Diversity in the lineup: Can wave pools help reshape the surfing community?

Diversity in the lineup: Can wave pools help reshape the surfing community?

Wave pools are carrying more inclusivity into surfing

Surfing is a stunning interaction between humans and nature. Gliding on a floating board propelled by the natural force of the ocean invokes both the raw power of the earth and the ingenuity of the human spirit in one brief, beautiful moment. Any effort spent getting there is all but forgotten in the pure bliss delivered by every little rolling pocket of the sea.

The natural gracefulness of surfing is derived from the simplicity and beauty of the act. A complex process turns into something incredibly simple – a little moment of bliss. A joyride. A rush.

Surfing might seem simple (it’s just you and your board right?) but the sport doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to inclusivity. For a sport practiced in nature, surfing can have a relatively high barrier to entry.

It may seem like all you need are some waves and a surfboard, but learning how to swim in the ocean is an important prerequisite. Surfboards aren’t cheap either – and you’ll probably need a wetsuit too. Not to mention the best surf spots are often filled up with little room for beginners.

Standing waves and wave pools are looking to change all that. Across the country, more and more cities are developing wave pools – near the shores of local beaches or far from the nearest body of water – where anyone can come and learn how to surf. In a wave pool, participants can experience the joy of surfing without having to fight for the good waves – or even knowing how to swim.

Wave pools are becoming an answer to making surfing a more diverse and inclusive sport, and a more accessible recreational activity for everyone.

Surfing is becoming more diverse

Surfing lore is full of tales of local surfers trying to keep secret spots and hidden gems private and undiscovered. Old-school surfers all have stories of the various tactics – sometimes violent and aggressive – that have been used to keep newcomers away from the best waves.

The “locals only” culture of surfers at the Pacific Ocean Park Pier in Venice, Calif., in the 1970s is largely to blame for the creation of modern skateboarding. When the kids of the area couldn’t get to the waves they took to streets, creating a revolution in the process. Skateboarding became the answer for anyone shut out by the exclusive nature of the surf scene.

The same way surfing influenced skateboarding in the past, the present diverse culture of skateboarding has paved the way for surfing to shed its exclusive reputation. Like surfing before it, skateboarding culture provided a home for the misfits and the radicals. Surfing is looking to embrace its roots as a naturally inclusive sport – accessible to people who have previously been left on the shore.

In this case, a rising tide lifts all boards – and wave pools are helping to raise the tide.

Let the accessibility flow

Gwenna “Gigi” Lucas founded SufearNEGRA “to make surfing accessible to any kid anywhere.” The organization runs programs that fund girls of color attending surf camps in their local communities.

Lucas said wave pools are helping to bridge the accessibility gap when it comes to surfing.

“We are elated with the increased popularity and development of wave pools because this will help democratize the sport in a way that has never been done before,” she told Wavepool Mag earlier this year. “Especially for kids who are pigeonholed into traditional sports like track and field, football and basketball.”

Lucas stressed that in the past, people have had to rely on other people they know to teach them how to surf. If you didn’t know any surfers, you didn’t surf. Wave pools can help to change that stigma.

“Most people, when they learn how to surf, are either fortunate to live in an environment where their parents can afford to send them to lessons or they have family members who’ve done it. So they learn by familial knowledge,” she said. “I think wave pools will provide a structured environment where more people can have access to the knowledge of learning how to surf without having to rely on a family member who already knows the ropes to teach them.”

A changing current

Lucas said that even in just the eight years she has been involved with surfing, she has seen the sport grow more accessible. She said that when she first started surfing in 2013 she did not consider it an inclusive sport, but it is starting to reach a new audience.

“It’s a product of other societal influences that are not inclusive,” she said. “And, if you are a person of color and don’t know where to go or how to enter the sport, you just wouldn’t do it.”

But, “Fast forward to now, and especially after 2020, there have been a lot of efforts made to be forward-facing or externally facing and more inclusive. I still think there’s a lot more work to do in terms of shifting the industry and the ethos with many of the organizations that heavily influence the sport. But yeah, it’s getting there.”

Asked what role wave pools have played in surfing’s newfound reach, Lucas said they are opening doors that weren’t open before. “To have that additional option of a wave pool, we now have a controlled environment where programming can be implemented to teach the fundamentals which can then transfer over to ocean surfing,” she said.

With a wave pool, you don’t need to live near the ocean in order to surf – you don’t even need to know how to swim!

Best wave pools for surfing

As Wavepool Mag notes, “It’s not too hard to peer into the future and see a landscape where wave pools sit next to skate parks at the local YMCA and the act of sliding down the face of a wave is accessible to kids who never would have thought about it before.”

And it’s already happening in many places. Music icon Pharrell Williams is currently helping to develop a $325 million surf park and entertainment center near the coast in his hometown of Virginia Beach, Va. It’s no secret that Pharrell is a long-time skater – his nickname is Skateboard P and he sponsors the Ice Cream Skate Team.

Now he’s diving into surfing.

The Wave at Atlantic Park will be Pharell’s second major action sports development in Virginia Beach. The Williams Farm Skate Park and adjacent Williams Farm Community Recreation Center – a music and technology learning center for city youth – opened in 2012.

Like he did with skating, Pharrell is trying to make surfing more accessible to his community. The Wave will be a place that “embodies the energy, the spirit, the imagination and potential of Virginia Beach and its people,” he said.

Other community wave pools and surf parks are popping up in cities across the country and the world, including cities like Atlanta, Orlando, Fla., and Austin, Texas – and they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

One of the best things about wave pools is their consistency. Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch has been called “the best man-made wave in the world.” Located in Lemoore, Calif., it boasts the world’s longest man-made open-barrel wave – and it never disappoints.

With a wave pool, you don’t have to wait for the perfect conditions to go surfing. The conditions are always perfect, so the experience is always flawless.

Where can I find the best wave pool near me?

If you’re looking for a wave pool near you, look no further than DIVERTSessions! Our brand new wave machine was designed by FlowRider, the world’s leader in artificial wave technology.

Whether you’re a skilled rider or just learning, DIVERTSessions’ wave machine is the perfect place to learn how to surf and boogie board. Our guides are here to assist you during your entire session. Since riders go one at a time, you can get a one-on-one coaching session without having to paddle out into the ocean!

You also get a complementary helmet – and the surfboards and boogie boards are provided for you too! There’s really no excuse not to come give it a try.

A new wave of inclusivity is crashing through surf culture. Anybody can ride this wave, so come feel the rush. Find your moment of bliss – schedule a session today!

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