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Surfing a Secret Spot, Bristol (Part 2)

Surfing a Secret Spot, Bristol (Part 2)

So, I was telling you about the retail area...

I wasn't actually telling you about the retail area, was I? I was teasing you with promises of details about our actual experiences surfing The Wave. But first...

A note on our surfing abilities

Chez and Sam

Sam (regular)

If I had to categorise my surfing, I would put myself into the 'solid UK intermediate' category. I'm not an 'Australian intermediate' busting airs in my sleep, but I'm also not a 'surfed-once-on-holiday-in-Newquay intermediate'.

I still have a lot to learn (who doesn't?), I make mistakes, I fall every now and then, but I can surf most conditions we get here in the UK. I'm comfortable in bigger waves and surf every chance I get back home in Cornwall. For our trip to The Wave, I was riding a 5'8" Nigel Semmens thruster coming in at just under 25 litres.

Chez (goofy)

If I had to categorise Chez's surfing, I'd say she is an intermediate who lets her head convince her otherwise, and who prefers the company of smaller waves. That's probably something that most surfers will be able to relate to in some shape or form. For our trip to The Wave, Chez was riding an old, beaten-up but much loved 8ft mini-mal.

Surfing The Wave

Surfing

As part of our Crowdfunder reward, we had two hours each to use on any level we wanted. Chez picked the intermediate session, initially booking a left and a right. I booked an advanced right and an advanced+ right. It's also worth mentioning that we surfed on a Monday at the end of September, so not the busiest time of year or day of week. We purposefully picked a weekday when we hoped it would be quieter as well as a month where the water would still be warm, we hear it gets quite nippy in the winter!

Advanced Right (one session)

My first session was just after lunch on the advanced right, with a total of 13 of us in the group. I have to admit to feeling really nervous before paddling out.

I don't know why I felt nervous, the wave looked totally manageable, certainly nothing to worry about compared to what I surf at home. But something about the unfamiliar surroundings and the element of the unknown just put me slightly on edge. Additionally you perhaps lose the sense of anonymity you get with being in the vastness of the Atlantic. You feel like all eyes will be on you when it's your turn, which is generally not really the case. Everyone is just doing their own thing and worrying about their own rides.

After the mandatory safety briefing, I made small-talk with a few other people in my group as we made our way to the water's edge. I completely relaxed the minute my board hit the water and I started to paddle. It's strange how the mind works!

The paddle out was really easy. A gentle rip assists your paddle out along the netting of the central pier, and before you know it you're lined up with everyone else in the corner where the wave is generated. This is just another part of the slightly surreal element of surfing The Wave, but one you get used to quickly. Almost immediately, the magic starts to happen as the strangely sinister sound of machinery drifts into your conscious mind.

Each wave is preceded by a drop in water level and a sense of being sucked back towards the corner of the pool. As the queue of surfers each takes their turn, you paddle to stay in position, and place yourself next to a couple of pre-defined markers on the wall of the pool (against which you're fairly closely positioned for take-off). You can see an example marker in the photo below, this was the front marker for the intermediate surfers, showing roughly where you should be popping up.

Take-off marker example

Intermediate take-off marker.

Photo credit: @imagecabin / @lifeoutthere.photography

I don't think I can describe how different it is paddling for an artificial wave compared to paddling for a wave in the ocean. As you feel yourself being sucked back towards the wave, you paddle to remain stationary whilst the wave picks up and allows you to make the drop.

The 'wavemakers' run 3 or so sets at a 'starting' level, and then ramp the waves up as you progress through the hour.

I found the take-off and drop on the advance wave really gentle. It's like a mellow beach break and won't be a challenge for anyone with a half decent pop-up. 

What I found trickier is what happens after you make that first little section. At this point, the advanced wave really backs off, leaving a tricky little weak section to navigate before picking up again to ride it out and get in a few turns. I have to admit it took me a little while to get the hang of that little flat section. Just like a weak beach break, I might have benefited from a little more foam under my feet. Or, if I'm being honest, maybe just being a slightly better surfer!

At the end of the advanced wave there is a tiny little barrel if you're good enough to squeeze in. Sadly for me, only my right hand was good enough, but as with the best pros on the WSL, I'm going to claim it.

Sam on the advanced right

Sam's hand getting some shade.

Photo credit: @imagecabin / @lifeoutthere.photography

It's probably worth noting at this point that the board I'm riding in the pic above is not my Nigel Semmens. On my 3rd or 4th wave I noticed a little chunk of my rail missing. Somehow I'd managed to get a little rail crunch on my board, possibly from the concrete bottom where the 'reef' is really shallow towards the end of the wave. I paddled in and grabbed a hire board for the rest of my session, which cost me £15. I was probably out of the water for 3 minutes max.

My overall feeling about the advanced wave is that it's an easy take-off, but requires you to be absolutely on the money with your positioning to make the most of the rest of the wave.

Advanced+ Right (one session)

Sam on Advanced+

Actual spray!

Photo credit: @imagecabin / @lifeoutthere.photography

After a good, long break (I recommend leaving 2-3 hours between surfs), I reluctantly slid back into my cold wetsuit in preparation for my 6pm session on the advanced+ right hander. I was, without question, more nervous for this session than the advanced session. Everyone seemed a bit more 'serious' about it than the advanced.

In my 3-hour break, I'd managed to undertake an emergency ding repair, so was back on my own board for the full session. Paddling out was the same experience as the advanced wave, but with far more people (17 in total, which I think is the maximum they can run with).

The first noticeable difference compared to the advanced wave was the take-off, which felt steeper than the advanced wave, as you would expect. I found myself drifting too close to the wall without really realising it, and subsequently not angling my take-off enough. As a result, I failed to make around a third of my waves on the take-off. I just couldn't nail that initial drop.

Where I concentrated more on my positioning on take-off (angling, and slightly further away from the wall) I had no problems popping up actually surfing the wave.

The wave itself, once you've nailed the take-off is, in my opinion, much more fun than the advanced wave. It walls up for the duration of the wave, rather than backing off like the advanced wave. This allows you to put in a series of good turns before tucking in at the end (again, if you're good enough, or have a talented right hand to tuck in on its own).

I'll let Chez take over from here...

Intermediate Left (two sessions)

Chez Intermediate Left

Focus.

Photo credit: @imagecabin / @lifeoutthere.photography

Similar to Sam, I was also incredibly nervous going into my session, I was first to surf out of myself and Sam due to the way the available sessions were timed and this actually played in my favour, giving me less time to watch others and let my anxiety levels rise. I was forced to just get in and give it a go which definitely helped me!

I'm much more comfortable on my front-side, surfing left-handers, so I booked the Intermediate left to give myself the easiest conditions for my first go. The paddle out was super easy along the pier and I purposefully made an effort to talk to the other people surfing the session. The source of my surf nerves in the sea usually come from being the only girl in the line-up and not feeling good enough to be out there. Assuming I can't paddle for and catch a wave compared to the guy next to me or that I'll be judged for being a bit of an amateur. We watched Kat's South West YouTube review the night before, in which Kat described her mixed feelings about the Wave and the pressure she felt surfing the intermediate wave. I recognised so many of my negative emotions about surfing in her video and it really helped me focus on a bit of a plan for my surf. I chatted to the guys who were on my session and it was encouraging that many of them were also nervous, new to the wave and a bit unsure of how they were going to do. We were all in the same boat!

Almost too quickly, the motor hummed into gear and suddenly the waves started pumping out from the corner we were all bunched up in. It was my go and I paddled up to the marked point, the person in front of me caught their wave and then it was my turn to be sucked back and pushed out on to the wave face. I caught my first few waves fairly easily, managing a decent ride - not particularly stylish but I caught them! The rest of the session went better than I could have hoped for; I relaxed, I had fun, I caught a lot of waves and after the take off became a bit more routine I could focus on my positioning, speed and stance whilst on the wave. There were about 11 of us in the group (way quieter than the right-hander) and with 35 waves to a set I was easily getting two waves per set. I came out of the water feeling pretty ecstatic, I really hadn't expected to get on as well as I did.

I had initially booked the right for my second go, timed for a few hours later so I could watch Sam's Advanced session and have some lunch in between. Watching Sam I realised how much busier the right was compared to the left, so I checked and there were about 10 fewer people on the upcoming Intermediate left compared to the right. I ditched all good intentions of working on my backhand and opted for the left, which had only 6 people on it. During the session I had 3 waves per set if I paddled 'outback' with some speed or if the person sat in front of me in the queue opted to sit out on their go. This actually happened quite frequently with me hopping ahead of one or two people when they were too tired and wanted a breather. This also contributed to a pretty relaxed vibe compared to Sam's packed sessions, for me there were more waves than everyone wanted so people were very relaxed if you paddled and missed the wave and went for the one behind. In Sam's sessions with 17 in the water it was critical you got your wave and didn't waste it. 

The difference between the waves I caught in my first surf compared to my second one show a clear improvement in my positioning and my stance. Similar to the Advanced wave there is a little flat section in the middle of the wave so I was really concentrating on keeping high on the wave and making it past the slower section with some speed, ready for the wave picking up towards the end. I came away from the day feeling pretty damn great. I just wish we'd been able to go with some friends and all be in the water at the same time, it would have been quite a party. 

Chez Intermediate Left

Down the line.

Photo credit: @imagecabin / @lifeoutthere.photography

Overall feelings from our day at The Wave

Driving away from The Wave left us with mixed feelings. We both had a huge amount of fun, and I don't think you can take that away from The Wave experience overall. As a place to guarantee consistent waves which allow you to focus on a specific turn, or your pop-up, or getting your right hand barrelled while you watch on, it was really beyond compare. You can have fun with friends, or just treat it as a serious place to train and improve as an individual.

But at the same time, I was keen to get back to the less consistent but more familiar feel of the Atlantic, perhaps because I'm just that kind of person. Yet when I first paddled out at Godrevy on a below average day, I couldn't help but feel a slight desire for those consistently shaped peelers up in Bristol. I guess there's just no satisfying some people...

A note on the photos of us surfing

When you surf The Wave, a team of dedicated photographers will be busy in the background snapping photos of you to buy should you wish to. Please check out @imagecabin, who are the team responsible for taking all the photos of your session. The photos of our particular sessions were taken by @lifeoutthere.photography - please give James and Image Cabin a follow on Instagram.

Our thanks to James and Gabriella on the Image Cabin team, both of whom were particularly helpful with getting us a copy of our photos.

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