Guest Column - April 2002
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Making Waves

By Mauricio Espinoza, The Great Wave Company, Inc.


Waves are naturally fun and have a magnetic effect on people. When the ocean is not available, folks do whatever they can to enjoy its undulating effect: twisting their arms and bodies on the dance floor, jumping and raising their hands at a sporting event, or why not, building a wave pool.

Wave pools have been one of the most popular waterpark features for the last three decades. Originally introduced by a German company, the concept of pneumatic wave generation was later adapted by an Ohio manufacturer, which built the first U.S. wave pool in Decatur, Ala., in 1969.

Since then, different companies have installed numerous wave pools in all corners of the world, improving the original systems and adding new and more exciting features. Still, the thrill of riding along the moving waters is the same as it was before.

How does it work?
No doubt, waves tend to be big crowd pleasers.

Wave pools utilize a high-speed fan that blows pressurized air into caissons located on the back end of the pool. A special valve directs the air flow to the exhaust port, pushing the water up at preset intervals and thus creating waves that look and feel much like those in the ocean.

Although most wave generation systems are air-powered, some employ water pumping to make larger waves, sometimes breakers as high as 8.5 feet.

Typically, wave pools are shaped like a hand fan. The backside—where waves generate and behind which the machine room is located—is the deepest of the pool. From there, the pool floor gradually slopes until it reaches zero depth at the opposite end, usually referred to as the "beach area" or "entrance." As the floor slopes, the walls also start to open, providing more room at the beach area.

This particular arrangement of the floor and walls allows the waves to develop, break and roll just as they do on the ocean floor.

Factors to consider when building a wave pool

While all it takes to create waves is air and water, there are a numbers of factors that must be considered when planning to build a wave pool, including size, shape, water depth, wave height and patterns, and operational costs.

Size does matter. The dimensions of a wave pool will vary depending on the park's needs and, of course, its available budget. A small pool (about 30 feet wide and 120 feet long) requires a small motor and fan to operate, which results in a lower cost—both in equipment and energy consumption. A large pool (more than 100 feet wide and longer than 200 feet) needs a lot more horsepower to generate good waves and adds more digits to the electric bill.


Any shape you want it. It is true that most wave pools are fan-shaped. However, they can be constructed in virtually any shape the customer fancies, provided that the design allows enough room for the waves to naturally break and roll to the beach area. A wave pool can be shaped as a rectangle, a circle (or a segment of a circle), or as a fan with an irregular beach area.

Deeper is not better. Wave pools were first built with the philosophy that "deeper is better." Nonetheless, experience has shown us that deep wave pools are often dangerous and tend to keep nonswimmers, the elderly and people with some kind of a disability from enjoying the action at the spot where the waves are generated. Shallower pools (about five-feet deep) are recommended for safety, pool "democracy" and reduced costs.

Custom waves. Waves can be made as tall or as short as the facility wants them. A good wave for a family pool is about 36 inches high. Customers can also choose from several wave patterns, such as a diamond-shape wave or a pyramid-shape wave very good for riding. A multiple wave pattern system requires more horsepower than a one-wave system.

Costs of the curl. When comparing wave machinery from different companies, the customer must be aware of each system's operational costs. In some cases, the same quality of waves can be attained by using only one motor and fan instead of several of them, all depending on the valves used and the arrangement of the caissons. Deeper pools consume more water and demand more power for wave generation. Make sure to compare each system component by component before making a decision.

Much more than pools

Wave generation is not restricted to pools in a waterpark. Waves can be used in a number of attractions for the recreation, park, sports and hotel industries.


Rivers: Wave generation systems are used in both lazy and action rivers. In a lazy river, waves make the ride on a tube or a raft more interesting by adding a little motion but still keeping the river safe for people of all ages. Larger waves can be added to a river to create a wilder ride, simulating the effect of rapids.

Surfing: Surfing pools are as old as wave pools, but only in recent years has the wave generation technology been able to catch up with the demands of big-time surfers—that is, a wave that peels for a long distance with a break that allows the surfer to place him or herself inside it. Such pools have been used for professional competitions and—according to some providers of this technology—could pave the road for surfing to become an Olympic event. Pools, as well as surfing rivers, are available from several wave companies.

Hotel and residential pools: A small wave pool with a feature (hot tub, rain tree or spray) in one of the shallow ends is a very good option for hotels that want to offer additional services to their guests. This pool is also perfect for a home or a private club.

Health and rehabilitation: Small waves are ideal for relaxation or exercise and can also be very beneficial when used as part of a rehabilitation program.

Imitating nature: Wave systems have been successfully utilized to recreate natural sea environments at theme parks. Zoos can also take advantage of this feature when creating habitats for some of their animals.

Mauricio Espinoza is the international sales and communications coordinator for The Great Wave Company, Inc., an international manufacturer of wave-generation equipment located in Ashland, Ohio. He can be reached at 419-289-5551 or