Since 2016 when Kelly Slater unveiled his wave pool and broke the internet with a deluge of videos containing perfect man-made barrels being ridden by some of world’s best surfers, wave pools and their place and future in surfing have been fiercely debated by nearly everyone who has ever picked up a surfboard. The idea of having and using a wave pool seemed like a distant dream to most Australian surfers up until early this year. Just two kilometres from Melbourne Airport lies URBNSURF, Australia’s first wave pool which was opened to the public the 5th of January.
Thanks to Rip Curl, three members of the Extreme Boardriders staff Greg, Mike and Jared as well as team rider Chris Guster, a pilgrimage to URBNSURF was made possible, with our main goals being to figure out if the wave lived up to the hype, as well as get as many barrels as humanly possible. Upon arriving at the wave pool early on a Tuesday morning and walking through what felt like surfing’s very own nirvana, we fully realised the scale of the operation. 20,000 square feet of machine manufactured waves in a pool containing 16 megalitres of water was a sight to behold, especially arriving halfway through a session that had just begun to churn out some of the widest barrels any of us had seen in a long time.
Watching the second half of the session before ours was one thing, but getting into the icy cold water and flying out through the conveniently placed rip that ran along the shoulder of the waves and took you alongside the large structure that separated the right and left hander was another. The feeling of being washed around next to a semi-submerged chain link fence while waiting for your wave and having to paddle for a wave that appeared out of nowhere a mere 7 seconds after the previous one was far from anything any of us had experienced before. The waves, however, were mechanical with the pool spitting out nearly identical waves all day. URBNSURF’s organisation of waves and sets took some adjusting to but with each set containing 12 waves, 7 seconds apart with a 90 second flat period in between, our wave count was optimised. The waves first 5-6 sets were beautiful, walled up peelers, perfect for turns and carves. After these first, performance style sets, the staff alerted everyone that the wave would be switching to the first of two barrel modes. This first mode was a “nice” barrelling wave, with a relaxed take off followed by a performance/turns focused wave that transitioned into a racy, longer barrel that was just wide enough to squeeze into. The next mode, fittingly called “beast mode”, featured the same take-off but was twice as heavy and slightly shorter. After the mellow take-off and maybe a small turn, the bottom of the wave dropped out and the lip threw out so far that these barrels looked to be wider than were tall. Sucking an obscene amount of water off the bottom of the pool, these sidewinding slabs proved to be difficult to navigate at first due to how unexpectedly heavy they were but once we adjusted to them, they provided some of the best barrels most of us had seen in a long time. As with most waves of the “beast mode” wave’s calibre, the dredging barrel section was fun to ride, but a nightmare to wipe-out in which, thanks to the waves considerably thick lip, happened a reasonable amount. The fact that a wave as powerful as this could be created artificially left most people who surfed it in awe and wanting more, but team rider Chris, while still impressed, much preferred the first wave style that provided plenty of room for snappy turns.
As with most things as futuristic and innovative as a wave pool, many debates and conversations were had about the possibilities and limitations of a wave pool like the one at URBNSURF. With all members of our crew hailing from Adelaide, the main points discussed revolved around whether a wave pool in Adelaide is commercially viable as well as how unreal it would be to have one close enough that a plane trip wasn’t required. We tried to weigh up whether Adelaide had a large enough surfing population to run an operation as expensive as URBNSURF and whether the proximity of the wave pool (which we thought would sit perfectly right next to the airport) would draw enough new surfers to make up for any potential insufficiencies in surfing population. The differences between the wave pool and surfing in the ocean were also discussed and, while some were extremely obvious, the difference in regard to one’s connection to ocean and the non-physical differences are what proved to be the most though-provoking.
Throughout the two days we had at URBNSURF, we learnt a few things that might be useful to anyone thinking of visiting. As far as what surfboard to bring, any standard shortboard will work perfectly for all modes, especially the advanced wave. Twin fins and fun boards can also be used and would excel in the intermediate wave but might have limitations in the heavier modes. The water, despite being in a pool, is significantly colder than the ocean which, especially due to being in Melbourne, will mean extremely cold conditions throughout the winter. Another worthwhile addition to your URBNSURF kit is a ding repair kit as collisions with the concrete wall are a semi-regular occurrence, dependant on ones skill level.
When the smoke clears from the challenges Australia and the world is facing Extreme Boardriders hope to take a group of customers over to URBNSURF for a couple of days of action packed waves.