A Scientist And a Surfer Teamed Up to Create the Perfect Wave

LEMOORE, CALIFORNIA—“You should’ve been here yesterday.”

That’s a repeated gag line in The Endless Summer, the classic 1966 documentary that follows two globetrotting surfers on a quest to find the perfect wave. Good surfing waves are a rarity, and even when all the forces come together, the magic is fleeting. Few beaches have a bottom contour that can transform a swell into waves that surfers want to ride, and even then, the vagaries of the swell—its size, angle, periodicity—mixed with ever-changing winds and tides mean great surf sessions are few and far between.

In central California farm country, 175 kilometers from the nearest beach, a champion surfer and a fluid mechanics specialist have teamed up to change that. In a 700-meter-long artificial lake, they’ve devised a system that drags a carefully shaped metal blade called a hydrofoil through the water. As the resulting swell sweeps over the lakebed, which scientists precisely contoured with the help of supercomputers, it is transformed into a surfing wave of unearthly perfection—again and again and again.

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