Dielectric elastomer generators (DEGs) are soft electrostatic generators based on low-cost electroactive polymer materials. These devices have attracted the attention of the marine energy community as a promising solution to implement economically viable wave energy converters (WECs). This paper introduces a hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) simulation framework for a class of WECs that combines the concept of the oscillating water columns (OWCs) with the DEGs. The proposed HIL system replicates in a laboratory environment the realistic operating conditions of an OWC/DEG plant, while drastically reducing the experimental burden compared to wave tank or sea tests. The HIL simulator is driven by a closed-loop real-time hydrodynamic model that is based on a novel coupling criterion which allows rendering a realistic dynamic response for a diversity of scenarios, including large scale DEG plants, whose dimensions and topologies are largely different from those available in the HIL setup. A case study is also introduced, which simulates the application of DEGs on an OWC plant installed in a mild real sea laboratory test-site. Comparisons with available real sea-test data demonstrated the ability of the HIL setup to effectively replicate a realistic operating scenario. The insights gathered on the promising performance of the analysed OWC/DEG systems pave the way to pursue further sea trials in the future.