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Volume 25 No. 196
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Artificial Wave Machines Could Change Pro Surfing Landscape

WSL events held in the ocean are not seen as broadcast-friendly compared to those with artificial waves
Photo: getty images

The World Surf League has a "grand plan ... to expand the fan base, from 'the core' -- surfers -- to sports fans in general," but its introduction of artificial waves at select events was "not met with universal acclaim," according to William Finnegan of the NEW YORKER. WSL in '16 '"bought a controlling interest" in the Kelly Slater Wave Co., and also "bought Surf Ranch and began to step up its branding efforts." The Surf Ranch is "said to have cost" $30M to develop. The California-based wave pool venue, which hosted its first WSL event this year, "churns out virtually flawless [waves] on command" and creates a "more broadcast-friendly contest." The next iterations of the pool "might be different." Surf Ranch Florida, "already approved for construction in Palm Beach, will reportedly offer youth programs and lessons." Public access, however, has "not been promised." One of Slater's partners said that future pools "will have many more features, possibly including movable reefs." But many surfers "felt that the future suddenly had a dystopian cast -- mechanized, privatized, soulless." Finnegan also notes the WSL ownership group "bought pro surfing for nothing except a promise to invest in it." The acquisition was "fronted" by Slater’s manager, Terry Hardy, and former WSL CEO Paul Speaker. Now, the "new majority owner is Dirk Ziff," an "heir to the Ziff-Davis publishing empire" (NEW YORKER, 12/17 issue).