Summary of The Perfect Wave

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9 Overall

7 Importance

10 Innovation

9 Style


If you surf, you’ve probably dreamed of the perfect break: consistent, close to home, and empty except for a few good friends. But have you ever taken it a step further and imagined controlling the shape and size of the wave? That god-like privilege eluded mere mortals until pro surfer Kelly Slater teamed up with fluid mechanics specialist Adam Fincham to create a landlocked endless summer. getAbstract recommends Jon Cohen’s article to surfers who want to know how science has changed their sport forever, and to anyone whose desire to surf was thwarted by a lack of proximity to the ocean.

In this summary, you will learn

  • How the perfect wave was created despite overwhelming obstacles,
  • Why big waves can’t be reproduced using linear models, and
  • How supercomputers and laboratory wave tanks were used to make a reliable, adjustable, landlocked wave.

About the Author

Jon Cohen is a staff writer for Science magazine. He’s also written for The New Yorker, Smithsonian, Wired and Surfer.



The ocean is an inconsistent playing field, making it difficult to schedule surfing competitions.

Fluctuating ocean conditions make it difficult for beginners to learn to surf, while also making it nearly impossible for experts to schedule surf contests with consistently good waves. Waves result from storms that create massive swells. Swells roll across the ocean, invisible at the surface until they reach a place where the water is shallow enough for the wave to hit bottom. This disturbance causes the crest of the wave to move faster than the wave’s trough. The wave then breaks on the surface. There have been attempts to duplicate this process but the complicated, non-linear hydrodynamics of large bodies of water have thwarted all previous efforts to bring the magic of the ocean to artificial lakes. Long celebrated for his innovative surf maneuvers, 11-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater also displayed a knack for technological innovation. Slater approached fluid mechanics specialist Adam Fincham with a crazy plan: creating consistent, adjustable, perfectly surfable artificial waves.

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