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  • Writer's pictureRita Zurcher

Early Waves in the U.S.A: The Natatorium

The first known wave pool in the United States could be found next to the chilly Pacific waters on the coast of Oregon: The Bayocean Natatorium.

Bayocean was a planned resort community founded in 1906 on the Tillamook Spit on Tillamook Bay. By 1910 it boasted a hotel, ballroom, restaurants and of course the natatorium and billed itself as "The Playgound of the Pacific Northwest."

So what exactly is a "natatorium," acording to Wikipedia:

A natatorium (plural: natatoria) is a building containing a swimming pool. In Latin, a cella natatoria was a swimming pool in its own building, although it is sometimes also used to refer to any indoor pool even if not housed in a dedicated building (e.g., a pool in a school or a fitness club).

Interestingly Natatoria were a popular feature along the Oregon coast from 1910 to the 1930s. Using heated ocean water (necessary in the days before wetsuits), the indoor pools were not only for swimming but offered all the usual resort amenities. Newport, Cannon Beach and Seaside, Oregon each had a natatorium. Only the Seaside building still stands and it was converted to an aquarium in 1978.

The Bayocean Natorium, however was unique. It had waves created by "an early wave generating machine." It is unclear what mechanisms were used to generate the waves, but given its opening date, it likely used technology similar to the Undosa on Lake Stramberg in Germany. There are no images of the actual waves. However, in the photo below the focus of the swimmers in the pool, and the gaze of the audience above seem to indicate they are waiting for a wave to be formed.

Bayocean, Oregon interior of Natorium
Bayocean, Oregon interior of Natorium

Sadly, the Bayocean Natorium was destroyed in 1932 by actual ocean waves during a massive storm. The rest of the resort was further destroyed in subsequent years and storms. By 1952 Bayocean had become an island and in 1971 it vanished into the sea -- henceforth to be known as "the town that fell into the sea."

Although Bayocean Natatorium was a wave pool, it never recoded any actual surfers and boards riding it's waves, which after all, is what todays' wave makers strive for. But we can make an obscure link to natatoria and surfers.

First, we had the "Hawaiian surfers" in the 1929 Munich indoor wave pool newsreel clip. The pool an example of a natatorium and the surfers perhaps Duke Kahanamoku and his brother. Meanwhile on the shores of Waikiki, is the Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial, which...

Opened on Aug. 24, 1927, the birthday of Olympic Gold Medalist and godfather of modern surfing, Duke Kahanamoku, who dives in for the first ceremonial swim before a cheering, capacity crowd of more than 7,000.

Although called a natatorium, the Hawaiian pool is not covered, has no man-made waves, but is by waves. Now here is what brings waves, pools, natatoria and surfing all together.

According to 1965 Surfer magazine interview, the Duke said his worst wipeout was on a 25-foot wave outside of the Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial, where they were coming one right after the other.


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