,” said Jess Ponting, director of the Center for Surf Research at San Diego State University.
The facility’s location — on the outskirts of Lemoore, in the San Joaquin Valley — was only pieced together over time by Reddit users using clues from the video and others who went there to investigate.
It turned out to be a former water ski facility, 700 feet long by 70 feet wide.
Greg Gatzka, community development director for Kings County, said permits now under review would let the companies expand the site with a campground, performance stage and eating venues. The plans called for events that draw 10,000 people, he said.
In a statement, the World Surf League said the Lemoore “Surf Ranch” was a research and training facility. Mr. Slater declined to talk. But a couple of months ago, on Instagram, he said the pool was being retooled to be “even better.”
Wave companies have been in something of an arms race to develop technology that could tap a new market for surf parks, said John Luff, the president of Surf Park Central, a trade publication.
But mimicking the ocean has been tricky. Even if Mr. Slater’s machine did make the perfect wave, to be marketable at a public park it would need to crank them out in rapid succession. It’s unclear that it could.
Until now, the Lemoore pool has run in one direction, dragging a foil through the water to make waves. Mr. Gatzka said engineers are trying now to make it go both ways.
Industry analysts said the Lemoore facility could take a number of forms. Tournament hosting is a possibility. Another would be to target high-paying customers — a Pebble Beach for surfers.
“You’re talking about being able to deliver an experience that somebody might try and chase around the world their entire life and might never find,” Mr. Luff said.
He added, “I think that’s a really, really interesting value proposition.”