Surf Snowdonia & Surfing Wave Pools In The UK

The age of the wave pool is upon us! Learn to surf or fine-tune your repertoire with the help of this brief guide to manmade waves in the UK

Like surfing but dislike saltwater, paddling, seaweed, duck dives, and other vexations visited upon traditional surfers by the natural world? Fed up with surfing the UK’s moody and unreliable waves? Well maybe get your self down to a surfing wave pool, where man has taken the place of the Almighty, and clunking machinery pumps out artificial waves according to a strict timetable, and your surfing will progress by leaps and bounds to the rhythm of the manmade shred.

Surfing Wave Pools: Surf Snowdonia Wavegarden

Billy Stairmand in the final of Red Bull Unleashed at Surf Snowdonia. Photo: Red Bull

Surf Snowdonia, which uses Wavegarden technology, opened for business in the summer of 2015, and is currently the UK’s only proper wave pool for surfing. Located in the village of Dolgarrog in the mountains of North Wales, the facility consists of a “surf lagoon” that’s about the size of six football pitches and is divided by a central pier, with a left-hander breaking towards it on one side and a right-hander breaking towards it on the other. Experienced surfers surf close to the pier, where a head-high wave breaks once every 90 seconds, providing rides of around 20 seconds; meanwhile waist-high waves break along the outer edges of the lagoon, perfect for intermediate surfers. At the lagoon’s end, beginners learn to surf on the whitewater.

Surf huts in the foreground, Welsh mountains in the background, the Wavegarden in the middle… a surreal setting for a surf. Photo: Surf Snowdonia

An hour in the lagoon will cost you between £20 and £45, the exact price determined by when you go (weekdays are cheaper) and which part of the lagoon you intend to surf (intermediate and advanced surfers pay slightly more). Beginner surfers can expect to catch one wave every 3 minutes; intermediates will be alternating with maximum one other surfer, advanced surfers with two. Surfboard and wetsuit hire are available, as are surf lessons for all abilities at the Surf Snowdonia Surf Academy (add on an extra £20 or so); you can even stay the night at one of the onsite “surf pods”.

So far reviews have been mostly positive, with a few caveats. The 6ft barrels that were promised prior to opening haven’t yet materialised, and the radically different playing field can take a while to get used to, but the general consensus is that once you get your bearings the place is bags of fun and a great way to improve your surfing, whatever your ability level. The inaugural Red Bull Unleashed contest, the first high profile surf contest to be held in a wave pool in years, took place in September of 2015, and was largely successful — although many, this author included, remain unconvinced that real competitive excitement is possible in such a predictable setting, where every wave is essentially the same. The contestants tended to liken the shape and pace of the wave to Lower Trestles — high praise — but noted that the wave lacks a steeper ramp section for big aerial manoeuvres.

There have been mechanical failures too, resulting in several sustained flat spells and an early closure for winter, which meant the laying off of numerous seasonal and several permanent staff. Perhaps such problems were somewhat inevitable for the world’s first commercial wave pool of its kind, and they now appear to have been solved; arguably a greater setback came in the form of Kelly Slater’s wave pool, which was unveiled in December of 2015, and next to which the Wavegarden all of a sudden looks a little underwhelming.

Surfing Wave Pools: The Wave, Bristol

Efforts are meanwhile underway to secure construction finance for The Wave, Bristol, which was recently granted full planning permission from South Gloucestershire Council. The wave pool will not be a wave garden but a wave loch — a SurfLoch SurfPool, to be precise, which is the latest technology devised by Wave Loch, the company responsible for the first FlowRider. Exactly what this technology will look like we don’t yet know, but it can apparently generate six to eight waves per minute across three different A-frame surf breaks, each surf break geared towards a different level of surfer.

A rendering of the SurfLoch Surf Pool, taken from the Wave Loch website.

“Just like the ocean we use wind (pneumatics) to create our waves,” says Wave Loch founder and CEO Tom Lochtefeld. “After years of research and testing we found that this was the best way to deliver a vast quantity of almond-eyed barrels. By simulating ocean swells that shoal and break over our surfing optimized reefs, we can replicate an experience that is closely comparable to ocean surfing.”

The SurfLoch Surf Pool will make a lot of waves, and a lot of money too, apparently. But this infographic also says the average surfer is highly educated and earns $75,000 a year, so maybe don’t hold your breath…

When it opens — no date has been announced yet — the loch will be accompanied by both “sensory gardens” and “healing gardens”, whatever they are, as well as “activity areas, peaceful hideaways and kitchen gardens, a natural swimming pool, café, changing facilities, accommodation, education centre and retail experience”. Sounds delightful.

Surfing Wave Pools: The Loop FlowRider, Cornwall

The experience of “surfing” a FlowRider is only loosely comparable to that of surfing a real wave in the ocean, in fact it’s probably just as close to skimboarding or snowboarding, and only partly because flowboards don’t have any fins. A FlowRider isn’t actually a wave pool at all, but rather a kind of standing-wave machine, which works by blasting a continuous sheet of water several inches thick at high speeds up a stationary rubber ramp. Regardless of whether or not it’ll do anything to improve your surfing, its synonymous with a jolly good time, and there are several in the UK — including The Loop FlowRider at Ratallack Resort in Cornwall, not too far from Newquay, where admission will cost between £25 and £30.

There are also FlowRiders at Flow House Bedford, Heworth Leisure Centre in Gateshead, Redcar Leisure Centre in North Yorkshire, Cardiff International White Water, and Merton Hotel on Jersey.

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