Airwave new Kiwi wave machine



Here's a great artile from Derek Morrison at about a Dunedin company thats build a blow up wave machine that's portable and can dial in a variety of wave sizes.  

It never ceases to amaze me how many obscure and enchanting businesses fill Dunedin’s buildings. Take the warehouse I stumbled upon this past week where an inventor named Ross McCarthy was putting his fully working prototype wave machine through its paces.

AirWave has been Dunedin’s worst-kept secret for a few years now, but to lay eyes on it and see it throwing up a wall for 14-year-old rising surf star Madoc Barclay is impressive.


Photo credit - Derek Morrison

“I was out with a mate and it popped into my head to build a wave pool out of a bouncy castle,” Ross recalls. “Six months later I put the idea to a bunch of investors and they thought it was a really good idea. We discovered that no one else in the world was doing it. The Callaghan Foundation came up with 50 per cent, the investors tipped in the rest and away we went.”

“We told the first surfers not to mention it to anyone. And we didn’t want anyone to see it when we first started – it was pretty average to begin with,” laughs Ross.

He’s been working on his wave pool for almost seven years out of the un-assuming warehouse right next to Otago Harbour.

“We have been testing it for about three years now,” Ross offers. “We’ve kept it a secret that whole time – just didn’t tell anyone. I had a heap of mates who didn’t believe me when I told them I was building a surf pool, so I just decided to build one and then show them.”

Every now and then the pump rumbles and Ross assures me it’s only running at a fraction of its capacity.

“We kept refining it and refining it and now we have it to a pretty good working model,” he explains. “It’s a matter of scale from here and that depends on budget.”

He said the commercial AirWave unit was guaranteed to have a wave up to 1.2m, but he was building them to 1.8m.

“The goal is for the final commercial versions to have a barrelling wave up to 1.8m,” he adds. “But the idea is that you can create any type of wave from a knee-high wave for a five-year-old to a 1.8m barrelling wave for more experienced surfers and everything in between. We want to be able to shape the waves – manipulate the face of the waves. We plan to get professional surfers involved to adapt the wave to the sort of environment they may be surfing in a competition and use it as a training tool. We’ve been talking about building special sections like air sections so surfers can practise on it.”

Ross said that it was just a matter of scaling up the prototype and that they could make any wave they wanted.

“It will be the most versatile wave machine on the market.”

Unlike some wave pool technology that requires users to wear helmets, AirWave has placed a lot of value on the safety aspect. Everything is inflatable – the wave, the surroundings, the sides – it’s all very soft and no one has hurt themselves on it yet.

“We want to keep it injury free.”

Ross said AirWave already had a contract underway that would enable them to build the first commercial version, which would also serve as a testing version of the unit that would become available worldwide.

“The one in the warehouse here is a prototype, but a very good working prototype and the one we build next will be the commercial version and our marketing tool,” he explains. “That one looks likely to be built in Wanaka and, or Auckland. We also have interest in Hamilton – we have three opportunities coming up in New Zealand, which is a nice position to be in.”

Outside of surfing Ross said there was an opportunity in wakeboarding and water ski parks, where AirWave might sit alongside other activities.

“We went to the Surf Park Summit recently and we learnt that the feasibility of them doesn’t stack up unless they have other attractions helping them through. A lot of the wave parks have limits on the number of surfers who can ride on them at any given time. So, we see AirWave as fitting in there and maybe even helping those people who are learning or developing their skills to enjoy the other waves more. For example, it’s really easy to learn how to pop up on AirWave – that skill can be learnt here and then taken out into the ocean or on another wave.”

Ross is originally from Hawea and grew up snow skiing, water skiing and wakeboarding on the lakes and surfing in the standing river waves in the area. It was when he started studying in Dunedin that he took up bodyboarding and then surfing, but he describes himself as an average surfer.

The same can’t be said to the list of grommets who have been training in his warehouse. Most of Dunedin’s up-and-coming groms have done some time on AirWave. That’s something Ross is fiercely proud of. He even collects donations to put toward their travel for competitions.

“The boys are doing well in surf competitions and that helps me out,” he smiles.

After more than 40 minutes on the wave machine in his solo session, Madoc is visibly exhausted. And so he should be. I counted more than 100 turns, at least 37 airs, multiple 360s and lots of slides. Add to that more than 30 minutes of weaving and setting up down the line and we’re talking about a monster session by anyone's standards.  

“I’m absolutely buggered,” admits Madoc. “I had it all to myself and now my legs are dead. Usually we have three or four of us sessioning it and that mixes the load around. It works your legs and core most of all.”

Madoc, who was sponsored by Quarry Beach Surfboards, said AirWave helped him to develop new tricks.

“I’ve been surfing it for about a year and I’m stoked to be able to ride it. The wave can be changed easily and it lets you practise a trick over-and-over again,” he offers. “I’m finding that my airs have improved a lot – particularly with landing them. Now I am landing more and more of them on real waves. It has definitely helped me in competitions – just having more confidence with more tricks.”

I ask Madoc if there are any improvements he’d like to see weaved into the commercial model.

“I want to see it twice the size and barrelling,” he smiles. “And I’d love to see Ross take these commercial and make heaps of money so he can keep supporting all the young surfers.”

Ross likes that idea, too.

See you at the beach … Derek

PS To learn more about AirWave visit their website right here.


Thanks to Derek Morrison at for the article