Wave of the future: Kelly Slater on how Olympic surfing might turn to wave pools

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The suggestion catches Kelly Slater by surprise: Could the artificial wave pool he constructed amid agricultural fields in Central California be used for surfing at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics?

“Hmm,” the greatest contest surfer in history says. “I didn’t think about that.”

The WSL Surf Ranch in Lemoore, about three hours north of Los Angeles, uses a massive hydrofoil about the size of a locomotive to push perfect six-foot waves down a pool that stretches nearly seven football fields. The World Surf League purchased it from Slater and holds pro contests there.

Artificial waves at the Olympics have become a topic of conversation since the Tokyo Games added the sport to its program for this summer. The 2024 Paris Olympics will also include surfing, but will hold the event thousands of miles away in Tahiti.

“It’s something that could be done. You’ve got my brain thinking it over.”

Kelly Slater

LA 28 is expected to include surfing too, though organizers will not submit their official list of sports for another couple of years.

“I think by then we’ll have other designs,” Slater said after an exhibition session during the junior national championships at Lower Trestles on San Onofre State Beach this week. “Maybe something a little shorter, maybe a 20-second ride would be optimum because you could push as hard as you want and have enough variety in the maneuvers.”

The ride at the Surf Ranch is significantly longer — even the pros have talked about their legs feeling a bit wobbly by the end.

Wave pools have the advantage of being entirely manageable; with the flick of a switch, competitions can begin and end on schedule. By comparison, the four-day event in Tokyo could be spread over as many as eight days depending on swell conditions at Tsurigasaki beach.

Slater, 49, just missed making the U.S. roster, but with team member John John Florence nursing a recent knee injury, he could be called in as a replacement.

Thinking about future Olympics, the 11-time world champion foresees a compact design that could deliver a variety of wave shapes, each one exactly repeatable, to provide different challenges in each round of a competition. He has new projects in the works.

“It’s something that could be done,” he said. “You’ve got my brain thinking it over.”

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