Coming to a harbor near you, surf!

While bushy blonde hairdos are not uncommon in Finland, there’s a reason there are no songs about surfing Hel-sin-ki. So imagine my surprise to see video of surf-able waves on Helsinki harbor. Naturally my curiosity was piqued. This Californian has spent a good portion of his life living in and visiting places with no surf. And fellow stranded surfer Atso Anderson was kind enough to show me the surf machine he had proposed to Aalto University upon returning from a week of surfing in Portugal.

Container and power plant

The container, at this “break” the pulley system is attached at the far side so surfers ride from the power plant towards the container (when the water surface isn’t frozen).

The system is built to be mobile. All the components of the surf generator fit inside a shipping container. All you need is a waterbody, a place to attach the pulley system on the far side, and an electric power source. Switch it on and the pulley system pulls two “wings” though the water at the depth of 1.5 meters. You’ve got surf!

For the exact physics of the system you’ll have to look elsewhere. My social science and more traditional surfing experiences are not good starting points for explaining how you produce a breaking wave with a pair of airplane like wings. A few master theses have been produced on the subject and a couple of professors at Aalto University are working out how to adjust the shape of the wave for optimal surf-ability.

I was interested to learn from Atso that this project has been integrated into an urban renewal and development project by the City of Helsinki, interestingly enough with a water quality component. The presence of the power plant and industrial legacy of the harbor front meant that many residents perceived the water as polluted, even though it is now flushed with sea water and the power plant filters its cooling water. The presence of the wave got people in the water immediately. Continue reading