This article was originally published by VICE Sports AUS-NZ
The sublime Kelly Slater Wave Pool experience just went Spinal Tap, with the 11-time World Champion releasing the first point-of-view GoPro clip from inside the womb of one of sport's greatest creations.
In December 2015, the surfing legend unveiled his invention to utter shock and disbelief among the 23 million-strong global surfing community. Although several man-made wave pool prototypes already existed, Slater's version blew them all out of the water by creating a wave that barrelled perpetually – something none of the others had managed. Surfing's governing body, the World Surf League, moved quickly to acquire a majority stake in the Kelly Slater Wave Company, saying: "The WSL and the KSWC envision the build-out of a global network of WSL-branded high-performance training centres utilising this wave technology."
Trust the greatest ever surfer to achieve such a feat. Getting barrelled is the pinnacle of the sport, but finding the perfect storm of wind, swell, natural reef/sand deposits, and crowds (or lack thereof) is one of the hardest things you can ever attempt. Such a pursuit drains hundreds of millions of dollars annually from surfers in travel, accommodation and (broken) board costs, not to mention leaving behind a whopping carbon footprint that flies in the face of the culture's traditionally environmental values. Young pro surfers such as Noa Deane have gone as far as referring to chasing barrels as "the rich man's sport."
By providing a mechanical barrel on demand, Slater has the power to bring immeasurable joy, fitness and mind-expansion to millions. It also fits with the 11-time champ's tilt towards all-out philanthropy during his career twilight. Slater has attacked GMO crops in Hawaii; he quit longtime sponsor Quiksilver to create an environmentally sustainable clothing line, Outerknown; he's been an outspoken advocate for environmental conservation (unless it's sharks on Reunion Island); and he donated large amounts of money to a variety of environmental and humanitarian organisations.
In 2016 I asked Slater directly whether he thought giving the gift of surfing to the world had the potential to change our planet for the better, to which he replied: "If the world surfed with the right approach, the world would be a better place. But man, there wouldn't be much room left to ride waves. I'm not sure how good that would be for people."
As for the roll-out of the wavepools: "Well, it'll make our world a better place, and probably already has, because it has people dreaming of having the opportunity in the future to go somewhere close to home – given there's a wavepool near – and just have some fun."