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Surfing a Secret Spot, Bristol (Part 1)

Surfing a Secret Spot, Bristol (Part 1)

The good old days

Who else remembers the good old days, specifically 2014? Nobody was panic buying toilet paper or petrol, and the closest most of us had come to a pandemic at that point was watching Hollywood blockbusters like ‘Contagion’ (2011) and ‘Outbreak’ (1995).

Outbreak Film

Rad wetsuit design, Outbreak, 1995 (Warner Bros)

2014 was also the year in which the Crowdfunder campaign was completed for a new, ambitious and highly secret inland surfing location in Bristol, which we now all know as ‘The Wave’ (ok, maybe not so secret).

Chez and I, along with six friends, checked our wallets, piggy banks and down-the-back-of-the-sofa savings to contribute a combined £700 to the campaign, which secured us early access to The Wave before it opened to the public. We knew it was going to be a long wait, but waiting for good waves comes with the territory when you're a UK surfer, right?!

The grand opening

After unimaginable amounts of hard work, @Wavemakernick made his dream a reality when The Wave finally opened its doors in October 2019. Unfortunately, for various reasons (not least COVID), we weren’t able to take our chance to surf it before it opened to the public. Instead, Chez and I waited another couple of years before paddling our way up the M5 in September 2021 to check it out.

It felt odd driving away from Cornwall with the guarantee of good waves ahead of us, but then we're living in a strange new reality these days, where odd seems to be the new normal, so going with the flow was the order of the day.

Arrival, Checking-in and ‘the walk’

Arriving at The Wave is a somewhat surreal experience. Neither of us particularly felt that we'd just arrived at the UK's premiere oasis for land-locked surfers. We were greeted by a heavily pot-holed, stony car park and a shipping container check-in desk. If the check-in desk hadn't been there, we could have been at any number of lesser known parking spots in Cornwall!

Unperturbed, we grabbed our gear from the car, headed over to register our arrival and then started the relatively long walk to the main building. In the image below you can see just how far you have to walk.

The Wave Satellite Image

The long and slightly winding road.

This is the first part of the experience that you've probably already heard about. Yes, it's a 15 minute walk from the car park to the main building. Yes, it's a pain if you're carrying a lot of gear. Yes, you will probably complain about it. And yes, someone much younger and better at skateboarding than you WILL cruise past with 3 boards, a wetsuit and a pasty looking WAY cooler than you ever will.

The Walk

Ultimately, you arrive at the same place - the big glass entrance to the new Mecca for those people not lucky enough to taste the salt when they step outside their front door.

First impressions

The centre

The entrance to the main building is all glass and wood and...wait, do you actually want to hear about this, or are you just here for the good stuff? Well, just hear me out...there's a Café on your left, a retail area on your right, and a handful of vintage boards for all you board geeks to nerd out on (why are you all looking at me? Oh right, yes...)

The Lake

The Lake

The Lake

Unless you're genuinely just there for a sausage roll and a new leash (come on, really?), you'll probably bypass the café and the shop in favour of being involuntarily drawn to what is directly ahead of you: The Lake.

After that walk from the car park, walking out to the lake felt a bit like the scene in The Endless Summer where they drift across the sand dunes to discover Cape St Francis for the first time.

Even if you've watched all the review videos you can find on YouTube, nothing can quite prepare you for your first glimpse of machine generated waves, appearing as if from nowhere. Where do I buy one of these things and will it fit in my garden?! Maybe the retail area has some in stock...

Our first decision was to walk out along the central pier. As we did so, a new group of surfers were paddling out for their lunchtime 'Advanced' session. It really is a surreal experience seeing a completely flat swimming pool suddenly transformed into consistent left and right peaks, gently peeling their way across the turquoise lagoon. A few miles away, business men and women sit talking about high-powered business things in Alan Partridge style conference centres.

Looking down at the group paddling alongside the pier to get to the take-off zone reveals stunning blue water and a distinct lack of sewage outlet pipes. Talk about a missed marketing opportunity to address all of those 'not as good as the ocean' naysayers.

Paddle Out

The (pre/post-surf) facilities

Before we get onto the actual sessions we surfed, let's talk a bit about the experience pre/post surf.

The good:

Checking-in for your session

This is a simple and pain-free experience to let the team know that you're ready for your surf. You do this around 45 minutes prior to your session, and they tell you where (and when) you need to be for the compulsory safety briefing.

Toilets

There are male and female toilets both inside and outside the main complex. Ideal for when you've got pre-wave nerves, or when it dawns on you that going in your wetsuit is NOT acceptable in an artificial pool compared to the ocean (yes, we all do it).

Warm-up area

There's a nice little patch of artifical grass where you can sit pre-surf to collect your thoughts / psych yourself up / silently judge everyone else about to paddle out with you. This is a great place to start chatting to other people in your group, as you'll find yourself doing once you're out in the water.

Warming Up

Warm-up / safety briefing area.

Hot showers

Is there anything better than a warm shower immediately after you've left the water?

The not so good:

Changing pods

Whilst the changing pods provide some shelter from the elements, the fact that they're fundamentally designed for climbing into and out of a wetsuit means that they're maybe a little shabby, and this shouldn't come as a huge surprise. Yes, you're paying top dollar to surf this spot, but when you're used to pulling your pants up whilst using your car as a wind break, even a slightly shabby changing pod feels a little bit luxurious! Just remember, like 'real' surfing, the reward is in the actual surfing, not in the changing experience.

Lockers

This is one area where The Wave team could really make some improvements. There are loads of lockers to lock your things away whilst you surf, but we found that a significant number of them didn't work. They either didn't lock or didn't unlock. It's not a major thing, but it feels like something that should be improved.

Part 2

Ok, so if you're still with me, check out Part 2,

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