Surfin’ USA With Wavy Ben Gravy

When last we saw Ben Gravy he’d just completed a grand tour of surfing all 50 states by catching a beach break in Alaska.

How he accomplished this was not by chasing waterfalls but by sticking to the rivers and the lakes that the local surfers told him they were used to, and sharing the stoke wherever he went. Then there were a few wave pools thrown in there. Actually all the wave pools. Almost all of them. Somehow he hasn’t surfed the one in his native New Jersey yet. We talked to him about imagining a future where almost anyone who wanted to could surf anywhere in the country—the United States of Wave Pools.

Photo by @ryanmackphoto

Besides rivers and lakes and water supply pipe runoffs and the occasional fountain, you hit pretty much every wave pool in the country, even some old-school water park ones. How do those compare with the modern ones?

Ben: I’ve pretty much covered the gamut of wave pool technology. I surfed the one in Arizona, the original Rick Kane Wave Pool, Surf’s Up Tempe. So if you take that one and compare it to Kelly Slater’s, it’s obviously a vast, vast difference, but pretty much what they do at Surf’s Up is compress water and they just roll it out across the whole pool. And I think it was kind of lucky that it broke to create a surfable wave, but it’s kind of just long boardable, I don’t think it was initially meant for any type of radical surfing.

It’s a long wave, it’s like three minutes. I think Kelly’s is three minutes too, but obviously you’re waiting for a much different wave. And there’s one in Indiana that’s actually a smaller version of the Arizona one that I surfed, but that wave comes out every six seconds. So it’s nonstop fun.

The thing about wave pools though is no matter what, as shitty or as old or as outdated as they are, I swear to you, I’ve never had a bad session surfing in a wave pool. No matter what it’s fun.

How do they compare to the real thing?

Ben: Well, wave-wise, I would say that Palm Springs and BSR in Waco feel pretty much like a real wave. Kelly’s is kind of weird. It feels like you’re like on a zipper, you know that the wave is running away from you, because the power continues to grow the whole time. And I don’t want to say that Kelly’s is more like a boat wake—but it kind of is. It’s like you can feel that continuous motion forward down the line. But I would say Palm Springs and BSR are the most like surfing real waves, but there’s always, in my opinion, there’s always going to be that missing part of like, “Oh, I’m going to go out and it’s firing, but am I going to get a good one?” And when you do get a good one, it’s a hundred percent stoke—whereas, on a wave pool wave, you know that every wave’s barreling. So it’s a different type of stoke. It’s kind of like a mind game with yourself.

Where do you see the wave pool thing heading?

Ben: I don’t think it’s really ever going to stop now. We’re past that threshold. There’s just going to be more of them. Every state’s going to get at least one. They’re going to get better and better. That one in Australia, we’re already seeing like head high waves in it. I think 10 years from now, 20 years from now is going to be insane. Just from 2015 to 2020 look at us—we’re already used to it. We think it’s normal. Five years ago, this would have been just mind-blowing. It would have totally just freaked people out, but now it’s almost a normal thing.

Will future Ben Gravy be able to surf all 50 states in just wave pools?

Ben: I’m down with that because I believe in surfing for its emotional and spiritual aspect. So I think the more wave pools, the more people are going to surf, and the more people that we’re going to be able to help and heal, because surfing is really good for that. Good for the soul. Just the fact that it’s a wave pool makes it a little bit less spiritual for me, but you still get that refreshing feeling of, “Oh, I accomplished something.” You can still get that feeling that you get from surfing—just feeling good after you surf.

The thing about wave pools though is no matter what, as shitty or as old or as outdated as they are, I swear to you, I’ve never had a bad session surfing in a wave pool. No matter what it’s fun.

What ways will it change the accessibility to surfing for people and how might that change the diversity of people who are into surfing?

Ben: Oh yeah. Imagine. There are people in Texas that started surfing just because of the pool and now they surf well. One of the guys that works there, one of the lifeguards, he never surfed outside of that pool and he can do turns and get barreled now. But yeah, it’s going to change a lot, but it’s going to be interesting to see people who learn in wave pools and then go to the ocean. Because it’s a whole different animal. But yeah, if it becomes an affordable thing that people can just do, everybody’s going to surf—why wouldn’t you?

Imagine after-school programs, Oh my god. Instead of a school basketball team, there’s just a school surf team at the local wave pool in Tennessee. That’d be interesting.

Just letting your imagination run, what’s your ultimate wave pool fantasy? And please do keep this PG cause we’re a family magazine.

Ben: I kind of have two: I’ve always wanted to see a wave that is a full-blown, knee-high to thigh-high white foam ball and you catch it and you’re traveling sideways, like horizontally across the pool. And then out of nowhere, a 10-foot slabbing tube comes, but you’re already facing 90 degrees. So when you go into the tube, there’s no adjustment. You just get in there and you just ride it. And it’s like a 10-second slabbing right-hand barrel that you’re already perfectly set up for sideways. And then you come flying out. And I think my other fantasy would be, I always wondered why they never built the wave pools in a circle. If Kelly Slater’s wave pool were in a circle you could have a paddle zone and say, it takes two minutes for the wave to get around the circle, you pick it up at the front. And if you can make it the two minutes, the water gets deep again and the wave dies off and then it picks back up for someone else to catch it. And it’s almost just like a continuous wave. I don’t know. So that would be interesting. It would be really amazing to see just massive tubes in a wave pool. It’s just something that I feel like surfers always, no matter who you are, you fantasize about seeing when you were a kid or whatever. And we’re getting pretty close.

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