Last year I was lucky enough to attend the RedBull Unleashed event where I managed to snag a few artificial waves. Though I got a taste of what it was like, I came home frustrated knowing I hadn't given it a complete go.
A few weeks ago the opportunity came up again and I decided to head back up to Surf Snowdonia to give the wavegarden wave a full inspection. In this blog I'll be unveiling everything you need to know about the UK's first ever commercial wavepool.
Let’s face it, most UK surfers will be based around the South West and so the drive is quite a daunting thing to envisage. Even for our friends over in South Wales, Newcastle-upon-tyne or Scarborough, you’re still looking at about a 4 hours drive to get yourself to Dolgarrog, the UK’s brand new surfing destination.
Here’s my tip, wherever you leave from, leave early and give yourself plenty of leeway in order to arrive on time for your session. Plan your journey around rush hours too because chances are you’ll be driving through either Bristol, Birmingham or Liverpool, perhaps even Manchester, which are all prone to some serious traffic jam time.
Better yet, head up with your crew/squad/gang, leave the day before and make a road trip out of it.
Once you're past Liverpool, prepare yourself for a change of scenery. The minute you hit the coastal road at the top of Wales, you’ll find yourself imagining a classic road trip along the North Coast of Spain. With its cliff top road and its huge green hills falling straight into the sea, the resemblance is pretty uncanny. Head a little inland and you’ll find one of the most beautiful areas in the world. Between the lakes, rivers, hills and little villages, the Conwy area definitely provides the goods when it comes to charm and peace of mind.
If you’re worried you won’t enjoy the WaveGarden surf lagoon and risk getting bored whilst staying in Dolgarrog, then it’s worth reminding you of all the other things you can do in the area. Snowdonia is absolutely filled with other action-packed attractions starting with Zip World Velocity, the longest zip line in Europe and fastest in the world! A few miles down you’ll also find Zip World Titan, the only 4 person zip line in Europe.
There’s mountain bike trails pretty much everywhere and notably at Coed-y-Brenin, one of the best MTB centres in the UK; and if you’re into your walking then why not gear up and attack Mount Snowdon, Wales’ most famous climb.
Surf Snowdonia is not just a lake, and the set up is actually pretty amazing. You'll find a relaxed cafe with self-service breakfast/snack facility and a restaurant/bar for those looking to fill themselves up properly after a solid surf. Expect delicious pizzas, burgers, meat and fish options as well as nibbles and sweets.
Round the back of the cafe/restaurant you’ll find the changing rooms. Very ‘swimming pool’ like, these give you the first taste of the novelty that is the Surf Snowdonia experience. Let’s face it, it’s not every day you get to get changed in the warmth with hot showers, loos and lockers at your disposition!
Next to this sits the Surf Academy. The 40ft tall warehouse-like surf school provides yet again another surreal experience. The staff there will talk you through how the lagoon, wave and surfer rotation system work. At the reception they’ll advise you to arrive there in your wetsuit and ready to go roughly 20 minutes prior to your session start time. Though this doesn’t seem like much, it will feel like a lifetime.
My advice here is to take the time to ask all the questions you have for the staff, and then start warming up 5/10 minutes before you need to get in.
Across the lagoons sit the surf pods, where guests stay overnight. This area is reserved to guests only and as such have a nice little ‘exclusive club’ kind of vibe. Though the pods themselves are relatively small inside (2 narrow single bed/sofas and a double bed at the back), the outdoor space is turfed out and furnished with comfy wooden benches, which make for the ideal hang out area after a surf.
Now to the most important question, what is the wave actually like? In a nutshell: super fun.
Your first ‘successful’ wave will blow your mind without a doubt. The feeling that you get when you see the wave rising up from nothing sure is weird, but it’s damn exciting. That being said, there’s definitely a knack to it, and so there’s no guarantee you’ll even catch your first wave.
When you’re waiting for the machinery to get going, make sure to sit as close to the fence as possible. All the power of the wave comes from the plough that runs beneath the pier, so the closer you sit to it the more it’ll pick you up.
Though this sounds silly but it’s hugely important. As the wave starts coming towards you, make sure to paddle parallel to the fence. As soon as it starts picking you up however, you’ve got to let the wave dictate the direction in which you paddle - you’ll find that it starts pushing you away from the fence. Whilst you’ll want to keep a certain amount of angle for your takeoff, this is important because the breaking point of the wave actually sits about 1m50 away from the fence, so if you stick too close to the pier you’ll likely miss it.
You’ll be surfing in freshwater, which means that naturally you’ll float a little less. In order to make sure you don’t lose any paddle power, I recommend to pick a board with a couple of extra litres. Not only will it help you paddle easier, it’ll also do a better job getting you over the fatter sections of the wave, and allow you to produce a slightly smoother overall performance.
Though they are designed to all be identical, you’ll find that each wave is actually relatively different. Here’s my theory. In the ocean, waves are formed as a result of hundreds of miles of swell building, which means that by the time it gets to the shore it’ll behave in a fairly predictable way regardless of the wind (the wind will mostly only affect the surface of the wave as opposed to how it breaks). In the wave garden lake, the wave pops out of nowhere, and though it does pack a fair amount of punch, it’s a very superficial type of energy. This means that the wind will affect it greatly. Strong offshore will hold it back (especially the takeoff, beware!) whilst strong onshores will make the wave smaller and crumbly. The good news is that the waves go both ways up and down the pier, and the pier itself can provide a lot of shelter too. So while your South-side righthander might be windy, small and crumbly, the North-side righthander will be sheltered and hold up nicely with the offshore.
This is quite simple to understand. The further down the pier the wave goes the more water it will have moving behind it. This means that the end section will be the most powerful part of the wave and that's where you'll be able to generate the most amount of speed. Keep that in mind!
Whilst it may not look like it, the wave is actually designed to provide you with a little close out section at the end. This is, in my opinion, a great addition to the design. It allows you to tee off and finish your wave off properly. Note that you probably won’t see it coming on your first few waves. You’ve got to know it’s coming to make sure you time your last bottom turn right and that’ll take a few waves to get right.
I’d give Surf Snowdonia a 8/10!
Epic venue, super fun wave and a real novelty experience. It’s an absolute must-try for surfers of all abilities. Best way to do it would be to go with a bunch of friends and make it a week of North Wales fun. I’d recommend 1-2 hours of surfing per day (it really is tiring trust me!) and save a couple of days for other activities in the area.
The drive and the price are the two factors, in my opinion, that could stop you from coming more than a couple of times a year. That being said, it’s well worth the money. Book your spot now!
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