Project Management Institute

Making Waves

Projects to Accurately Replicate Ocean Waves Are Cresting



“Our goal was to go and create a wave that was like an ocean swell. It's not like a sort of novelty or a low-energy wave. It's a strong wave. You wipe out and feel it.”

—Kelly Slater to CNBC

The quest to build a machine that can accurately replicate oceanic waves has been both long and elusive. But news that surfing will be included in the 2020 Olympics in Japan has sparked a wave of such initiatives. And thanks to a decade-long project to build the perfect mechanical wave, world surfing champion Kelly Slater has an edge on the competition.

Mr. Slater's project team, which included an aerospace engineer, spent five years designing a circular wave pool before abandoning the lackluster results in favor of a linear lagoon. The resulting mechanical system creates waves up to 6 feet (2 meters) tall that can last for up to one minute. The device pulls a specially made 100-ton hydrofoil along a 2,100-foot (640-meter) track at around 18 miles (29 kilometers) an hour. (And to protect the project's design from possible competitors—despite being exposed to the outdoors and possible aerial drones—the project team topped the mechanics with obscuring solar panels.)


Kelly Slater walks along the man-made beach at the Surf Ranch. Above, a surfer rides the mechanical wave.

The lagoon's contours are just as important as the hydrofoil, and the team relied on supercomputers to fine-tune every detail: Contour reefs at the lake's bottom cause the wave to break, and giant lateral gutters mitigate the bounce-back effect. The system can create 50 types of waves, and the water returns to a calm state within three minutes.


The Surf Ranch


US$30 million


Completed in May 2018


Lemoore, California, USA


By 2026, project sponsors plan to expand the Surf Ranch to 155 acres (63 hectares) with two public wave pools.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.



Related Content