Feature: The many layers to Surf Lakes’ stone-in-a-pond concept



The test pool in Yeppoon is known by a lot of names: The Mad Max Wave, The Plunger Wave, Apocalypse Wave, That Giant Donut Thing …

Surf Lakes makes a huge visceral impression. Arguably more than any wave technology out there at the moment. While concrete and software-synced air-powered swimming pools become the Dave Mathews Band of the surf park landscape, Surf Lakes’ giant wavemaker shocks, awes and impresses as few can. It’s big. It’s loud. It’s the AC/DC of wave pools.

There is something so wonderfully simple about it. You don’t need an engineering degree to get how it works. Anyone who has tossed a rock into still water and watched the ripples fan out comprehends the Surf Lakes system. Mix in elementary bathymetry knowledge and each one of us believes we could design such a machine. But we can’t.

While the Surf Lakes wave pool looks simple, it’s really intricate in design. The distance and speed at which the plunger falls greatly affect the waves. Subtle tweaks to the angle and slope of each break’s bottom contour have huge repercussions to the surf. Now, try to craft each wave so that it stays true to its brand within the 5Waves system (Occy’s Peak, The Island, etc.) and you can see the challenges the crew at Surf Lakes face. It’s a much more complicated coordination than most imagine.

We were fortunate enough to sit down with Founder Aaron Trevis and Sales Manager Wayne Dart. The two opened up and spilled a few details about the system, their journey, and some exciting new developments. Along the way, we learned that this big-rock approach to wave-making has many delicate layers.

You set Instagram on fire with the world’s biggest wave pool surf. What technically have you changed since we last heard from you?
Aaron: The liner needed to be reworked. I think we’ve explained before that we only just put a very basic cheap crust of liner in to get us to ready for that very first test knowing that it would eventually have to be replaced. And so we reached the point where it needed to be replaced and then we took the opportunity to make some bathymetry variations and improvements. We’re very pleased with that because there are lots of different ways to line wave tools, but there’s a lot of expensive ways to do it too. And we’re trying to find a balance between effectiveness, flexibility and a cost-effective solution. So we believe we’ve found that balance. So that was a key thing for this stage of the testing. And then again, more refinements to the wave. The beachbreak now works marvelously. It’s exactly how we wanted it in the first place. And then the machine. Kit, the lead design engineer, has been working with the machine making some changes to the valves and more to optimize the tuning. That’s really where we’re at now, just optimizing the machine and trying to make it more efficient, more effective.

Surf Lakes is huge. Could you share with us what it was that made you want to go so big when you designed it?
Aaron: There were a couple of things to that strategy. One, we didn’t think it would cost as much as it did. So I was naive. Also, we weren’t the first technology. We knew that there were wave pools already out in the market. So we needed to make a statement on the wave size and, you know, just the genuine possibilities of what can be done with a decent size surf park like all the amenities and lifestyle additions that can be wrapped around it. So, yeah, we had to go out and do something a little different. That’s the way we viewed it strategically. And what we also realized for the longterm is that having built it at the full size, it then reduces the risk for the licensee. So if we want to build a compact model, which we are doing now, it’s much easier to scale back. And so whilst it’s been expensive and painful for us in the long term, we believe it was the right decision.

The core purpose of a 1:25th scale model in 2014 was to discover the best shape of the Central Wavemaking Device, the plunger, needed to create surf-able waves

So Yeppoon was the first shot?
Wayne: There were smaller-scale prototypes that gave the team the confidence to construct the full-sized one. And if you look at the timeline from concept to potential commercial reality, we’ve tried to compress everything down to five years, whereas the other wave pool makers have had 10 to 15 years to do that. The confidence gained by having those smaller models allowed us to actually build this big one and move forward. What we’re creating is just game-changing. And when you see it first hand, video doesn’t do it justice, you cannot describe how awesome the whole thing is. But it wouldn’t have been possible unless we’d obviously done the smaller models.

And now you’re scaling back down a bit?
Aaron: So we’ve got the full size 5 Waves model and then the new compact model, which we will be releasing very soon. It’s a scaled-down version, so you don’t get quite the same choice in wave levels. It’s more about the intermediate and lower market with advanced waves. And so whilst you don’t create such an incredible surf destination as the full size 5 Waves, there’s a lot of locations where, you know, it’s learning to swim before you learn to surf. And then it is really just about family fun and entertainment. They’re not necessarily looking at it as a surf destination as such, but it can still be an incredible surf experience. So they’re really the two extremes if you like. And I think there are even shopping centres that want to create a mini version from that again, which we can explore as well. But the main thrust is the 5 Waves model and then the Surf Lake model, which will be more compact for about two-thirds of the price.

This 1:5 scale model built near Melbourne proved the Surf Lakes concept and seeded the funding for their full-scale prototype in Yeppoon

Can you share any upcoming announcements?
Yeah, we can share where we’re able. I mean we’ve got the UK, and you’ve got SurfX in the Midlands and in Bournemouth where we are pressing ahead with projects. It’s just approval time frames now, which is the hurdle for them. They’re still seeking some funding, but the main barriers are just getting through the approval process. But they’re doing really well and we can’t wait to see those to crank through. And then we’ve got the Surf Lakes SoCal, and that’s in the Orange County area with Drew and Eddie. They’ve been settling on a particular location. That will be big. It will be an incredible project. We can’t give the exact timeframe for waves, but they are super determined and capable and well-connected. That one is going to be a real showpiece I believe. There are others across the US as well, and there’s a couple of other territory agreements and there’s another licence which we will share more about when we can.

And in Australia?
Ok, and then Australia, we’ve got the one that we want to build on the Gold Coast, and that’s progressing. And yeah, that gets exciting, you know. So and there are others throughout Australia which are in various stages of consideration, you know. One in particular, which we can’t talk about yet, but it’s a major initiative in a city for a whole redevelopment of an area. So, yeah, we’re inspired by some of the projects. We always thought we were big thinkers but then you meet some of the developers who get involved with these projects and they lift you to another level. So it’s great fun.

The five different surf zones at Surf Lakes
The five different surf zones at Surf Lakes

So how does it work with licensees? If I approach you with sufficient funds can I be the surf licensee for, say, France?
Aaron: Typically, it’s a smaller area, it might be a city or a state rather than the whole country, but there are obviously small countries in Europe that it makes sense to license out the whole country. So it’s not really by geographic region, it’s by project. We wouldn’t just license all of California, you know, there can be multiple projects throughout that state and same goes for Texas and Florida and other countries like Australia. You wouldn’t just have one license for a big country like Australia. Well, you would if you were prepared to pay enough. And I guess that’s the thing is it depends really on the passion and level of expectation of the licensee as to what they want to have exclusively. So we’re prepared to consider bigger areas for people who are prepared to pay for that and demonstrate that they can deliver multiple projects. It’s really analysis. It’s getting to know those people because we actually will be tied in with the project for 25 years and monitoring and auditing that project. So we have a request for proposal process that Wayne has put together with the team to allow us to conduct due diligence on the licensees whilst they conduct due diligence on us. And so once we’re all happy that we’ve got an aligned value set. Some people have very capable developers but don’t really want to operate the surf park. They just love the amenity and they want to develop 2000 apartments or whatever it is around the wave pool and have someone else operate it. That’s still valid in our mind because we can find operators or even develop our operations capacity for that. Then there are others who just want to have a wonderful surf resort that they operate themselves.

What are some of the scenarios that could work with your wave pool system?
Wayne: So you might have one experience that’s open 24/7 to the public and it’s mums and kids. And it’s a rush-rush type scenario, something similar to a public swimming pool. But you also might have at the other end a camping type scenario where it’s people going on a surf trip and just, you know, enjoying a casual country experience. You can also have an exclusive experience, which would sit in the middle of a high-end residential or gated community, which is only open to those people that are living in that particular space. So there’s several different experiences that we can offer and that comes back down to the sheer size of the full scale 5 Waves model. Having such an obviously fantastic perimeter to work with, which certainly separates us from the square-on-all-sides wave pools.