Let’s start with a confession. Surfing very nearly cost me my relationship. There was a time when my girlfriend and I would blast down to north Devon for the weekend with boards strapped to the roof of my Ford Capri, only to drive back with the boards still dry after long periods driving around the coast looking for a wave that met with my admittedly exacting standards. My missus – not a surfer – would be furious at the waste of time.
But that’s what surfing is like; you can dedicate hours to this pastime that is capable of offering huge highs but may also be the most fickle of mistresses. Unlike golf, where you can set aside an afternoon and guarantee yourself a round; surfing is utterly dependent on the weather conditions.
At least it was until Surf Snowdonia opened last year.
Surf Snowdonia claims to offer a unique chance to surf a man-made wave. Just think about this for a moment; no wasted hours driving, no sitting on your board staring out to sea hoping for a swell to appear. Instead, you have the chance to practise on a consistent wave every three minutes. What’s not to love?
Better than reality
Actually, it’s worth thinking about this for more than a minute. This place, on the edge of Snowdonia National Park, was once the site of an aluminium smelting works, which, like so many other heavy industries in the UK, closed down, leaving a bunch of derelict buildings and some heavily polluted land. Yet Andy Ainscough, Managing Director at Surf Snowdonia, and his family who owned the plot reckoned it would be perfect for the site of the world’s first commercial, man-made surfing wave. Fast forward several years and, using the Wavegarden tech developed in northern Spain, they were proven right.
At first sight, this is an amazing scene. An oval lake, approximately the size of a running track, with a pier running down the centre. On one side, a collection of camping pods, and on the other, the surf academy, shops and restaurants. Every three minutes, what looks like a submarine conning tower powers through the water, driving a wedge along the lake’s bed to create a perfect wave over submerged ‘reefs’.
Access to the wave is carefully controlled so it never gets too crowded: three riders on each side rotate to take the Advanced take-off spot; two surfers on each side take the Intermediate slots; and numerous beginners practise in the white water at the ends of the lagoon. Intermediates like me pick up the white water of the advanced wave, the idea being that it’s easier to catch, before it then rebuilds and turns into a fresh, smaller, green wave.
So, after a quick explanation, I am taken out to have my lesson on the Intermediate wave with Belgian instructor Reuben. We paddle out to the launch spot and he takes his place alongside me to watch my style. As the 2m green wave looms and carries an advanced surfer towards me, he yells “paddle” and we’re off. The first thing that strikes me is the power of the wave; the white water surges over me before I know it and the next thing I know I’m flipped over, tumbled around, and I pop up to the surface gasping for air. And smiling. This is just like the real thing.
Except it’s not, because unlike in the sea, all I have to do to get another go is wait for the ‘conning tower’ to travel back in the opposite direction. This time, the old magic is returning and
I pop up proudly, only to topple off before the green wave forms. Then it’s over to the shore for a debrief from Reuben. “Your arms are wrong. Think of a boxer. Put your hands up at chest height in front of you. Also, lean to steer across the wave before you pop up. And don’t jump up, stand more gradually. And steer more slowly, by twisting from the hips.”
So basically, I’ve been doing it all wrong for years. I mutter something about how it’s hard on a rental board, but I know I sound like a petulant teenager. In my defence, how would I know any better? Because how could anyone ever have analysed my style before when I’ve only ever grabbed the occasional wave among a crowded line-up? Here, I can get feedback, implement it, and repeat. Every three minutes!
I try again and again, improving by increments, only to hear another amend. “Look up! If you are on your bike, do you stare at the pedals?”. By the end of my 90 minute lesson, I’ve cracked it. At least, I know what Reuben is on about. It’s just that I’m trying to undo my well-ingrained habits.
I now have an hour’s free surf to put his new ideas into practice.
Time after time, I paddle out, lean into prone position, stand, raise my arms, lower my centre of gravity, lift my head, turn my body… and it bloody well works.
As I leave the water, I get a feeling I’ve never experienced after surfing. Yes, it’s always fun; and it’s always a good workout. But this time, there’s a real sense of achievement. I genuinely
feel I have improved.
And I definitely will return. I’ve got my eye on the Advanced take-off point. What’s more, I’ll bring my now-wife and kids, knowing that there’s no risk to my marital status any longer; she can enjoy a glass of Sauv Blanc while watching me and kids grab a wave or 20.
How we did it
Driving is straightforward but it is pretty remote. Trains are an option: Virgin Trains go to Llandudno Junction where you can get a cab. Accomodation is available in camping pods on-site: £100 per pod per night for 3-4 people; £70 for 2. Breakfast included.
Sessions cost from £20 (including surfboard hire); lessons cost from £40.
Aloe Up Pro Ultra Sport SPF 15 Sunscreen Lotion
You may be in Wales, but the sun can still catch you out, so be prepared.
No Fear Longboard
The cool way to travel from Pod to bar is to skate around the lake.