Are Wave Pools Better Than Artificial Reefs?


In the past several weeks, there has been so much discussion about how wave pools are going to change the way we surf. WSL’s recent specialty event at Kelly Slater’s Wave Ranch in California has proven that professional surfing competitions can successfully run in wave pools, especially that kind of pool that the 11-Time World Champ built.

Amidst all the pleasure and pure stoke that the selected professional surfers have experienced at the ranch, and the excitement that regular surfers like us felt while watching them play, we still have to go back to the reality that not everyone may surf Kelly’s wave pool, nor other wave pool projects yet. At this time, most surfers will still have to paddle out into the ocean to get a wave, and for some who don’t have their own local beach breaks, will still have to travel to the nearest break they can find.

So let’s first revisit a topic that has already been discussed in the past throughout the surfing community – does the idea of building artificial reefs ring a bell? Researchers, scientists, and engineers have long explored the concept of artificial reefs. There have been several studies and experiments and even real-world samples of artificial reefs that have produced waves. They’re not as perfect as Kelly’s but are expected to be more natural.

Do you remember the failed Kick Starter campaign to build a giant air bubble on the ocean floor to create waves? If you didn’t, here’s what it looked like:

Air Wave | Image Source: Mpora

On the other hand, Britain’s artificial surf reef, the first of its kind in Europe worth £3.2million, has been shut down due to some damage that produced the wrong type of waves and altered the currents to some dangerous extent.

It was supposed to look like this:

Artificial Reef made of Sandbags | Image Source: Daily Mail UK

But it ended up looking like this:

Artificial Reef in UK | Image Source: Daily Mail UK

Another example is this artificial reef in India that seemed to have worked 7 years ago but was later on ordered by the local government to be dismantled due to the dangerous rip currents it created.

You might be wondering, why are we back on this topic again? Well, scientists are still actively looking for ways to perfect the way artificial reefs are built and there are still people willing to support the idea.

Although the intention is good, we have seen many artificial reef projects go south for a reason. Probably, it is just an expensive project that literally plays with nature – and we all know that playing with nature can be very dangerous and can backfire anytime.

So for the purpose of argument, are wave pools better than artificial reef breaks? Yes! Definitely! Wave pools don’t try to mess with nature, that’s one good thing about it. Wave machines do not try to alter anything on the ocean floor while creating opportunities to have surf in land-locked places.

If some government officials decide they want waves in their country that has no surf breaks at all, they’re better off spending taxpayer’s money on something that will actually work and can be maintained. And at this moment, wave pools are in the best position to provide exactly that.

Unless there is new artificial reef technology that is easy to implement and easy to maintain, then the idea of building one still doesn’t sound as appealing as that of building a wave park. It just does not make good sense to bet your money on something that has the least guarantee of delivering results.

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