Photo credit: Surf Lakes International
One of the great debates in the world of surfing is whether wave pools are better than ocean surfing.
Wave pools have been around since the 1980s. Then, in the 1990s and 2000s, ground breaking technology made artificial waves more common, and more available to remote regions.
In this article, we break down the pros and cons of wave pools versus ocean surfing.
Ultimately, it is up to each individual surfer to decide which one is best for their own needs.
Here are some pros and cons of each:
Wave Pools: Pros
It’s always an awful feeling when you wake up, filled with the surf “stoke” and head to your local break… only to find choppy, messy, or completely un-surfable conditions.
With wave pools, their greatest pro is their consistency. The mechanics of creating waves is the same as the ocean, except it is artificially generated.
Many wave pools have pre-programmed sets that take turns throwing sets of lefts and rights.
Not only does this allow surfers to know exactly which direction to go before they even begin paddling, it also allows surfers to practice going right and going left equally.
Waves at wave pools are always the same speed and height. There are no unexpected huge sets coming out of nowhere, like you sometimes get with ocean surfing.
There are no unpredictable swells and sets in wave pools. You know exactly what you are going to get.
Another major pro of wave pools is that they make waves available to remote regions or areas far away from the ocean and the coast.
For example: in the middle of Texas in a small town called Waco, there is a surf resort called Waco Surf that is home to one of the best wave pools in the country.
Texas, for instance, does have coastline across the Gulf of Mexico.
But, it’s a huge state with notoriously unpredictable waves, and driving from Central Texas to the coast can take up a full day.
Wave pools also boost the economy of the towns or cities that they are found in. Surfers travel from all over the world, hopping from wave pool to wave pool, to train for competitions and to perfect their techniques.
Many wave pools also have hotels where surfers can stay for extended periods of time, specifically to surf. Hotels and wave pools bring jobs, and jobs help improve local communities.
It also creates a surf culture in areas that may have never had a reputation for it before. Bringing jobs, money, and culture to communities is often very beneficial.
Wave pools: cons
The cons of wave pools are really what highlight the pros of ocean surfing.
Many surfers feel that artificial waves hinder their ability to adapt and react in the wave that ocean surfing often demands.
The ocean is certainly more challenging, and that challenge pushes the limits of surfers.
With wave pools, the consistency is almost a hindrance to surfers pushing themselves to get out in bigger waves and bigger swells.
Wave pools are also more prone to bacteria that may cause diseases and infections. They take a lot of maintenance, and use more energy and create more water waste.
Wave pools are often limited to a certain number of surfers per session. Often, at popular world class wave pools, these spots book months in advance. Sometimes even years.
Wave pools are also costly. Most sessions run about $80-$200 per hour, depending on which wave pool you visit.
Ocean surfing: pros
All surfers will tell you that one of the things they love the most about surfing is the connection it brings with nature, and the mental health benefits it brings as well.
Ocean surfing is completely unique in the sense that you are literally immersed head to toe in nature. That feeling is something that just can never be matched with wave pools.
Ocean surfing also provides a wider variety of waves. Instead of perfectly predictable sets, you get to experience the reward of adapting to each unique wave.
Another pro of ocean surfing is that you get to be out in nature with marine wildlife, such as dolphins.
Ocean surfing is more accessible to locals who live near beaches, who cannot travel to catch good waves.
Ocean surfing is sustainable. The ocean is an ever present force, to be appreciated and enjoyed by everyone.
Ocean surfing: cons
As mentioned, ocean waves are often unpredictable.
Surfers have to plan their sessions around tides, swells, winds, and other conditions. This can get tricky, especially for those who do not live close to their breaks.
Ocean surfing is also more dangerous. Rip currents, coral reefs, crowded breaks, and strong tides can become a threat for surfers.
It takes a lot of ocean knowledge to judge the right conditions for surfing in the ocean, and gaining ocean knowledge is a process that takes a lot of time and hours spent in the sea.
Many surfing breaks can get crowded. Crowded breaks mean that some surfers are likely to drop in on another surfer’s wave.
This is where the worst accidents tend to happen: when surfers collide on waves and surfboards hit people. That’s also why surf etiquette in the ocean is so important.
In wave pools, everyone gets their own wave. It’s unlikely that someone will drop in on another surfer in a wave pool, since there are so many sets that surfers don’t have to compete for.
The final verdict
It’s impossible to decide whether wave pools or ocean surfing is better. It just depends on the needs of the individual.
If you live in central regions far away from the ocean, and there’s a wave pool nearby and closer, this is of course going to be your best option.
If you live close to a beach with good waves to surf, then this is probably your best option.
It’s only by trying both that you will know which one is right for you. There are so many beaches and, now, so many wave pools to try surfing at.
Here at Uvita 360, we love all waves and all surfers. We cannot imagine a life without waves.
Ocean surfing is our passion, our calling, and our greatest joy.
But will we be trying out that wave pool in Texas if we get the chance? Absolutely!