Article originally published on the OCRegister.com on May 5, 2016
Words by Laylan Connelly, Staff Writer
Except, in this case, Willy Wonka is 11-time world surf champion Kelly Slater. And the chocolate came in the form of tasty, long, barreling, perfect waves. Man-made waves.
“We are some of the first people to experience this,” Igarashi said about a recent, super secret surf session via cellphone as he traveled to the next World Tour event in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“We know it’s going to be the future, and could shape the… future of surfing.”
Slater unveiled his man-made wave last December, generating buzz with an online video that gave the surfing world a taste of an invention that has been more than a decade in the making.
“We weren’t in a hurry. We could have put out an inferior wave years ago,” Slater said in the video. “I’m glad we waited all that time to do the right thing. This is the best man-made wave, for sure. No doubt about it.”
Artificial waves aren’t new. But wave technology is changing, quickly, and several projects are underway to create potentially great artificial waves. None of the others are connected to Slater’s brand or his expertise — and none have produced long barrels of the type seen on Slater’s video.
Surfers have been frothing at the idea of riding what Slater called a “freak of technology.”
One thing Slater didn’t unveil in his video was the wave’s location.
And surfers have been in a frenzy to figure out where they could see Slater’s wave or, better, ride it.
Some have embarked on CIA-style missions, seeking any clue that might pin-point the wave’s location. In the video, Slater wore a beanie and thick jacket, ruling out anywhere tropical. Most theories pointed to a rural stretch of Central California, and some surfers have used Google Maps to plot out a potential zone that looked like a swimming pool in the middle of the state.
Days after the video was released, surf writer Sam George wrote an article for Surfline.com documenting a surf safari with friend. The pair traveled far from the coast, to Lemoore, Calif., a small farming community south of Fresno, to find Slater’s wave. It’s unclear if they found it. Their journey ended at a gated area, with a security guard who wouldn’t budge.
But even beyond location surfers were – and remain – full of questions: How long are the rides? How much does it cost? When can we ride it?
There’s been no word on when, or if, Slater’s wave will open to the public.
The session Igarashi had in late April, along with fellow World Tour surfers Carissa Moore and Nat Young, captured the attention of surfers and other action sport stars.
Skateboard legend Tony Hawk learned of Igarashi’s luck and wrote this on his Facebook page: “
“Dear Kelly Slater,
My brother and I would very much like to take turns on your new Kelly Slater Wave Company toy like Kanoa Igarashi.
Tony & Steve”
The session also offers a rare glimpse into what it’s like to ride the elusive wave.
Igarashi joined the World Surf League World Tour this year, and at 18 he’s the youngest on the list of the world’s best competitors. The oldest, at 44, is Slater.
At times, both surfers have been sponsored by Quiksilver (Slater left the brand a few years ago to start his own clothing company, Outerknown), so they’ve been on surf trips together.
Earlier this year, at the World Tour’s last contest leg, in Australia, Igarashi was hanging out with Slater when they started talking about surfing in Fiji. Last month, Slater called Igarashi and said “Let’s go.”
They spent two weeks surfing perfect waves in paradise. Igarashi – who started surfing at age 3 and has traveled the world as a professional surfer for much of his life – said it was one of the best surf trips he had ever been on.
Igarashi said as he was about to hop a boat to begin the long trip back to California, Slater gave him a sheepish look and said “Keep your phone on.”
Igarashi had a hunch why Slater might call.
Two days after that call came, on April 30, Igarashi and the others were watching in awe as the first wave popped up in a pool big enough to hold a wave. His nerves, he said, were fired up.
“It all happened so fast. I was looking at a flat bed of water and, all of a sudden, it was a four-foot, perfect wave,” he said.
“I’ve been on a high since.”
In true surfer form, Igarashi won’t give up the wave’s location.
“It’s up north. I can’t say exactly where … It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere,” he said.
“Obviously, you don’t want people showing up there to try and break in and surf,” he added. “Even if they did, it doesn’t work like a normal ocean, 24 hours. It just works when they want it to work.”
And, according to Igarashi, it does work.
He kept his wetsuit on from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. It was a normal, 3/2 full suit, but Igarashi wasn’t thinking about the chill. He caught up to 30 waves on the day.
Igarashi says the wave – its thickness, speed and the way it breaks – reminds him of one of his favorite natural breaks, a spot called Kirra in Australia.
“Everyone was super happy and everyone was cheering each other on,” he said.
“There’s nothing like sharing a secret session with some of your friends.”
On a normal surf trip, there’s an element of uncertainty about the quality of the waves. Nature can be fickle.
But a man-made wave is different.
“That reliability,” Igarashi said, “is what everyone is looking for on a surf trip.”
Slater’s man-made, reliable waves lasted 30 to 45 seconds. Igarashi said he rode a barrel that lasted 29 seconds.
“That’s the longest … of my life.”
In a video showing Igarashi’s surf session, he’s seen on a long right-hand wave, tucking in and out of the barrel three times, whipping his board with big turns between the cover ups.
“I’m in shock. I feel like I just won something,” he said in the video. “It’s a pretty crazy feeling. It’s probably one of the best feelings you can get.”
More than scoring super fun surf, Igarashi believes he was part of something that could be revolutionary for the sport he loves. Wave pools have been a hot topic, especially as surfing edges closer to becoming an Olympic sport. The advancement of such waves could help in surfing’s push to get into the Games.
Artificial waves also could bring surf to would-be surfers who live in landlocked, something that could exponentially expand the sport.
“That’s super exciting to me, knowing that thing is going to stick around for a while,” Igarashi said. “I can tell my kids I was one of the first ones to ride (Slater’s) wave pool.”