Kelly Slater's wave pool ... or is it? Greg Webber v KS.

Alex Dick-Read

Here’s a follow-up to a story we ran a couple of weeks ago about Kelly Slater’s wave pool. Turns out, it isn’t necessarily his.
KS and his team have recently had some trouble getting the circular wave pool design approved by the US Patent office because long-time Australian surfboard designer and entrepreneur, Greg Weber had actually come up with and been granted a patent for something very similar, three years before Slater applied.

This excellent story by Stu Nettle appears on swellnet.com. Since we didn’t research or write it we haven’t run the whole piece here, just the first 3rd to get you into it, so you’ll have to head to swellnet.com for the whole article. We also recommend a quick browse through their Comments section at the end, where Greg Webber chips in with some interesting insights.

Inspiration can arrive at any moment, while sitting under an apple tree or standing on a shoreline. It can also take many forms. Everyone knows the story of Isaac Newton and the falling apple, but for surfer and inventor, Greg Webber, inspiration arrived in the shape of a small wave breaking along a riverbank. His eureka moment led him to make an award-winning film and also design a wave pool that he says will presage a surfing revolution. First, however, he must stave off a challenge by the most famous person in surfing.

In 2001 Webber stood on the deck of a fishing trawler on the Clarence River in northern NSW. He noticed the boat’s wake creating miniature waves along the shoreline and was captivated by their perfect shape. Enthused by the potential he began to experiment with the wake off his own runabout, changing angles and distance and noticing the effect it had on the quality of waves. He called on his brother Monty who began filming the waves, shooting them from various angles but always careful to leave the source of the waves – the boat – out of picture.

In 2004 Monty Webber released a movie comprised entirely of boat wake footage. Liquid Time won awards at surf film festivals despite not featuring a single surfer nor any waves over two feet high. The power of Liquid Time lay in evocation; with no way to reference their size, and with the boat out of frame, viewers imagined these tiny waves to be wind-borne waves on the ocean. The physical properties were identical, but best of all the waves in Liquid Time were perfect – utterly perfect.

For Greg Webber the inspiration didn’t end there. In 2004 he lodged a patent with the US Patent Office for a wave pool that incorporated the same elements as the boat wakes they’d been filming. Webber’s design featured a large circular pool with an island in the middle. An object similar to a boat hull moved around the outer edge of the pool displacing water and sending a wake toward the inner island. The wake broke around the island providing a theoretically endless wave.

The patent was approved in 2005 and Webber established a company to commercially develop the wave pool. The name of the company: Liquid Time.

Webber assembled engineers and for the next five years years they researched the physics behind wave pools, building a scale model at Delft University of Technology, Netherlands, and also at the Australian Maritime College, Launceston. He had success making small-scale versions of the waves and discovered the elements required for creating a perfect wave in a pool. Amongst them was running a counter-current around the pool to stand the wave up vertically so it barrels.

All the while Webber sought investment in his wave pools and teamed up with an American water park construction company, Michael Lee Designs, in preparation for roll out in the US market. “If there’s a 1000 water parks in America then how on Earth can’t there be 100 wave pools?” said Webber when asked about the future of wave pools.

Yet despite holding the only US patent for pools of this kind Greg Webber is not the name that comes to mind when most people think of wave pools. In 2008 Kelly Slater formed the Kelly Slater Wave Company, and since its inception he’s been creating and testing wave pools with a design very similar to Webber’s.

Recently Slater leveraged his celebrity with a six minute video on America’s CBS News that included discussion about his wave pools as a post-career business venture. The Kelly Slater Wave Company also released a promotional video just prior to his latest world title win.

Read the full article here.

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