Published on July 7th, 2015 | by BörnyPhoto by MEO | 1
The MEO Project: A Dam That You Can Surf
Power generation and river surfing are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Learn from Charles Aubert about a unique hydropower dam project and how he plans to reconcile electricity generation and surfing.
Hi Charles, thanks for your time and the opportunity to hear your thoughts on “MEO” – a highly interesting concept for hydropower plants to provide not only power but also act as a place for river surfers. Can you first tell us something about yourself?
I was born in the French Alps in 1986, in Annecy, a small town on a nice lake surrounded by mountains. My Dad is French; Mum is Scottish. I spent most of my childhood with my friends or alone in nature, quickly learned to skateboard, snowboard, and to fish and grow my own veggies – just a nice lifestyle to feel free and happy. Later on, I discovered ocean surfing with one of my best friends and my brother. Having an Australian stepdad was also quite a bonus here!
When I left school, I went to Paris to do my Masters in industrial design which I completed about 5 years ago. Today I’m working as a freelance designer in a collaborative group, which gives me time to organise my life and spend time with associations connected to nature and movements to find new ways of living better in community.
So I really like to try to “go with the flow” in every aspect of my life, taking time to live and give lots of respect to people and nature.
What is your connection to river surfing?
My connection to river surfing came through one of my friends. He heard about a river wave in Lyon that was surfed by kayakers and suggested that we should give it a try with a surfboard, but the wave we were talking about was known as being really dangerous. So he invited me one day to go and try to find a wave in the rivers around our home. That day, we took a mini malibu, a rope, a helmet and our wetsuits, and we headed off in search of a wave.
We want to install a structure that could create a static wave for surfers.
We found a spot we thought could work and managed to surf it for about 3 seconds. It wasn’t working well, but at least we tried it and we had great fun. Later on, we learned of a good place near Geneva in Switzerland not far from Annecy, and that one worked quite well for us and we managed to ride it for several minutes.
Tell us something about the MEO dam project. What is it all about?
It all started at the end of my studies, when I was working on my final diploma project as an industrial designer – on the connection between human beings and water.
As mentioned earlier, I feel very close to nature and coming from Annecy, something inside me was telling me to look around the lake and rivers and the relationships we can have with them. I found there were many cultural problems, in relation to the use of the water, especially problems around dams, and the tensions between communities that shared this magical energy called “water”.
While drawing in my sketchpad and connecting ideas one to the other, suddenly a thought popped up. This “thought wave” refreshed my ideas and, that was it, I realised that the solution was to adapt and rehabilitate an old dam and create a new place where all these different people could meet together, close to water, and learn and share their experiences.
The new design of this dam would answer some ecological problems by opening up a space for sediments to pass beside the structure which would give acess to fish (like trout) to move up and down the river, through the dam just as European legislation is calling for.
In this open space you, we could install a structure that could create a static wave which could be used for both surfers and kayakers.
It is not about competition, it should remain about a deep connection to water.
A spacefor scientists, fishermen should be set up for testing the quality of the water and sharing different kinds of information about it, which would help identify any traces of pollution or other information about the fish, other river species or the general environment which could be shared with all user communities.
With all the riverbanks now being opened up again for people, this spot could be a place where walkers could cross the river and learn about water, the dam and much more.
Finally, it would be really interesting to have a small electric turbine for charging electric bikes and making the dam self-dependent.
What do you think are the biggest challenges concerning the MEO dam project?
The real big challenge with the MEO project is to convince politicians and the owner of the dam (rare to find this, but this dam is private) and then of course find a few more investors. I think the next best step for now is to share the idea, let people know about it and invite them to say what they think. I have now the plan of all the decision-makers. But it is a real challenge to convince them and get solid community backing – and show the real potential of a project like this.
The river surfing scene is growing around the world – what do you think makes river surfing so special?
Surfing rivers is not the same as surfing ocean waves, but it still brings you deeply into the sensation of riding the moment that gives you pure freedom because you are joining with the elements. The water holds freedom, and so do we humans – just going with the flow.
And that’s the way it should be. Especially when you are looking at the quantity of water flowing and you know you can go and ride it – that brings a special quality and momentum to river surfing. Like surfing the Mascaret depending on the moon’s phases.
What do you think about the future of river surfing?
I see a strong community that should be part of protecting the environment and sharing its knowledge and opportunities for fun and enjoyment for everyone. It is not about competition, it should remain about a deep connection to water.
Anything else you would like to pass on to our readers?
If anyone is interested in helping me to develop this idea, give new ideas or just share it and help bring it alive, you can share your thoughts, or write a small commentary about what you think. Of course anyone interested is welcome to contact me, and please do so.
Thanks for your time Charles and all the best for this project!