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Will Kelly Slater's artificial wave machine change surfing as we know it?

Surfer Kelly Slater's artificial wave machine
Kelly Slater's artificial wave machine brings surfing inland 05:06

Twenty-five of the world's best professional surfers are converging on an unusual surf spot this weekend for a competition called the Founders' Cup. It's not happening in Hawaii or Tahiti, but in the middle of California's inland farm country. The contest will take place on a 14-acre, man-made lagoon, created by 11-time world champion surfer Kelly Slater. It generates seven-foot tall, rideable waves every few minutes.

At first glance, it looks like it could be any one of the legendary surfer's favorite waves around the world, from Australia's Gold Coast to South Africa's turbulent Indian Ocean shores to the famed north shore of O'ahu. But Slater's riding the surf of Lemoore, California, more than 100 miles inland, smack dab in middle of the state's agricultural heartland.

"If this same exact reef and wave was in the ocean, I know it'd be really, really crowded every day," Slater told CBS News' Carter Evans.

Kelly Slater rides an artificial wave at his Lemoore, California surfing lagoon.  CBS News

It's all possible thanks to a decade-long quest by Slater and his team to build a machine that can produce professional-grade artificial waves at the push of a button. The key component is a 100-ton mechanism that looks like a locomotive riding alongside the half-mile long pool.

Kelly Slater CBS News

"Basically it's a foil that pushes through the water," Slater explained. "All the energy….Is transmitted into a swell."

Because the hydrofoil's settings are adjustable, and the contours of the pool's bottom are constant, this wave introduces something new to surfing -- predictability. Slater says it offers everyone equal opportunity to demonstrate their skills because it's almost the exact same wave every time.

While a man-made swell adds consistency, Surfer magazine editor Justin Housman says it loses the essence of the sport.

"As much as riding the wave is the important part, the fact that you're doing it in an ocean, and you learned how to survive in that ocean and you learned how to read that ocean, that's what makes surfing fun," Housman said.

Whether or not recreational surfers take to it, Slater's wave seems tailor-made for professional competition, and this weekend it will host its first official World Surf League event. But Slater's ambitions don't end there.

Sophie Goldschmidt is the CEO of the World Surf League, which bought Slater's artificial wave technology two years ago. The league plans to build more of these facilities all over the world and sees it as a way to bring the sport to new markets where it wouldn't have previously been possible. 

A 100-ton mechanism moves alongside the pool to make the waves. CBS News

"I have no problem with more people experiencing it. I don't necessarily want my favorite waves around the world to get more crowded but if these are crowded that's totally fine!" Slater said of the lagoon.

Despite having tackled some of the most dangerous waves in the world, Slater still gets nervous when rides his artificial waves.

"I do know what everyone feels – that's why I enjoy it so much when people come here and get nervous and blow their first wave. I actually like it… Afterwards I gotta tell 'em I did the same thing!"

CBS Sports will broadcast the World Surf League's Founders' Cup competition this Saturday, May 5, at 2 p.m. ET, on CBS.    

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