August 12, 2015

Surf Snowdonia Makes Surfing History and Stirs Debate

The Surf Snowdonia site in Wales, UK.

In a quiet, misty valley beneath the breathtaking Snowdonia Mountains lies the ancient village of Dolgarrog. It sounds like a place plucked right out of Middle Earth. But instead of Hobbits and Elves, it’s home to surfing’s ultimate man-made attraction – Surf Snowdonia. This revolutionary world’s-first inland surfing lagoon opened to the public on August 1st after 12 months of construction and has changed the surf world forever. While the Welsh countryside hardly seems like the place for a surfing revolution, this man-made wave has produced the best artificial wave ever seen or surfed.

The Wave

Surf Snowdonia was one of the first companies to license Wavegarden technology. The Wavegarden is a company from the Basque region in Spain that developed a patented wavefoil design that can produce consistent waves with good shape and power. The system uses a covered catwalk to conceal a “plow” that is pulled through the water. This creates a swell that then breaks on the shore of the lagoon. The surfing lagoon at Surf Snowdonia measures 300 meters by 120 meters and provides the opportunity for visitors from all over the planet to ride ocean-like waves tailored for surfers of all ability levels. Waves range between 0.7m and 2 m high, with a lengthy surfing experience of 16 seconds per wave. It is the longest and biggest man-made wave ever produced in the world.

The Wavegarden team was of course thrilled at the result in Snowdonia. “Although fine-tuning the machinery generally takes several months to execute, our engineers have accelerated the process in order to meet the initial launch date,” the company said in a press release. “We are very pleased with the waves being produced during the commissioning phase. Some professional surfers have tested the expert wave, rating it as a high performance wave that offers plenty of speed and power. This is excellent news and we will continue to fine-tune the machinery in order to create even better waves very soon.”

Jayce Robinson, one of UK’s top surfers, was fortunate enough to be one of the first people to test out the waves on offer at Surf Snowdonia. “The wave was longer than what I imagined it would be, it was really maneuverable and allowed me to practice a combination of turns”, exclaimed Robinson. “It’s definitively a great training ground to practice for competitive surfing”.

Surf Snowdonia’s Sneak Peek Video

Following an exhaustive process of research and testing on three evolving full-scale prototypes for over a decade, Surf Snowdonia was the first Wavegarden lagoon to open to the public.  Now, several companies have licensed the technology. An Austin, Texas park is slated to open in 2016 and is boasting a lagoon large enough for a 35 second ride. Many more Wavegarden facilities around the world are being built, or are scheduled for construction. The main reason why this wave-making technology has edged out the traditional and even prototype designs and spawned a new era of “wave pools” is the relatively low cost of construction and use. Without requiring huge amounts of energy to produce swells and having no poured-in place concrete the technology gets an Eco-friendly rating and is the first to be commercially viable with a 20% return expected on investment.

The Resort

Surf Snowdonia has essentially created a facility based on the ski resort business model. While the wave lagoon is the main attraction to the park, there is also a surf academy compound, a cafe and bar with front-row viewing of the surf, coffee shops, a retail surf shop, and 36 wooden camping “pods” accommodating 4 persons each. Completing the resort is the Crash and Splash Lagoon with a “watery assault course”, and a water themed play shack for the groms overlooking the lagoon.

At $70 per hour, the prices may seem relatively expensive, but buying a bundle of hours can get it down to $45 per hour. You get 20 waves during the hour and are assured to be the only one on each wave you ride. The camping pods are only $100 per night and include full breakfast, so if you have four people that brings it down to $25 each. So, for three sessions a day and accommodations you’re looking at $160 a day. Not bad considering quality surf camps around the world range from $150-$400+ a day.

Surf Snowdonia Resort

Concerns and Consequences

While most surfers would love to get the chance to surf a Wavegarden lagoon, some surfing purists disagree. After the first full week of operation, comments on social media posts and forums range from ecstatic to bummed. Many see wave parks as a thorn in the side of authentic surfing, allowing inland wannabees the ability to eventually crowd already over-populated surf spots in the real ocean. But in reality, a surfer that learns at the park would never be able to develop wave knowledge and paddling skills learned from years in an ever-changing sea. Others just have an overall disgust at commercializing anything about surfing and complain that it’s just a way for non-surfing business men to capitalize off of surfing. Meanwhile, pro surfers have expressed that they love the park and feel it’s an ideal place to train. Overall, the general surfing population clearly wants a crack at the new wave technology and anticipates new park openings closer to home.

As the Nland Surf Park in Austin, Texas opening draws near, there will undoubtedly be more stoke and backlash caused by a Wavegarden lagoon when it opens next year. Since it’s on American soil there will be a ton of news coverage and mainstream attention to get already salty surfers extra-opinionated about it.

From an environmental standpoint, Surf Snowdonia stayed on path with the Wavegarden’s Eco-friendly objective. The whole site was an industrial wasteland until a year ago, so no natural habitat was destroyed during construction. The facility has crushed and reused 25,000 cubic meters of onsite material, and 85% of the stone that was used used in construction is recycled. They’ve also managed to recycle 400 tons of steel, cast iron, and copper from the site. In addition, the technology uses a fraction of the energy required by traditional pump-based wavepools making it economically viable while using less resources. They should add an array of solar panels and make it even more sustainable.

Olympic Ramifications

There’s no doubt that having a consistent wave machine is something tailor made for competitions. Surfing has been trying to crawl it’s way into the Olympic scene for quite some time. Actually, since the beginning of time. Surfing’s first ambassador and the father of the sport, Duke Kahanamoku expressed to the International Olympic Committee during the 1912 Summer Games in Sweden that surfing belongs in the Olympic Games.

Not much action was taken after that until 1994, when the International Surfing Association found a new president in Fernando Aguerre. Fernando co-founded Reef Footwear with his brother and has remained the driving force in getting surfing into the Olympics ever since becoming the ISA pres. It has been a decades long struggle for Aguerre, but he has made some headway in discussions for the 2020 Games in Tokyo. As the Olympic Committee search for ways to appeal to a younger audience surfing has been pushed to the shortlist of possible new sports. In fact, Aguerre’s Japanese envoy, pro surfer Masatoshi Ohno’s Instagram feed shows Ohno and Aguerre celebrating at an Olympic meeting in Japan last week! No other news or information has been given as there’s likely a formal statement coming from the Olympic Committee. Stay tuned for more info.


Progression is Inevitable

As more and more Wavegardens appear on the international surf scene in the coming years the progression of the sport could evolve exponentially. Of course, this only refers to small wave, high-performance based surfing. As established pros take to the lagoons and surf a wave that breaks exactly the same every time it will allow for an easier way to learn and perfect a new maneuver. While no two waves in the ocean will ever be alike, the precision of the Wavegarden surf will give pros the same lip to launch off of at exactly the same spot, every time. This will allow surfing to evolve as fast as skateboarding and snowboarding, two board sports where riders use static ramps, obstacles, and jumps. It’s definitely an interesting moment for surfing’s future.

  • surfing-in-the-olympics
    A major factor in getting surfing into the Olympics will be a consistent playing field. Wavegarden technology is leading the forefront of man-made wave design and will play a vital role in the 2020 Olympics. The Wavegarden surf lagoon at Surf Snowdonia, Wales, UK.

Surf Snowdonia Grand Opening

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