Airwave founder Troy Bottegal moves towards making Bunbury WA's premier surfing destination

WaveCo director Troy Bottegal with Billy at Dalyellup beach, a potential future location for the Airwave, artificial surf reef. Picture: Jemillah Dawson
WaveCo director Troy Bottegal with Billy at Dalyellup beach, a potential future location for the Airwave, artificial surf reef. Picture: Jemillah Dawson

IT'S been four years since a world-first project - straight from the mind of a Bunbury-based innovator - was launched in the smooth waters of Bunbury's Back Beach.

With $150,000 worth of support from a community minded 'anonymous' local investor, and additional funding from the City of Bunbury council at the time, WaveCo director Troy Bottegal successfully launched the worlds first 'Airwave' - a prototype with the sole purpose of creating a consistent, surfable wave peak in Bunbury.

However the prototype - a 1.6-metre high by 12-metre wide, dome-shaped 'bladder', filled with water, air and 140 tonnes of sand and designed to mimic a surf reefs shallow edge - ripped, resulting in its subsequent removal.

Now in 2022, the Mail caught up with Mr Bottegal to talk about where the project was at and if Bunbury surfers could soon have a new wave peak to look forward to.

The answer? Yes.

"Trying to tell the story that we're still here to ensure the ultimate success of the Airwave project in Bunbury, is a bit like telling the story of why a team lost the local grand final, most people just don't want to hear it.

Troy Bottegal

"What people need to understand is that this was a world-first prototype - no one had ever attempted to do anything like it before," Mr Bottegal said.

"We learnt many things we needed to learn in the process as we installed it, from making the metal frame that it went on, to devising the anchoring system for it, how to manage and irrigate the sandslurry and many other innovations in between."

"But what happened was the type of rubber we used in the overseas manufacture was a Hypalon rubber that couldn't be welded, so instead the seams were overlapped and glued.

"This construction method along with the full pump pressure applied to a confined space in the final fill phase, caused the tear in the back quadrant of the bladder.

"Like all prototypes, you have to start with something - we had to just make the first one out of a selected material and strive with all our resources to make it successful. You can't rush innovation but you have to start somewhere."

Mr Bottegal, who spent his teenage years growing up and surfing in Bunbury, came up with the idea for the Airwave when he was living in Perth to help "improve" the surf scene.

The original 'Bunbury Airwave' in 2018. Picture: supplied

The original 'Bunbury Airwave' in 2018. Picture: supplied

He said he chose Bunbury for the first installation because of the "phenomenal amount of consistent swell" that many people didn't realise Bunbury had.

"I also chose Bunbury because I wanted to help get it out of it's perceived "no-go zone" reputation - it just seemed that from an outsiders point of view, it wasn't the most liveable place in Western Australia."

"In my opinion not a lot of innovators get enough of a go in WA - so I was quite excited and motivated to receive the council support at the time."

Due to impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr Bottegal has taken the Airwave to a Western Australian manufacturer and is in the process of obtaining additional funding before the Airwave is once again trialed in Bunbury.

He expressed the importance for the Bunbury community to know that the Airwave prototype installation certainly was not a failure and that his company Waveco Pty Ltd is continuing to grow and innovate in the artificial surf reef domain.

His team is currently working on a study to enable affordable rock additions to existing inshore reefs to enhance their surf and fishing amenity, whilst continuing to move forward powerfully with the Airwave technology.

"In the time the Airwave was installed in the water and just before it sustained the tear - a wave did break on it, but that lone wave then peeled nearly all the way to the beach.

An aerial view of the Airwave at the Bunbury Back Beach post installation. Picture: supplied

An aerial view of the Airwave at the Bunbury Back Beach post installation. Picture: supplied

"It peeled for about thirty metres and created a 0.75 metre wave that was seen by the large crowd of onlookers watching the installation - even a friend from my old school rang me straight away and said hey, I saw the wave from the café on the beach!"

In order to fulfill the Airwaves claims of being environmentally safe, Mr Bottegal and his team removed the ruptured prototype and did so within three days.

"Trying to tell the story that we're still here to ensure the ultimate success of the Airwave project in Bunbury, is a bit like telling the story of why a team lost the local grand final, most people just don't want to hear it.

"But the reality is that the global interest for the Airwave technology is immense and and the number of international enquiries are testament to the demand for Airwaves to eventually supply additional wave breaks to the crowded world surf scene.

"I've been surfing for 40 years and I can tell you that if you have a surf culture in your town, there's less depression, there's additional fit and happy humans, and the level of excitement when the waves are pumping and perfect, is infectious"

Mr Bottegal confirmed that Bunbury surfers can expect to see the Bunbury Airwave back in the water in time for Summer, 2024.

Those interested in the project can find out more at https://www.waveco.com.au.