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.
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 ]