Text © SamBleakley
Imagine if coastlines got too crowded, or became inaccessible as private property, or got too polluted, or cut up by war zones, or just too expensive to access. Surfing’s new horizon would be away from the sea through the development of inland wave pools. Just as fast food and instant infotainment becomes the norm, I wonder if the ‘ultimate surfari’ of the future will be to the best simulacrum of surfing – a full-on Tahitian experience with big sets breaking over a contoured bottom, and a grass-skirted girl to pick you up after your sand facial off the best ride of the day.
Recently I got a taste of the surfing simulacrum at the Sunway Wave Pool in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Skin soaked in halogen, you feel like a firefly, itchy and glowing, the chlorine clouding your eyes. Three stretched minutes tick by between the one wave sets. The water is pumped up hill and dropped into a sluice behind the pool. A warning horn sounds, and your wave appears. It’s a lurid chemical blue with spume fizzing from the lip. Your board misses the buoyancy of saltwater as you glide the surge through the cement stadium, until it fans over the tiled floor and a sprinkling of imported sand. Enter the paradox of toxic surf in sterile packaging – no danger, no lurking sea-life, no rip currents and tides, no sneaker sets. “Feel the fun,” says the Wave Pool sign, extending a welcome to a postmodern world where life is ‘really’ virtual. Between rides you can shop at the mall, see the tiger in the zoo, or shoot a water slide. Maybe grab a bite and get your fill of the salt and sweet spots missing from the wave action. Then the hooter blasts and you scramble for another wave, but you’re likely to find about as much rhythm as the car-horn chorus in Kuala Lumpur’s motor mayhem. Welcome to the arcade, where the future is already exhausted.
The water park supposedly offers the ‘ultimate adventure holiday’, a classic case of the way we live and judge quality of life through virtual realities. Maybe one day, over saturated with everyday competition, the surfing public will demand a new wave pool show – combat riding, with a gladiatorial spirit and the frisson of violence. By now it will be an Olympic sport, led of course by the Pacific Rim and Osaka’s hi-tech pools. Then people will get nostalgic about the old lo-tech pools, now largely abandoned. A retro culture will kick in with a return to dated board styles, clothes, and a revitalisation of fazed out wave parks. The nostalgia videos will follow. But some surfers will snap out of it, leave for the great outdoors and ‘re-discover’ a ‘lost beach’ at the coast. They’d bring surfing back to its senses, wrenching it away from the arcade and reminding people of the rips and tides and sudden presence of sea-life. After the chemical blues of surfing in Kuala Lumpur, the flavoursome salts at the Cornish coast tasted good – preserve it.