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Man-made waves: The future of surfing is here and soon will be in Southern California's desert

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Date: 2021-09-24 18:22:30

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Abel Gobea has a dream gig, he’s a head chef cultivating the Central Valley’s abundant harvest into culinary cuisine for guests. And, there’s one other big perk to his job.

Though he’s hours from the ocean and has never paddled out into salt-water waves, he regularly surfs just steps from his kitchen.

“It took me a long time to get up and actually ride a wave,” he said of the year it took him after being hired in 2018 at the Surf Ranch, an exclusive surf spot near Fresno, to muster the courage to even try the machine-generated waves. “It’s amazing. To me, I’d describe it like walking on water.”

Even more surfers who have never ridden an ocean wave may be popping up at a man-made wave near you – and sooner than you think.

RELATED: Reporter’s Notebook: What’s it like to ride waves at the mysterious Surf Ranch?

The waves of the future are here, some at existing surf pools and others planned for the Coachella Valley, just a few hours away from the Southern California coast.

Sure, there’s plenty of purists who refuse to pay for waves and prefer the ocean as their playground, but with more wave pool options on the way, many surfers can’t help but be curious about the novel waves to come.

A new wave

The North Shore of wave pools is coming to the Palm Springs area.

That’s how Chris Kluesener, managing partner of Surf Park Central, describes the developments in the pipeline in Southern California.

The group held its first Surf Park Summit in Laguna Beach back in 2013, when only a few wave pools were being designed and plenty of skeptics shrugged off the idea that machines could actually mimic the ocean. Attempts had been made for decades, but mostly they turned out like rivers, rushing water toward a surfer.

The same two-day conference on Oct. 4 and 5 will bring together investors, developers, suppliers and the curious public to learn about technology advances and regulations as wave pools are pop up here and around the world.

Surf Park Central’s goal is to be the hub for artificial-wave advancement, to help people navigate uncharted waters, but also to help set standards in the industry for everything from safety to environmental footprints.

There are currently seven main technologies in use around the globe, ranging from what pro surfer Kelly Slater’s team came up with for the Surf Ranch in Lemoore, to Wavegarden, which has four locations in Europe and one each in South Korea, Brazil and Australia. Each wave technology has it’s own style and the waves are unique to their designs.

“We’re very optimistic,” ” Kluesener said of the popularity of wave pools. “But the bottom line is there are still some wild west elements of surf parks.”

Surf Ranch, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars to rent out for a day, has rides that last nearly a minute. It offers a destination element, with surfing guides, airstreams people can stay in and Gobea’s farm-to-table cuisine.

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In Waco, Texas, people can nab a one-hour session for $80, but rides are closer to 15 seconds and it’s more of a “minimalist experience” with not much for on-site food or entertainment or guidance riding the waves, Kluesener said.

Most likely, as more technologies and waves are built, the economies of scale and competition will drive prices down, he said.

“Not that it’s bad to have a really expensive wave,” Kluesener said. “But it’s not a wave accessible to everyone.”

A wave of the future

The Thermal Beach Club, planned for 240 acres of unincorporated area in Thermal, south of Indio, plans to use PerfectSwell technology from American Wave Machines, similar to what’s currently operating in Waco at BSR, a popular place that Southern California surfers have recently flocked to as an alternative to surf travel destinations still grappling with coronavirus.

In Palm Desert, DSRT SURF will boast the Wavegarden Cove technology, which will have “consistent rights and lefts, barrels, walls and turn sections for experienced surfers” and “gentle inside sections for cruising, learning and sharing with family and friends,” its website says.

The DSRT SURF project is planned for 17-acres within the Desert Willow Golf Resort, city-owned land developed in 1998. The surf lagoon will be on 5.5 acres. The “surf center” will have a surf academy, restaurants, a bar and retail shops. The hotel will have 92 rooms and suites, and there will be 83 residential villas.

Plans are underway to create an adventure getaway called DSRT SURF, a resort-style destination in Palm Desert that will feature a man-made wave as a surfing destination. (Artist rendition courtesy of DSRT SURF)

Coral Mountain planned in La Quinta will be using the same technology as the Surf Ranch, and another in the works is the Palm Springs Surf Club, recycling an old waterpark facility, that will use SurfLoch technology, also just announced for a new development in Australia.

“Each one of those is a different technology. Each might target a different type of user,”  Kluesener said, comparing it to how a skier would chose between powder or groomed runs, black diamond or bunny slopes.

The new wave pools means the region could open up a new hub for surf tourism.

“People don’t come to Palm Desert for surfing right now, but they will,” Kluesener said. “Mostly, Canadian retirees are coming – now they are going to have Canadian retirees and adventure tourism.”

Woodie White, who lives in Los Angeles but is originally from Chicago, might be part of the target market. White recently caught his first-ever wave at the Surf Ranch.

He often hikes with groups down to the Topanga Beach near Malibu, but has never braved the waves.

“This is amazing. I get it. I would like to be a park surfer, not an ocean surfer,” he said. “It’s not the water, it’s not drowning or going under or anything. It’s the creatures below. It’s too much ‘Shark Week,’ ‘Jaws,’ all the movies terrified me.”

But that doesn’t mean there’s no risk. Safety is a key aspect wave pool developers need to consider, Kluesener said of the need for industry standards when it comes to everything from lifeguards to water cleanliness.

But, there’s also the risk of too much regulation, he said. Surfing anywhere, ocean or pool, comes with inherent wipeout and injury risks.

“It shouldn’t shut down if someone dings their board or falls,” Kluesener said. “There is a customer education component that is important.”

There’s also the environmental impacts to consider. One of the three partners at Surf Park Central runs a “Stoked Certified” program that looks at surfing destinations, both ocean and surf parks, to give sustainability rankings based on considerations such as drought conditions, reducing environmental footprints and plastic consumption.

“It’s a question of choosing a site where the geography is appealing and the local community wants to have a surf park there for tourism,” Kluesener said. “It shouldn’t be built in a place where it would jeopardize agriculture. Site selection is absolutely critical.”

Becoming part of the community fabric is also important. DSRT Surf is looking at sponsoring a local surf club at the nearby high school.

“That’s exactly the thing we want to see, the local community involved, getting people who don’t surf into it,” Kluesener said. “I think there would be challenges to creating an elite surfing experience that never allows the community to partake.”

Michael Schwab is one of the investors and now a licensee of the Kelly Slater Wave Company who is teaming with Meriwether Companies on a project in Coral Mountain. The wave basin in the planning there will use the same technology as found in Lemoore, though it will have larger bays to allow for more surfers.

“I would say there is no comparison to catching and riding a perfect wave in the ocean, but it’s elusive and unpredictable,” he said in an email. “The idea of pushing a button and creating a 6-to-8-foot barreling wave is the vision Kelly Slater showed me in 2010.”

Three years later, he agreed to invest.

Current plans for the 400-acre Coral Mountain property include 600 homes and a boutique hotel with up to 150-rooms. The pool itself will be 12 acres, according to Cheri Flores, planning manager for the city of La Quinta.

The project is expected to go before the Planning Commission by the end of the year, she said.

The future is here

While the Surf Ranch can be a costly adventure, more and more surfers are figuring out how to ride the wave as the operator begins to open up programming for more groups.

Friends are getting together to split the cost to get a taste of the waves. Corporations are holding team-building sessions for employees. Nonprofits are renting it out for fundraisers, a creative way for people to give back but also get a Surf Ranch experience.

Surf Ranch operators won’t release pricing, saying sessions are based on groups’ specific needs.

A Walk on Water, a Malibu-based nonprofit that serves children with special needs, hosted its second fundraiser at the Surf Ranch on Sept. 21.

The cost was $5,500 for each of the 16 surfers, who shared a pair of hour-long sessions with only four other people in the water, said Scott Desiderio, the AWOW organizer.

“It’s obviously a once-in-a-lifetime experience to go surf the Kelly Slater wave pool, which is amazing in itself, but at the same time it’s a chance for an incredible opportunity to give back to an organization that helps kids with special needs,” Desiderio said.

Whether or not wave pools will pop up along coastal California is unknown, though Kluesener said he’s heard of no less than half a dozen discussed.

Look out at any crowded lineup dotted with surfers for an indication on how a wave park would do in surf-rich areas, he said.

“You can see,” he said. “There’s plenty of demand.”

For more info or tickets for the Surf Park Summit go to surfparkcentral.com

Original Source: https://www.dailybreeze.com/2021/09/24/man-made-waves-the-future-of-surfing-is-here-and-soon-will-be-in-southern-californias-desert/