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Are Artificial Surf Parks Sustainable?

Ever since Kelly Slater first unveiled his man-made tube machine in Lemoore to the spellbound public back in 2015, wave pools have seemingly popped up all over the map. What were once thought of as chlorinated novelties are now the center of a fast-expanding wave pool industry. Do a quick Google search and you’ll find surf parks in Waco, Lemoore, Palm Springs, Melbourne, Bristol, and more. With dozens of others in various stages of planning and construction, artificial waves will likely only become more prevalent in surfing in the years to come.

But in an era where climate change is fueling arctic wildfires, Atlantic superstorms and global sea-level rise, any surfer who still values natural aquatic playgrounds should be asking about the environmental impacts of these surf parks. While it may be a simple question, the answer is, of course, very complicated.

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Constructing a surf park is an incredibly resource-intensive undertaking even if everything is done “right.” The cost of constructing a wave pool (including the surrounding facility) falls in the range of anywhere from 20 to 200 million dollars. Just the wave pool itself requires a lot of land. Wavegarden, one of the leading wave-generating technology companies, requires a minimum of 394 x 394 ft (or about 3.6 acres) to build their smallest pool. Their standard size Wavegarden Cove requires 492 x 492 ft (or about 5.6 acres)–and that’s not taking into consideration the additional land required for commercial buildings, beach areas, parking lots, etc.

The Surf Ranch in Lemoore, CA.Photo: Courtesy of Pete Taras/SURFER Magazine

For a hot and arid location like Palm Desert, there would seem to be an inherent danger of overusing water resources in operating a wave pool. Yet Palm Desert will soon to be the world’s wave pool epicenter with four pools within an hour drive of one another, with locations at Wet ’n’ Wild Palm Springs (Palm Springs Surf Club), Desert Willow Golf Resort (DSRT SURF), Coral Mountain (Kelly Slater Wave Co.) and Kohl Ranch (Thermal Beach Club) scheduled to open in the next few years.

When it comes to addressing the environmental sustainability of a surf park, there is a wide range of criteria that needs to be met. Things like wastewater treatment, waste management, reducing harmful emissions, minimizing use of toxic substances (i.e pesticides, swimming pool disinfectants, etc) and more are all factors that go into creating a comprehensive sustainability picture.

We’ve chosen three main elements to consider in assessing a wave pool’s environmental impact: the materials used to construct the wave pool basin and surrounding facilities; how much energy is used to generate the waves; and, of course, how much water is used to keep the pool in operation. While those are by no means the only factors, they are certainly the most obvious, and for the sake of this article, they will be the focus.

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Thankfully, many modern wave pools have shown concern for sustainability in those three

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