Ok, so the artificial wave is no longer groundbreaking news in the surfing world. I am sure you have all seen heaps of youtube clips and read countless stories on the subject, some good, some bad.
It seems like it is now a race to see which country can have the most wavepools. So far it looks like the UK is in in the lead. We have the first ever Wavegarden at Surf Snowdonia in Wales, one being built in Bristol, another to be built in the Greater London area and because none of these spots are quiet cold enough, they will construct one in Scotland too.
I met a few surfers who had experienced the Wavegarden in Spain and gave me mixed reviews. So I made a visit to the wavepool at Surf Snowdonia to make up my own opinion on the subject. The wave in Wales was the first Wavegarden in the world to open to the general public.
I wanted to keep the article short. The initial idea was to give you vital information on how to get the best out of a visit to Surf Snowdonia, from a first hand perspective. I will be honest, I am finding it hard. Why? Because the experience has left a massive impression on me which has stayed with me. There is so much more to the Wavegarden than just the wave.
I will try and keep it brief. If you only want the main highlights on how to get the best for you money, then scroll down to the 'key' points. If you want to know more about the whole story, please read on from here.
My experience started from the minute I called the reception to book my sessions. The staff at the front desk instantly gave me the feeling I was about to be part of something fun and unique. They seemed genuinely happy and proud to be part of the Surf Snowdonia family.
When I arrived, I was of course excited, but the moment I stepped through the doors there was an obvious buzz about the place and from the people; staff and the guests alike. It was active, it was welcoming, it was fun. There was no ‘too cool for school’ feeling.
I had my own wetsuit and quickly got changed. Because I am a below average surfer, I met the surf instructors to get some advanced coaching. I was greeted by the Surf Academy manager and my instructor Tim, who was there to get me started on the wave.
It is glaringly obvious that the management runs a tight ship. Being a surf coach myself, I had a close eye on how things would unravel. The team follow the three core values of safety, fun and learning. The surf coaches and lifeguards are hand picked and trained on-sight. The results are a Surf Academy with high quality coaching for all levels of surfers. From a beginner to a high end competitive pro, you can enjoy the safest and most consistent conditions you can find in the world of surfing.
My coach then came with me to rent my board from the surf shop. They have a good selection of boards to choose from and I picked one from the Firewire quiver. The shop over looks the wave and the team watched my sessions from the window. On returning each time, they were always stoked to see me and handing out genuinely heart felt high fives.
My coach was calm and extremely informative on getting me up to speed. He gave me clear instructions on how to approach the wave and actually catch it. I was able to successfully paddle into one and ride it on my fourth attempt, thanks to his guidance and feedback. He assured me that was actually quite quick. He also patiently filmed every wave, which we watched after the lesson. Together we broke down my turns and Tim gave me some great pointers to improve on for my next session.
It took a few goes to get used to the wave. I strongly recommend you do more than session, it really will pay off. It is like any surf session at sea and it takes time to get used to a particular break, that is how one should approach this spot. Yeah, it has waves at the touch of a button, but it does not mean you can ride it at the touch of a button. You have to learn how to read the wave, it has sections like a real wave and I think a lot of people have gone for only one hour expecting it to be easy. Surfing in general is not easy. You have to be ready to adapt and adjust your approach to be successful, on anything you ride.
That said, the wave is consistent and once you understand it, everything opens up for you, letting you perfect or progress your manoeuvres super quick. You will get your fair fix of rides and if you get lucky scoring the pool to yourself, you can rack up to thirty six waves in one hour. Now sit back and think about that. How often could you claim that wave count consistently anywhere else?
The next day I got paired up with my second instructor. He watched and filmed me on a cool coaching app they have, which can break down the wave in slow-motion. He could then drew lines on the image to highlight areas of improvement. Things like, where to move the head or arms in certain parts of the turn, or lines to show you where your surfing path should be and so on. It was an amazing teaching tool and super effective. They can also send it to you via email so you can watch it over and over again.
Before going to Wales, I had hit a lull in my surfing progression. The two days spent at the Wavegarden with the instructors honestly stepped up my game. It was worth the money and I am definitely going back for more. I am looking forward to taking my new found skills to the next surf session on the coast.
On sight there is a professional photography team, Surfphotohut, who snap pictures of your sessions so you can see how styling you look. They take quality shots. If you tell them in advance, then they will focus their lens on your session and you can get a lot of images for you wall of fame.
You might be thinking that these guys were aware about my visit and my intentions to write an article, but the truth is, they did not know. The welcome and stoke was genuine.
The keys to success when going to the Wavegarden at SurfSnowdonia:
Be open minded- It is more than just a wave, it is a full blown experience on many different levels. This is not a crazy over head barreling wave and does not claim to be. It is not trying to replace ‘real’ surfing. It is a great place to have fun and progress your skills, which you can then take to the sea.
Choose the right surfboard for the wave- I saw guys with skinny short boards with low volumes and it did not work for them. Every wave is different, be it man made or natural and we have quivers for a reason. I had a fun board, 5’3 Couch Potato at 33l with a flatter rocker, wider nose and tail, designed for smaller fun waves. Unless you are a pro, start with a fun shape with volume. Get used to the wave and then try other boards.
Get some coaching- This is the best place to get some professional coaching and it is where the Wavegarden excels. The learning curve and opportunities to practice your skills over and over in such a consistent environment is nearly impossible anywhere else in the world. The guys do give you some free advice and intro to how to catch the wave for your first attempts. They are a cool bunch and if they see you struggling, they are quick to give a few pointers.
Be adaptable - The wave is at the touch of a button, but it does not mean you can just rock up and shred it at a touch of a button. Like any surf session around the world, waves have their own character that you have to bond with. This wave is different and you have to change your approach slightly to ride it.
Do more than 1 hour- Seriously, you will not regret it. A few people I spoke with only did an hour and were only just getting the hang of it by the end of their session. I could see these folks had skills, they just needed more time to really dial in the wave. Others I spoke to did a few sessions and were getting more and more stoked each session.
I want to say a big thank you for the the warm welcome to Surf Snowdonia and if you find yourself in the area, be sure to swing by and have a go.