Simply Stunning

By Jim McCloskey

It always makes me happy to see innovations in watershaping.  As I’ve mentioned before, there were times in the 1980s when I had the sense that not much was possible beyond what we already had on hand.  But the past 20 years have completely driven off that impression, and I’m happy to say that just about every time I turn around something new jumps to my attention.

I have two such developments in mind as I write this, one that appeals to me because of my love of opportunities to have fun in ocean waves, the other because I know utterly awesome when I see it.


A couple weeks ago, world-champion surfer Kelly Slater uploaded a video of himself “going tubular” in what I can only describe as a perfect artificially generated wave.  As one surfing organization opined, “This changes everything” – and I have to agree.

You need click here and check out this brief video.  These are waves that rival the best I’ve seen in a lifetime of watching surfing movies, reaching all the way back to “The Endless Summer” in 1966 – a film that led just about every kid in southern California to start begging a board from parents, friends and anyone who would listen.

On one level, it’s really cool technology (whatever it turns out to be).  On another, it will completely revolutionize surfing as a competitive sport:   No longer will these contests be subject to the vagaries of weather, wind and tide, nor will there be complaints about the inconsistencies of the waves and their effects on accurate comparisons of competitors’ performances.

Of course, there’s a danger that if every wave is the same, those contests will get predictable and may become boring.  Speaking entirely for myself, however, I’m all for it and look forward to a time when pure luck of the draw is less a factor than is raw, ripping skill.

Hats off to Mr. Slater and the development team that has pursued this perfection for ten long years.  It’s a stunning technological achievement, and I can’t wait to find out how it works!


Also recently, China released water into an utterly immense man-made waterfall system in the city of Kunming.  It’s 1,300 feet wide, 40 feet tall, took three years to build and cost a whopping $170 million – and a huge park was built at its base so the spectacle can be enjoyed by anyone with a liking forf extreme vanishing-edge effects.

It’s a sight to behold, as you’ll see by clicking here – reminiscent of Niagara Falls and even Victoria Falls, although obviously on a smaller but still wholly impressive scale.  And while it’s a feast for the eyes and a jolt to the other senses as well, it also serves valuable water-supply and flood-control needs.

I’ve seen lots of dams and flood-control systems in my time, but this one introduces an aesthetic component that clearly wasn’t part of the calculus when the U.S. government started its water-management crusade early in the last century.  Here’s hoping this is a spur to creative thinking as older dams are rebuilt here or as planning for new ones gets under way.

As for the Kunming waterfall, it may not be as grand or awe-inspiring as some of the world’s great waterfalls, but it’s one spectacular gesture in the direction of putting aesthetics in play while entirely practical needs are being met.

Again, congratulations for blowing my hair back:  This shows a path to an awesome hydrological future!

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