Making the Perfect Wave

Eric Herman Headshot

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In the highly specialized world of creating the perfect man-made wave, legendary surfer Kelly Slater may have just pulled off the equivalent of the Manhattan Project.

In December, Slater released a video called "The Big Reveal," a three and half minute teaser produced by the Kelly Slater Wave Company, depicting the result of a decade of highly secretive research and development at an undisclosed location in California's Central Valley. (Scroll down to see the video.)

Kelly Slater Wave CompanyKelly Slater Wave Company

In the video, Slater is seen taking what is reportedly the first-ever ride on his as yet unnamed artificial wave. The wave features a perfect stationary "barrel" in a shoulder-high wave that travels at about 15 mph. Slater rides the wave for about a minute, performing his patented cutbacks that have earned him multiple world championships and the unofficial title as the world's greatest living surfer.

Located in an approximately 1000-by-250 foot manmade lake at what Internet sleuths have identified as an abandoned summer camp near Fresno, some 110 miles from the Pacific Coast, the wave is believed to use a type of underwater sled contraption that travels beneath water across a sloped bottom. The sled pushes water forward across the bottom, generating a wave much like the way natural waves swell as they approach the shore.

The basic design is believed to be based on a prototype known as the "Flying Reef," first developed by Tom Lochtefeld, inventor of Flow Rider, a wave machine based on a completely different "sheet wave" approach. After a series of tests back in 2006, Lochtefeld abandoned the "Flying Reef" design, but Slater and company picked up the idea and spent the next 10 years secretly developing the system.

Since Slater revealed the wave on Facebook, the surfing world has been abuzz with anticipation, though when and if the public will be able to ride the wave remains unknown. Although wave machines have been around since 1929, none have ever been able to create a wave that die-hard surfers consider comparable to some of the world's best breaks.

Based on Slater's video, his company may have finally "split the atom."

Check out the wave in action:

Kelly's Wave from Kelly Slater Wave Company on Vimeo.

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