Accepted paper:

Surfing without the ocean?: the effect of artificial wave pools on surfing practice, environmental intimacy, and conceptual production


David Whyte (University College London)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the difference between the relationships cultivated while surfing oceanic waves versus while surfing in wave-pools, an emerging technology which radically transform the surfing landscape. It will discuss the effect of these on surfer environmentalism and environmental intimacy.

Paper long abstract:

Through their practical engagements with salt water, surfers establish relationships with and understandings of each other and the coastal environment. This practice develops an intimacy with the coast, which becomes valued as a partner in the hard but rewarding work of surfing. However, due to the fickle nature of ocean swells and winds, every surfer also dreams of the possibility of man-made waves that break to perfection at the touch of a button in one's backyard. In 2015 this became a reality with the opening of Surf Snowdonia in north Wales, home to a wave-pool capable of generating waves comparable to those that surfers surf in the ocean. This paper explores one key question: What is the difference between the relationship cultivated with the environment while practicing in a wave-pool versus while being submerged in saltwater at the coast? Based on comparative ethnography of ocean surfers in the West of Ireland, and wave-pool surfers at Surf Snowdonia, the paper will investigate how coastal surfers employ salt water as a medium through which their bodies connect with atmospheric forces at a great scale, and, in contrast, how as the surfing landscape is technologized, transported inland and otherwise transformed in the wave pool, practitioners become detached from these environmental energies. Not only might surfing become, in a sense, "artificial," but a lack of intimacy with the coast inhibits the development of environmentalist concepts which are to be valued amongst the global surfing community in the present moment of rapid environmental change.

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