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Surf's up for New Zealander's wave design

By James MacDonald
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RAGLAN, New Zealand (CNN) -- Most surfers with a favorite break only share it with their closest friends.

Not so Kerry Black, who is preparing to reveal the secrets of New Zealand's surfing haven, Raglan, to the rest of the world.

The former university professor and co-founder of Artificial Surf Reefs has developed the first fully adjustable computer-controlled reef, and is taking enquiries from several countries wanting their own indoor answer to surfing.

"The design has taken us a couple of years to get right and it's a beautiful elegant system, I believe," says Black who has spent years studying what defines a good wave.

The answer rests in the shape of the sea bed, which he has been able to replicate on computers and sculpt into an indoor pool environment.

Unlike most existing wave pools which generate small, short, powerless waves in fresh water, the Black version fires waves every 10 to 15 seconds from different angles at the specially designed reef.

The method enables the creation of a variety of waves -- including 8-foot fast tubes and long rolling four footers -- just as you might get at a break like Raglan.

The pool itself has a patented design that has tapering walls, so that in some of the pools the waves get wider. As soon as the wave gets into the wide area they collapse because the wave gets stretched over a large area and the height goes down. One version converges and holds the wave up high all the way through, recreating the rip-currents in the pool.

Naturally, Black -- who has a master's degree from the University of Hawaii and a Ph.D. from the University of Waitako, Hamilton, New Zealand -- and his team have had to do a fair amount of field research to get to this point.

Apart from their visits to some 35 world-class surf breaks across the Pacific Ocean to measure what the sea bed looks like underneath the break, they continue to significant research "out the back."

"We think that it takes a surfer to really understand this industry a bit. And we let them (staff) surf as much as they want. And we think that it's good for the company; it's healthy," Black says.

"I think surfing is a mental picture in most surfers' heads. It is so of this endless wave, a perfect barrel that sort of runs down a head-land. You need to understand that to know what we are sculpting, what we are creating in the surfing.

"And the power of the waves, you need to realize what sort of strength that they've got.... And I think it really helps for surfers to see how heavy it is, particularly when we come back to the construction, and, of course, in the early design stages, particularly when we're coping with the wide variety swell conditions that you get on those reefs," he says.

Black believes his creation could revolutionize surfing and even make it an Olympic sport.

"I think the sport is going to change radically. Probably the best surfers in the pool may not necessarily be the best surfers in the ocean, because the surfers in the pool are probably going to get repetition, identical waves, go there whenever they want, surf all day, which you can't get in the ocean, because swell comes, swell goes, wind's wrong."

Black, meanwhile, could help with other issues stemming from the global growth in the sport: crowding and beach preservation.

"There are a lot of surfers now. The quality of the surfers has gotten better so we need to have better surf breaks. But when you look at the multi-purpose side of the reefs, the reasons are much more complex," Black says.

"There is beach protection, adding amenity, tourism development, so we really do need this. Because I think the planet has a really limited number of resources and surf breaks is one of the things that are limited."

Journalist Bina Brown contributed to this report.


Kerry Black: Surfiing could become Olympic sport some day.

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