Who remembers where they were when they pressed play on the viral video that unveiled that first perfect, glassy wave barrelling inside Kelly Slater’s wave pool? The image of Kelly with his hands raised above his head in disbelief. That flawless tube that peeled endlessly across what appeared to be an otherwise murky lake.
Much later we’d realise that surfers are riding up alongside a concrete pier where a hydrofoil is driven by a rattling overhead train. But no-one really cares when you can catch a ten-second barrel. It was later, when WSL surf contests were held at the Surf Ranch, that we got to see who the most skilled surfers in the world really are. There’s no hiding behind wave selection or relying on luck. Medina, Toledo, Jordy Smith shone.
Suddenly wave pools transitioned from gimmicks to reality – and on to our collective bucket lists.
If you want to surf a wave pool before you die then consider the options listed below. If you have surfed all of the world’s wave pools get in touch so that we can interview you. Someone will do it sooner or later.
Surf Ranch, California, USA
Located in Lemoore, California, Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch is an artificial wave pool where you can catch the world’s longest man-made open-barrel wave.
Purchased by the WSL, it is still the best man-made wave in the world. We look forward to seeing the technology evolve so that larger waves are possible.
Has Kelly created a monster? We’ll tell you after giving it a try. Now for one of those golden tickets…
Verdict: The greatest man-made wave (for now)
More information: kswaveco.com
URBNSURF, Melbourne, Australia
URBNSURF Melbourne is Australia’s first surf park. When the videos first dropped surfers were surprised to see such a slick layout and design. It’s like the Apple shop of surf parks – nice clean water, painted walls, no Mad Max-style engines hurtling along the poolside.
Most importantly URBNSURF is open and accessible to the public. You can buy tickets right now and go and get slotted on a selection of waves.
Located just 23 minutes from the CBD and a short dash from Melbourne Airport, why wouldn’t you stop off for a session in between flights? On offer are restaurants, lagoonside activities and a range of waves.
The take-off spot looks a little hectic but we’re guessing that standard surfing etiquette applies. Whoever is closest to the point (of the arrow-shaped pool) gets the next wave.
Verdict: Anyone can get a seriously good wave here.
More information and book here: urbnsurf.com
Wadi Adventure, United Arab Emirates
From small rolling waves for beginners to steep section designed for pros the Wadi Adventure Park is an oasis in a desert that should be on your surf pool list. Popularised by Dion Agius and Russian babes the wave is surfable, although not built for quite the same purpose as the surf pools listed above.
However, if you have a long stopover in UAE it’s certainly worth a dip.
Verdict: Fun in the baking hot desert sun.
More information and book here: wadiadventure.ae
Wavegarden Cove, Spain
Wavegarden are producing the tech that drives pools like URBNSURF in Melbourne. They’ve been at it for a long time, releasing some of the very first glimpses of working wave pools over a decade ago. However, the waves always looked a little small.
Well, the tech has evolved and the Wavegarden Cove produces 1000 waves an hour, many big enough to get barrelled on.
Verdict: Heaps of wave options and great design.
More information and book here: wavegarden.com
Siam Park, Tenerife
Like Wadi Adventure Park, this is a wave pool where you can surf, rather than a pool designed for surfing. The waves are big enough to send a kid sprawling but not really suitable for high-performance surfing. If you’re a good surfer with a small wave game then by all means, book the pool for a summer evening session.
However, Tenerife is blessed with many good surf spots you’d probably be better of exploring.
Verdict: Small but rideable.
More information and book here: siampark.net
The Wave, Bristol, UK
Powered by Wave Garden technology, The Wave is located in the beautiful surf town that is… Bristol. Waves range from 50cm (1.7ft) to almost 2m (6.5ft) in height. The machinery can produce a new wave every 8-10 seconds, so you’re going to get your money’s worth.
Being in relatively close proximity to the west coast of England, this pool is going to hone the skills of those UK surfers who weather some otherwise nasty winters.
The Wave is one of the most compelling Wave Garden installations in the world and is well worth checking out for advanced-level surfing, including proper barrels and rippable stand-up walls.
Verdict: Epic waves in the English countryside.
More information and book here: thewave.com
Typhoon Lagoon, Disney World Florida, USA
Typhoon Lagoon is kind of like surfing your local beach break on a small semi-wind affected day, but it’s worth a mention when you consider it can be ridden. Brad Domke certainly gave it a good go on his skimboard.
Next time you’re at Disneyland you could consider taking a surfboard.
Verdict: Mickey mouse waves for novelty-seekers.
More information and book here: disneyworld.disney.go.com
Surf Snowdonia, Wales, UK
Is it working or is it dead? Surf Snowdonia was one of surfing’s biggest announcements but suffered multiple setbacks along the way to commercialisation.
Surf Snowdonia is possibly the most scenic surf park in the world, surrounded by beautiful forests and mountains with loads of activities available in the wider ‘Adventure Parc’.
Waves roll every 90 seconds and there are areas for beginners, intermediate and advanced. Check first to make sure it is open.
Verdict: Great location, loads of activities on offer.
More information and book here: adventureparcsnowdonia.com
Sunway Lagoon, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Another of those general-purpose swimming pools that features a wave machine, Sunway offers crumbling walls for surfers of all abilities.
Set in a big city it could be a fun way to pass an hour or two in between flights.
Verdict: A last resort for the surfing desperado.
More information and book here: sunwaylagoon.com
Big Surf, Arizona, USA
Big Surf offers a mediocre surfing wave and plenty of high action wakeboarding options for landlocked water enthusiasts. You’ll never perfect your barrel-riding but you might catch a few longboard waves that keep you happy while you’re way out in the desert.
Verdict: If you have no other choice, a wave is a wave!
More information and book here: bigsurffun.com
BSR Surf Park, Waco, Texas, USA
In the heart of Texas, seriously good waves are powered by American Wave Machine technology. This pool is not a gimmick or toy. There are beginner, intermediate and advanced waves on offer. The expert wave offers a head-high wall that breaks both right and left for up to 10 seconds.
Tubes, airs and carves are all possible on the 150 waves generated each hour.
Verdict: Good waves, purpose-designed for real surfers.
More information and book here: https://www.bsrcablepark.com/bsr-surf-resort/
With serious surf parks like Surf Lakes in development, and several more Wave Garden installations in development, there will be more waves coming soon.
Here’s a glimpse of Surf Lakes – the dystopian steam bomb that plunges a bronze disc into a lake, conjuring up slabs of all shapes and sizes.