November 23, 2018 11:39 am

Ride the Perfect Wave with Neil deGrasse Tyson and World Champion Surfer Kelly Slater

What does it feel like to ride the perfect wave? What’s the science behind the perfect wave? Can you artificially create the perfect wave? On this week’s episode of StarTalk Radio, Neil deGrasse Tyson sits down with world champion surfer Kelly Slater, comic co-host Chuck Nice, and a panel of surfing experts. Joining us in-studio to help break down the science of surfing is Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Finnegan, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his autobiographical work Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, oceanographer Travis Schramek, and  Adam Fincham, lead engineer at the Kelly Slater Surf Ranch.

Rob Keaton’s photo of Kelly Slater riding a wave, via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo Credit: Rtwkeaton [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], from Wikimedia Commons.

Before we get to the great blue sea we first start with Kelly’s connection to the stars above. You’ll hear about his upbringing in the shadows of NASA and his intimate memories of the Challenger disaster. However, as you’ll hear, Kelly has been a surfer for as long as he can remember. Immerse yourself in the mechanics of riding a wave both physically and emotionally. Travis helps us understand the equation for a wave and we explore how a surfer toes the delicate line of give and take with forces applied by them and the board against the forces being exerted by the ocean. You’ll also learn how barrel waves are created by the topographical layout of the ocean and deep energetic water.

Then, we dive into the secret science of Kelly’s wave creation facility, The Kelly Slater Surf Ranch, where his team has been hard at work making the perfect artificial wave. If you haven’t seen anything about this project, it’s worth checking out this 3-minute video about the project. The blend of science and nature is truly spectacular. We hear from lead wave scientist Adam Fincham on the creation of the project. Will tells us the impact this facility will have on surf history.

We answer fan-submitted Cosmic Queries on the physics of surfing. Also, Chuck leads us in a surfing lingo game where Neil tries to guess what certain terms mean out on the water. Lastly, Kelly and William tells us what the key is to surviving a wipeout no matter how brutal. All that, plus, Bill Nye the Science Guy stops in to share his thoughts on surfing science and Neil gives us the cosmic perspective through one of his favorite poems.

Please join us tomorrow night for The Surfing Life, with Kelly Slater at 7pm ET right here on our website, as well as on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, SoundCloud, Stitcher, and TuneIn. If you’re an All-Access subscriber, you can listen to this episode ad-free at 7pm, too.

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!
–Ian Mullen