New Wave-Making Technology Touches Off San Diego’s Wave War

Bruce McFarland has a long-standing relationship with waves. He learned to surf while he was growing up in Manhattan Beach, CA, a classic Los Angeles-area beach community and home of what is believed to be California’s first surfboard shop. He studied mechanical engineering and fluid mechanics at UC Santa Barbara, and after graduation worked for a while studying waves in space at the former TRW, which was dealing with problems caused by fuel sloshing around inside the fuel tanks of orbiting satellites.

These days, McFarland is making waves in more ways than one. His startup company, AWM, for American Wave Machines, installed its first wave machine at a water park last year, and got its first seed-stage funding from San Diego angel investor Marco Thompson five months ago. The company has contracts to build six other projects, and tomorrow evening McFarland will make a presentation about his startup as a case study at the Salk Institute for San Diego’s MIT Enterprise Forum. If only there wasn’t the threat of a legal “wave war” looming on the horizon.

McFarland told me he started making his own waves nine years ago, inspired by a video of “river surfing” on stationary waves that form under certain conditions at the mouth of Hawaii’s Waimea River. He says he realized it should be possible to create his own standing wave by duplicating the runoff conditions of Hawaii’s rainy season—and he realized such a wave machine would be a great attraction for a water park.

McFarland and his wife, Marie, founded AWM in 2000 to develop the idea. They self-funded the company while Bruce experimented with scale models at their home in Solana Beach, CA. McFarland built his first full-scale prototype of the “SurfStream” standing wave surf machine in 2004. AWM’s first commercial SurfStream installation opened at a water park in Taichung City, Taiwan, last May.

(AWM provided a video of its SurfStream machine in Taiwan here.)

That same month, Wave Loch, another San Diego wave machine maker, filed a patent infringement lawsuit against American Wave Machines in San Diego federal court. The suit alleges that McFarland’s SurfStream design infringes on three patents that … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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