A surfer on a five-foot wave, crouched and grabbing the board’s edge, emerged from behind the curl of the water to onlookers’ cheers.
Who did he have to thank for the perfect swell? Tom Lochtefeld, who stood at the water’s edge — a hundred miles from the ocean.
At a shuttered water park in the desert landscape of Coachella Valley in Southern California, Lochtefeld has transformed a pool into a surf spot. For decades, inventors like Lochtefeld have struggled to mimic the ocean’s swells. In recent years, commercial projects and proof-of-concept pools have made good on the dream.
Now, there’s a global expansion race, driven by the demand of surfers’ to ride on specifically designed waves and by landlocked newbies who want to try the sport but on gentler, more controlled waves.
At least half a dozen companies are designing wave pools and pitching their technologies as the gold standard, though some surfers scoff that only the ocean produces true waves.
“You can make the perfect wave, but if you can’t reach people, what good is it?” asked Lochtefeld, who is perhaps best known for spearheading FlowRider, an early stab at simulated surfing, found on cruise ships and in water parks.
Since then, competition emerged, including from a surfing legend and the prolific company Wavegarden, in a business where the price tag on designing and building a surf park can be anywhere from $10 to $30 million.
Lochtefeld wants to reaffirm his status as an artificial wave vanguard. His odyssey started in 1987, while surfing shallow waves at Big Rock in San Diego. By then, he had already been through multiple careers. Tax lawyer. Real estate speculator. He was a founder of Raging Waters, a water theme park with a wave machine, albeit for wading, not surfing.
But while surfing