About this Article
Written by: Christian Lee
Written on: September 12th, 2016
Tags: lifestyle, sports & recreation, mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering, water
Thumbnail by: Josh Dean/Bloomberg
About the Author
Christian Lee was a student at the University of Southern California at the time this article was written.
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Volume XVIII Issue II > The Future of Surfing

Implications of the Perfect Wave

On December 5, 2015, Kelly Slater rode the first perfect wave generated by a machine with the push of just a few buttons. Ecstatic, he proclaimed in a publicly released video that “this is the best man-made wave ever made. No doubt about it.” Within a week, the video had 9 million views from people all over the world – the perfect wave that the surfing community had been dreaming of was finally created. While the video opened the world up to an entire new realm of surfing, it still isn’t clear exactly what direction this machine will go. Six months after the video’s release, the World Surfing League bought out Kelly Slater’s perfect wave machine company for use by professional surfers [6]. However, no one is sure yet on how it will be used on a commercial scale. What implications will the perfect, man-made wave have on the world of surfing?
The perfect wave has the potential to have a negative effect on surfing. The origins of surfing from Hawaii are spiritual and were centered around communing with the ocean instead of harnessing or controlling waves. Many surfers have raised concerns because the perfect wave takes away the changing conditions of waves. Surfers are required to adapt to what is in front of them and waves can be unpredictable as they are completely reliant on nature. Professional competitions are heavily affected by the conditions of the ocean that day, even down to the hour. In the future, even if the World Surfing League doesn’t mass-produce the artificial perfect wave, the technology could be sold to other companies or copied to commercialize what Kelly Slater created. On the artificial perfect wave in an artificial pool, people no longer need to learn how to work with the elements of nature or experience the volatile ocean conditions. This places the mystique and uniqueness of surfing that many hold so dearly in jeopardy.
On the other hand, there are positive implications that the perfect wave could have on the world of surfing. To millions of people, surfing is a sport that they’ve only seen in movies and could never dream of actually trying. Artificial waves could bring surfing to landlocked people and allow them to experience what it’s like to be on a wave. Even though surfing an artificial wave isn’t the same as surfing in an ocean, more people could enjoy it and perhaps even prefer artificial over natural waves. Furthermore, artificial waves could be used as a practice tool for surfers, allowing them to work up toward natural, more unpredictable waves. Surfing in the ocean is difficult, but the artificial wave’s consistency could act as a less-intimidating avenue into surfing. These artificial waves form at the same spot every time and break at the same speed-an advantage that could ignite a surfing revolution.


Undoubtedly, the perfect wave is cool. There are mixed reactions to its effects on the future of surfing, but the reaction to Kelly Slater’s initial footage of his perfect wave was overwhelmingly positive. All of this was made possible by the collective minds of surfers and engineers alike. The engineering behind artificial waves was the product of several decades of work and development, ending up in a remarkable result with both strengths and weaknesses. The impacts of this new technology on the surfing world are still uncertain, but they are indeed exciting.


[4] A. Toepperwein, "Making Waves - Engineering a Hydraulic Jump," in Surf’s up – indoor
wave engineering - product design show, 2011. [Online]. Available:
Wave-Engineering.asp​x. Accessed: Sep. 6, 2016.
[5] "How to engineer surfing waves- Boston commons high tech network," in Boston Commons, Boston Comons High Tech Network, 2016. [Online]. Available: http://bostoncommons​.net/how-to-engineer​-surfing-waves/. Accessed: Sep. 6, 2016
[6] J.Dean, "Kelly Slater built the perfect wave. Can he sell it to the world?," in Bloomberg,, 2016. [Online]. Available:​.com/features/2016-k​ellyslater-wave-pool​/. Accessed: Sep. 6, 2016.


    • [1] A. Foremen, "A short history of surfing," in Wall Street Journal,, 2015. [Online]. Available:​rticles/a-short-hist​ory-of-surfing-14394​79278. Accessed: Sep. 6, 2016.
    • [2] J. Mozingo, "Is Kelly Slater's artificial wave in the future of surfing?." in, 2016. [Online]. Available:​/2016-05-kelly-slate​r-artificial-future-​surfing.html. Accessed: Sep. 6, 2016.
    • [3] D. Alpher, "Wave machines - technology, engineering, and surfing's future," in American Wave Machines, Surf Park Central, 2012. [Online]. Available: http://www.surfparkc​​ines-technology-engi​neering-and-surfings​-future/. Accessed: Sep. 6, 2016.