A Conversation With Kelly Slater: Part 3

posted by / News / October 16, 2010



As we spoke with Kelly for SURFING‘s Competition Issue [December 2010], the main topic of interest was his current business venture: a new wave pool technology he’s been developing for the last five years. Yes. See the magazine for the details, but here’s a bit of what Kelly had to say on the subject.


Kelly Slater:

On why wave pools add up

“I’ve talked about this before, but think about taking two weeks of your life to travel to the Mentawais. To get there takes almost two days — I think my last trip there, door to door, was 39 hours. That’s to get to Kandui and get in the water.

So that’s four days of your life traveling to get somewhere, and you’re there for maybe 10 days. And if you surf a lot you’ll surf for five hours a day. Any one hour you’re in the water, you’re probably going to catch six or seven waves an hour — a good guy might catch 12 or 15 waves an hour, max — and those waves are going to last 10 seconds each. So for any hour in the water you’ll surf for a minute, meaning five minutes of surfing a day, or 50 minutes of surfing. In two weeks. It took you two weeks of your life to surf 50 minutes.

And there’s a whole lot more to it — you get to spend time with your friends, visit a different country — there’s a lot to it that’s intangible that you can’t put a price on. But I’m talking about just the physical act of riding waves. So you start doing that math, start looking at numbers…if you could go an hour from your house and get five minutes of good wave-riding any day you wanted, who wouldn’t do that?

So I think the market is there if you could make a good [wave pool]. Guys would be stoked. They’d be going, ‘Well, I used to do two surf trips a year and my wife wanted to kill me. Now I do one surf trip a year and go to the pool a few times a week. I surf way more.’ If I’d had this when I was a kid I would have freaked out. Because the waves sucked in Florida.”



On potential objections from critics

“Surfers are really connected to the organic experience of going surfing, and the idea of chlorine or an artificially made wave doesn’t appeal to the hardcore surfer. But I think that could be flipped if they were standing poolside watching guys have fun and get barreled, and going, ‘Fuck, ok. I want to go surf too.’

You’d be hard pressed to walk away from something like that if the waves were flat — or even if the waves weren’t flat. You know, I live in Santa Barbara a lot of the time when I’m not traveling and I’ll go to Rincon and just turn around on good days and not go out because there are just too many people and I don’t want to deal with that. And I get a lot of waves. But I don’t want to deal with that. I hate it. I’d rather go surf some punchy little peaky thing with two guys in the water, any day of the week.”


On obstacles to the project

Wave pools aren’t cheap. To build a great wave pool could cost 10 or 20 million bucks. It’s going to cost a lot of money, and then there’s the electricity — it takes a lot of electricity, and how are you going to supply that? Also, surfing is a free thing, essentially; if you have a board you can more or less surf anywhere. But [the wave pool] is something you have to pay for, so that’s a whole different argument people have. But like I said, it’s cheaper than flying to Indo for five grand to stay on a boat and get your 50 minutes of surfing in 10 days.”

See SURFING‘s Competition Issue for more from the ultimate competitor on his wave pool concept, and how it could change the sport he’s dominated for two decades now.

In the meantime, comment below on whether you think wave pools are exciting, evil, or impossible. Or something else entirely.


[Learn more at kswaveco.com ]


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  • jake camarena

    I would surf it weekly. I would hope that a monthly membership would be less than $100 and there were some requirements or ‘perks’ for people who use the service more often, not pay for the membership, but actually USE it.

    I think that the critics points are good. I would prefer to travel still, this would not take away from my travels, it would just substitute a gym membership and a few trips to the beach.

    On the obstacles, it will be hard to find a way to make it appeal FINANCIALLY to the mass market. People might look at and say,”cool, I want to do that. How much is it?” The answer better be something they are willing to spend.

    **My opinion

  • Dave Z

    I found myself asking the same question about a week ago sitting in front of the WaveHouse for the first time. “Dammm i wish i could get out there and give it a try” it totally looked so much fun and i think it has great potential. “Hey kelly, you guys hiring any sales staff?”

    Dave Szych
    Newport/HB Surfer

  • Al

    This would be incredible in a place like Central Florida where the weather is warm year round and the waves are almost always garbage. Think about what it would do to warm weather college towns too. I would easily pay $2000/year+ if I was guaranteed shoulder high and ripable any day of the week. They could also put a twist on it where they have “premium member hour sign-ups” where you pay more money to have a slightly more expensive session with a guarantee less people are in the water. Crazy idea that will never properly materialize in my life-time. (Exception: Typhoon Lagoon)

  • brendo

    Horrible idea, take your turn type surfing, lame corporate greed will come in to play. They’ll put 50 guys in there so you’ll only get one wave every 50 turns. It’ll be so expensive that nobody except the uber-rich will be able to go there anyway. If it costs 20 mill just to build, how do they ever expect to make a return on that?

  • The bodie zaffa

    At first, I think Slater’s analytical breakdown of traveling to the mentawis was a bit too much, it made surfing look more boring and tedious than it really is. The cool thing about surfing is all of the shapes and sizes the swells come in. Granted a wave pool that fired would be soo sick, but at the same time, who’s gunna front the mons? Hurley or daddy Nike could throw down large on something in HB, but who knows.

  • jay

    Sounds all good, but it will be a privilege…imagine how many pools u gonna need to avoid crowds in the pools as well…crowds in the end I reckon will be regulated by money…
    Gonna go to Dubai soon where they gonna open a new wave pool in November and pretty excited to give it a try :)

  • chris

    Kelly, Great idea us east coasters need something like that espicaly in lake myrtle beach s.c. N.c. gets good waves during hurricane season and we may get a few days here or there in the winter. I would gladly pay 100 a month for perfect uncrowded surf who wouldn`t. Sell it!!!!

  • jf

    Worked for years on wave pools, the technology is pretty well sorted for several options that make PERFECT waves. Kelly’s estimate of cost would be for a very simple perfect wave (headish high 50m-70m long). A super “jaw dropping wave” would be more like 30-50 million USD. Yet to see a business plan comes close. Massive capital investment – uncertain market. Have seen plans for site specific gravity fed wave lakes that reduce costs, but even then the business plans still struggle. Gotta have dream though!

  • Paul

    Kelly assumes most people have the means to go to places like the Mentawais–time and money. He weighs the feasibility of the wave pool against that in a cost/benefit look: “wouldn’t you rather spend $4000 at home vs. $4000 to go to exotic lands? It makes more sense. You’ll score more.” But Kelly makes a bad assumption. Unless blessed with finances or professional surfing talents, most surfers do not have the resources to even make this choice. No time. No money. Maybe save save save and get a Mentawais trip once in a lifetime. Though industry sponsors may make a pool happen, non-industry surfers will still be scraping to save 600 bucks for a new Merrick to surf their local break, not 2000 bucks (or whatever it’ll be) for an annual membership to the Kelly Slater Wave Pool Spectacular brought to you by Corpo X.

  • BKA

    Great Idea! Reduce the crowd and leave the real waves to the people surfing for the right reasons. Give all those rippers who try to shred everything that comes their way something they’ll enjoy.

  • allen gore

    using all that electricity is not to ‘green’. aren’t you suppose to be ‘going green’?

  • James

    I would like my own wave pool in the back yard of my own home some day so I could say ok Im going to go surf for a half an hour before dinner or whenever I wanted. Iv always dreamed about my own wave pool where I could generate any kind of waves I wanted and surf whenever

  • Mik

    The down side might be that if coastal cities see the revenue the pools bring in, then they might start charging for coastal wave access? Second down side is that surfers who can afford this will have the advantage of repeatability of maneuvers, and they will master airs in ways others won’t. So it will skew that too. In my mind, I think the path forward for humanity is learning to respect, and live in greater harmony with the natural world. Food, water, energy, housing, everything. With all due respect to our King, I will be the odd man out and say that I am not interested.

  • kevin m

    Sounds good to me! Let me know when I can drop my gym membership and get a membership to the wave pool. I’d much rather surf that workout.

  • KookiemcKookstein

    I think it’s a great idea for those who prefer to take the adventure out of surfing. The point of surfing is that every wave is NOT the same, conditions always change (wind, swell direction, tide) and not all spots work the same. The adventure and the connection with the ocean is what drives most surfers (or at least me). Still, though, I think it’s a great replacement for those days at the gym, I hate the gym, I’d prefer to surf. I paddle even when it’s flat.

    It might not see a return directly from the service of the wave pool itself, but if they have a proper business plan (restaurant, bar, surf shop, skate park – whatever), then I think it could really make some money, or at least break even. Not to mention they could really get some heavy sponsors on a legit wave pool.



  • Michael Soule

    I think he will be able to afford his own wavepool after he wins the 10th world title. Rumor has it if he wins his 10th Quicksilver is going to give him $10,000,000!So… that will be great! Kelly can foot the bill and the wavepool will be Free for everyone to enjoy! Thanks Kelly! Your the Man! BYOB (bring your own board)
    Michael Soule

  • lucas

    100% support, i wached on youtube the waves that goes in circles, some of my friends dont realized !!! dream !!

  • drew toonz

    why not build it??? Build them everywhere… Even if they fail they’ll be awesome…

  • Luciano Bastos

    The idea of having a wave pool is great. The high cost of such investment should have a return for investors. Maybe the idea of creating a sort of surf arena with lots of different spaces for the public. The surf arena may have a sort of shopping mall in its side or around it with dozens of surf related stores and plenty of good food. Also the surf arena would offer plenty of space for advertisements and also online streming video or the possibility to the surfer to record his session from differente angles. This would considerebly help the return for investors.

    Apart for this, the cost to a single surfer to have the right to surf the wave pool would be high, so only those more wealthy will have the condition to pay for it on a regular basis. I believe that the estimates you guys are making may be too low, I sincerely do not believe that a sort of membership would cost anytinhing around $100 but at least twice this or more. I do not believe one would have the rifght to surf for an entire morning even being a membership, possibly the surf member will have a limited hours per week dependening the class of membership which may be also variable. Maybe one can pay two tousand bucks for two monts to have a longer session than the standard membership allows.

    Then, there is also the possibility to pay for a single session which should be much more than that for the membership if compared.

    Another important aspect of such wave pool is what will be the format of the wave, I mean, is it customizable? Is it a single pic that breaks for both sides or will be a right and left hander that close at the end or do they come one each time, making it a perfect ride? Will it be hollow, head high? How many surfers will be allowed at the pool at the same time? There should be rules, efficient rules. You have to choose from left or right or you just jumpt to the waiting zone and take the wave you want? Will it have an order for who goes first and after during the session? If one loses his set, does he still have the priority?

    It doesn’t matter how many wave pools the world may have in the future, surfing natural waves always will be the first choice for most surfer and Kelly knows it. But he is right about the time we spend going to the beach or in surf trips, he is also right about the overcrowded spots that if you do not arrive early it woul be difficult to surf if you are not an experienced surfer. A surf pool will limit the crowd by the expensive cost of paying to surf with no crowd. Also, the idea of having a wave pool in a city that is not near the beach is also interesting, you can choose from going to the near beach or going to the pool.

    I have dreammed for years with this concept, I believe that it would be a reality for the future. However, I am noy sure if we all will be still here to appreciated unless we have a little help from Kelly and the big guys in the surf industry.

    All the best for all.

    Luciano Bastos

  • Luciano Bastos

    Sorry for the long text, I didn’t realize it was so long but believe it matches the point. :)


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  • Brutte Dusky

    I’m in. Where do I sign for my lifetime membership?

    Luciano doesn’t even know how to surf… He sounds like a total KOOK!

  • shayle
  • JCK

    It will never work. Pay to play skateparks have never been long term money makers, why would this?

  • Andy

    for the first time the king is f….. off!!!!!! is time for a new king ,,,,,:((((

  • Joe Rouleau


    It wasn,t 24 hours ago I was talking to my wife about how las vegas needs a wave pool for surfers. I think it is a great concept and as endless possibilities. So I,m in. Let me know if I can help – Joe

  • Luciano Bastos

    Dear Brutte Dusky

    Why would you think that? I really do not need to surf with words but at the lineup. As fair as I am concerned I actually surf less than I should, unfortunatelly. But I never stopped surfing since 1976 and yes I started surfing monofins.

    The concept of a great surf arena plenty of commercial possibilities is the only way of making this happens, of course this is my personal opinion.


  • Jean

    True, Kelly’s break down of a trip to the Mentawais overlooks all the great things about travel experiences. The adventure part of it has been completely forgotten.. Kelly probably knows better but not when personal interests comes into play. This should come as no surprise as it’s now made official that Kelly owns the rights to the ring pool patent and plans on making the ring pool a reality via the Kelly Slater Wave Company.
    Let’S imagine there’d be 20 waves at any one point inside the ring, one surfer by wave. Surfers would be waiting either on the island or in the water for someone to fall so they can jump in. MOst likely they would be waiting in line. But what if those waiting are incompetent and miss their chance to catch an empty wave? Do they go back to the end of the line? Or would beginners be left by themselves to enjoy the ring, and take turns with groups of more competent surfers? Would there be a license to surf to partition surfers into categories? If people pay to surf a pool, they would expect more than the priority rules to get their share of waves, otherwise the best surfers would grab them all. The logistics involved seem like a nightmare compare to going to the mentawais.
    What the ring would be great for however, is helping competition surfers with money improve their techniques very quickly by spending 2 hours per day actually riding waves. Pro surfers could benefit from it by doing more repetitions in a day than they could in a week.
    Otherwise, the ring pool would be a great device to have in your backyard if you have the space, money, and eventually enough carbon trading credits.
    There is no doubt it would be fantastic to have a ring wave with perfect overhead barrels, with all kinds of lighting effects possible on the glassy wave face… Personally I would prefer the wave comes to an end as it gives you time to reflect on it and appreciate it… if 2 minutes barrels became the norm, (at 5$/min a wave), barrel riding may become boring and also a source of financial worries.

  • Ken

    I don’t think that you should call it a wave pool, as it is
    not one. It is a wave machine. The best wave pool in the world,
    ever, Ocean Dome, is done-closed-GONE. Why? Economics, simple
    economics. However, Kelly may be onto something here. Ask yourself:
    what is the most addicting thing you can think of-for many of us,
    it’s surfing, barrels, SURF! Other addicting products (which I will
    not name here) are highy successful from a business standpoint. But
    the inland masses aren’t inculcated yet-will they take to surfing
    en masse, and be willing to pay at a beyond-break-even price so
    that the venture might succeed? If you can get them “hooked on
    surfing”, so to speak, and they’re willing to pay, voila, you have
    a successful boardsports business model in the vein of Schweitzer’s
    Windsurfer, Finn’s skurfer (now wakeboarding), Burton’s snowboard,
    AWM’s Surfstream, kiteboarding, and of course,

  • Andrew

    If you build it, they will come…

  • bob

    anyone who doesn’t think wavepools are the future is clueless beyond my comprehension. it’s crowded everywhere. 5x capacity at any good break. SURFERS SPEND BIG $$$ on surfboards, wetsuits, gas, not to mention TIME… checking forecasts, cameras, driving to different spots, surfing for two hours, driving home… just to get on a wave for half a minute. good thing Kelly is smarter than all you