What’s it like?
It’s a great day out, especially if you go with family, a partner or mate(s) who surf.
It’s not the same as surfing your local break but that’s kinda the point!
My advice: if you’ve never surfed an artificial wave give it a go, it’s a fun experience.
Why did I go?
Believe it or not, I paid in full with my own hard-earned cash to go and have not been incentivised to write this review.
Basically a couple of old mates were going and asked if I fancied it. I originally went for the default response: why would I drive 2 hours and pay £40 to surf, when I can be at my local beach in 20 minutes and surf for free?
But I listened to the Looking Sideways podcast where founder Nick Hounsfield explained why he wanted to create an artificial wave less than an hours drive from real surf.
Spoiler alert: it’s in part to help those who don’t normally go to the beach, discover a fun and healthy activity. There’s a lot more to it than that, but you’ll have to listen to the podcast yourself to find out. But back to the default response…
Why would you pay to surf The Wave?
Let’s face it, the best things in life are free. The same applies to surfing, but surfing The Wave and your local break are almost uncomparable. Sure they both have waves you can ride, but that’s where I believe the similarity ends.
Here’s why you might want to pay for The Wave:
• guaranteed chest-high clean waves
• good chance of getting barrelled
• you can choose to go left or right
• crowds are not a problem
• you get non-stop waves for an hour
• no killer rips or harmful pollution
• it’s a fun experience
What to book
Go advanced if you can ride waist to chest high waves with confidence.
Book a beginners session if you need help to catch waves and stand up.
Intermediate sessions are apparently now available for those who are somewhere in between.
Left or right? Up to you. Technically I think they’re the same but peel in opposite directions. Me and my mates surfed both on the same day with an hour in between. But to be honest I started getting tired half way through the second session. So I probably should’ve either booked one session or left allowed a two hour break in between.
How many sessions? I reckon one session is probably enough for the average surfer. But if you’ve travelled far, or have some spare cash to burn, you might want to book two sessions. Anymore then you’re either rich, sponsored or on drugs.
At time of writing, sessions cost £40 for advanced or intermediate and £55 for beginners.
What to take
Boards and wetsuits are available to hire for no extra charge. There’s plenty of decent wetsuits on offer to match the season and there’s lots of board shapes to play with.
However, if you’re like me you’ll probably want to use your own gear. In my opinion, there’s no point in taking more than two boards. Dashing to the shore and swapping boards will cost you valuable waves.
Your standard default board will be ok. Longboarders and shortboarders of all sizes seemed to be catching as many rides as each other. Chunkier boards won’t catch you more waves because you queue and take turns.
The water’s as cold as the sea, so take the same wetsuits you’d take to the beach e.g. winter gear in winter, summer suit in summer. You won’t need to duck dive, so you might not need a hood.
Don’t forget you’ll be surfing in fresh water, which is a bit weird. I think it’s less buoyant and therefore harder to paddle. That’s my excuse for getting tired quickly and I’m sticking to it! Also for contact lens wearers it’s a bit more of an aggravation (so I’m told by my bionic eyed friend).
Allow plenty of time to get there, park and book in. If you’re late you’ve blown it and unlikely to get a refund.
All the directions you need are on the website, but if you’re driving just take junction 17 off the M5 and head in the opposite direction of Cribbs Causeway. It is signposted 🙂
Once you’ve parked up, check in at the cabin by the car park, then take a 5-10 minute walk to the wave pool and visitor centre.
We managed to grab a lift from a minibus shuttling between. So if you ask nicely, you might be able to do the same. If not don’t stress, it really isn’t that far to walk.
When you arrive at the visitor centre, go and register (through the main doors, through to the wave pool area, turn right and then right again). You’ll watch a quick safety film, then they’ll book you in and give you a rash vest to be worn over your wetsuit (so they know you’ve registered and what group you’re in). Outside next to the pool you’ll find lockers, cold showers, changing cubicles and board racks.
Inside there’s toilets and allegedly a warm shower but I never found it.
Once kitted up, you congregate by the side of the pool you’ve chosen to surf (left or right). You’ll then get a pre-surf briefing from the lifeguard / supervisor. I advise you listen carefully. Cause if you get things wrong, you’ll be called out and look a kook in front of your fellow surfers.
On entering the pool you paddle out along the pier beneath where the Wavegarden machine lives, and form an orderly queue in the far corner where the waves come out. My tip would be to let a couple of other surfers go first, so you can see how and where to paddle into position.
Two important things I found people instantly forget are:
1. Don’t get too close to the mesh protecting the clever underwater tech.
Fins get snapped, toes get twanged and it can freak you out a bit. Especially when paddling out for the first time, as the motion and light rips pull you towards it catching you unawares.
2. If you fall off or lash up the take off, ride the white water to the inside.
You will naturally head for the clean shoulder and to the channel where everyone paddles out for their next wave. The trouble is the next wave and surfer are right behind you. So you’ll either get a board in the face or ruin someone’s ride. Resist the urge and don’t do it. When everyone plays by the rules, everyone gets a good ride.
Don’t stress if you make a mess of a wave and have to ride the mush in. You’ll have plenty of chances to catch another and you’ll avoid the embarrassment of taking the next surfer out.
One of the joys of The Wave is the friendly line up. There’s no snaking, agro or drop ins. Everyone takes their turn, cheer each other on and as a result everyone’s naturally jolly.
What’s The Wave like?
Twenty waves per set, six seconds apart, every wave peels the same way and in the same place. That’s why you can’t exit over the shoulder, because the next surfer is instantly in your face! As you know, wild waves don’t work like that.
Despite the short period between waves and being in touching distance of a concrete wall, the take off is forgiving and easy. Helpful markers on the wall show you where to catch the wave and the lifeguard / safety supervisor will shout instructions as required. Mess the first wave up, you get another chance. Mess the second wave up, you have to paddle round and join the back of the queue.
Once you’re up and riding there’s a nice little drop to help generate speed, a short walling section where you can attempt to grab a barrel and a soft fading finish. Any surfer who can stand up with confidence will be able to ride this wave. That’s the point. If they turned it up to 11, most surfers would get nailed and fail to have fun. Which is why it’s fairly tame and a bit slack compared to 4ft Fistral.
Having said that me and my friends all got at least one verified barrel, which you can’t say about your average UK surf session!
Once you’ve had your wave, you paddle over to the pier and paddle back out again. Short lulls between each set allow you time to paddle back out, recover your breath and go again.
It’s occasionally possible to catch two waves per set if:
• you have a reasonable sized group (I’d guess 12 surfers or less)
• you’re fit and fast at paddling
In my first session I only managed to get a two wave set twice, but the second time I was so knackered I lashed up the take off anyway. I didn’t even try in the second session. I was too tired and I knew I’d catch plenty of waves anyway.
I lost count of how many waves I caught, but I’m guessing 10-12 per session. By the end of both sessions I was puffed out and very happy with my share.
Out of the pool there’s plenty of space to chill, observe and take photos. The pier in between the left and right pools is a perfect place for spectators to watch, heckle and snap great action shots.
For refuelling there’s an indoor cafe and outdoor food vans. Although fenced off when we were there, the surrounding gardens look like they’ll provide a great place to lay back, catch some rays or have a picnic.
If you can’t resist a bit of retail therapy or souvenir shopping, there’s a cool little shop onsite.
I’m sure once the site has been landscaped there’ll be plenty of things to enjoy in and out of the pool, but you probably wouldn’t want to visit unless you’re surfing or been talked into taking photos.
Don’t have a personal photographer available? Fortunately there’s professional photographers at each session who post pics online. These are available for purchase, although I couldn’t find exactly where.
Did I enjoy the experience? Hell yeah!
Would I recommend it? For open-minded, fun-lovers, who seek a novelty surf experience and have £40 spare – sure.
Will I go back? Not in a hurry.
The truth is I’m a believer in the cliche ‘don’t knock it till you’ve tried it’, unless we’re talking about murder or Marmite. I tried it, enjoyed it and got barrelled so have no regrets. But for me, surfing the beaches of North Cornwall is a lot cheaper, quicker to get to and the waves are often better. Until they crank up the power a bit, I won’t be rushing back.
Please share any questions or tips about The Wave in the comments below. I’ll be happy to answer and share.