Pro surfer Kelly Slater built a gigantic robotic pool that creates the perfect waves

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The Edge

Pro surfer Kelly Slater built a gigantic robotic pool that creates the perfect waves

Surfers have long dreamed of technology that could create perfect barreling waves. Now one of the greatest surfers of all time believes he has cracked the code.

Kelly Slater, an 11-time world champion, teamed up with engineers and scientists to create a specially-designed, 100-ton hydrofoil. It's pulled along the length of a 700-yard track, resulting in six-foot waves that last about one minute. The wave system, which is located in Lemoore, California, can produce more than 50 types of waves at the push of a button.

"Our goal was to go and create a wave that was like an ocean swell," Slater told CNBC. "It's not like a sort of novelty or a low-energy wave. It's a strong wave. You wipe out and feel it. A friend of mine broke four surfboards in here yesterday. We had a couple little minor injuries, nothing bad. But the wave pushes you around and that's the difference."

Catching a wave at Surf Ranch.
CNBC
Catching a wave at Surf Ranch.

The World Surf League, which is majority-owned by billionaire Dirk Ziff, bought Slater's company two years ago for an undisclosed sum. Now the WSL wants to roll out these wave pools globally, from Brazil to Japan. The company is already building a similar wave pool in Florida, which is expected to open by the end of next year.

WSL CEO Sophie Goldschmidt said there are a number of possible uses for these pools, depending on where they are located. But one primary function will be to host WSL competitions, turning surfing into a true stadium sport.

"It is a game-changer for the sport of surfing," Goldschmidt said. "It allows us to build live, programmable television content."

The wave pools aren't cheap, potentially costing as much as $20 million each to build. Still, the excitement is clear: 10,000 people, each paying about $100, are expected to come this weekend to Lemoore to watch 25 professional surfers compete.

If the new model is successful, wave pools will be playing in an $8 billion surfing industry that's expected to grow by almost 40 percent by 2024, according to Global Industry Analysts.