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Stadium surfing scheme rides on Kiwi ingenuity PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 14 January 2007
A computer-controlled surf reef designed by a New Zealand company has been built in the United States, fuelling dreams of turning surfing into an international stadium sport.
Stadium surfing scheme rides on Kiwi ingenuity
January 15, 2007 By Juliet Rowan

A computer-controlled surf reef designed by a New Zealand company has been built in the United States, fuelling dreams of turning surfing into an international stadium sport.

"It really is a world-first and it's great to see it coming out of New Zealand," Surf Pools managing director Kerry Black of Raglan says.

Dr Black - a surfer, oceanographer and former Waikato University professor - led the team who designed the Versareef, which can be moulded into different shapes by computer controls.

"The Versareef is something all surfers dream of when you're sitting in the ocean. [It's] about having the ability to change the reef shapes so you can have different waves," Dr Black said.

The prototype has been built at the Ron Jon Surfpark, a facility with three large surf pools under construction in Orlando, Florida.

The Versareef is destined for the park's largest pool - the size of four football fields - but the prototype has been built in a smaller pool while the other is constructed.


"It's great fun, fantastic," said Dr Black, 55, who has tested the reef.

"[It produces] really clean breaks because you've got a lot of control over the wave."

The Versareef has a foam surface and is buoyant, relying on computer-driven rams with cables to pull the reef down into position.

Once in place, high-pressure water is blasted under the reef to create a solid surface.

Combined with the latest wave-generating technology, the reef can produce waves up to 1.8m, and create left and right breaks, and hard and soft waves.

"From the top-level surfer's perspective, we can make the hollow-barrelling waves and they're the ones that the best surfers really want," Dr Black said.

He said the ability to alter the reef would stop surfers at the park getting bored "because it's not the same waves every day".

The Versareef evolved out of work on artificial ocean reefs by Dr Black and a team at his other company, ASR, which designed Mt Maunganui's artificial surf reef.

While the Mount Reef has been hampered by a lack of swell because of prevailing southwesterly winds in the last seven months, the Versareef's teething troubles have involved finding components durable enough to withstand wave pressure.

Dr Black said problems encountered with the prototype had been ironed out by increasing the budget and using heavier parts, and the Versareef would be perfected by the time Ron Jon Surf Park opened later this year.

Seeing the Versareef become a reality has also fuelled Dr Black's desire to take surfing to countries without beaches and to create surfing stadiums. "Surfing is already a huge spectator sport and people watch the competitions," he said.

"The stadium will just make it a heap more convenient."

He envisages countries such as Britain, China and Germany as potential buyers of the Versareef, which costs up to US $2 million ($2.9 million) to build plus operational costs, but he is not so sure about New Zealand's need for a surfing stadium.

"New Zealand might need one but I'm not sure if they can afford one. You've got to have the population or the tourism."

However, he is confident the Orlando Versareef will help launch a trend of spectators watching surfing at stadium-type settings.

"It'll be spectacular because you've always got waves and the quality of waves is very high, whereas on a beach it's not always good."

And what of purists who believe surfing belongs at the beach?

"It'll be a substitute, an add-on, to normal surfing in the ocean, but it'll be a very exciting add-on."
 
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