Average surfer reviews Surf Snowdonia Wavegarden…
Wave pools aren’t what you think they’re going to be like. I’ve surfed a view, not the Wavegarden, but a damn good one in the Canary Islands (real four-footers) and a crummy one in Malaysia that y’needed a jet ski whip to get any speed.
And, once you’re in a tank, you realise, it ain’t a sublime, slow-motion experience, with easy roll-ins and endless walls. To create a wave of any sort of substance in such a short space requires power and violence.
At the Canary Islands pool, there’d be a tremendous… whump!… and a surge would rear behind you. You had to be on your game. The wave moved at a good clip so you paddled your ass off and, once your tail lifted, the take-off was fast and steep. Easy? Non.
In all the reviews I’ve read about the Wavegarden, and specifically the first commercial tank in Snowdonia, Wales, I haven’t read a definitive report on what it’s actually like for the average surfer. As Andy Irons told me once, “Wave-pool’s are so hard to surf. Y’gotta read those things like the fucken Matrix!”
So I was thrilled to read one average surfer’s review of the Snowdonia pool on an obscure blog. He paid to surf it. He knew no one. He had no affiliation with Wavegarden in Spain. The author of this sharply written piece is a surfer called Tom Rootes. Hello to you!
Or jump in a slightly-edited version below.
This week I had my worst surf for 2 years, one of those depressing surfs where you always feel vaguely out of position and every drop turns into a hassle. To add to that pain I paid over £70 for the pleasure. Ladies and gentleman I was at the Surf Snowdonia Wavegarden…
So was it me, or was it the Wavegarden? I am not really sure. On arrival the whole thing was slightly less than idyllic, rain was hammering down and a strong wind was running down the lake. But we watched a few waves come through and it looked pretty good, easy to surf, with a nice wall on offer. I regularly surf waves of this size and shape no problem at all on a range of boards so my nerves started to ease. I note I don’t recall ever being so nervous pre surf.
When I went to get my boards off the car the first worrying doubt appeared, one of the instructors commented that I should ride my board with most float. On the roof I had a 6.3 quad, 6.6 twinny and my 7.0 magic carpet. The plan was to ride the twinny first session and the quad second session. Plans change. So the 7.0 and 6.6 went up to the board rack at the well organised dispersal point. I checked in, got changed inside (a surfing first for me), put on a 3.2 (being a Scottish surfer I had to get it out the loft), told a beginner to put his wetsuit on the other way round, and went for the pre-surf brief.
Here the next doubt appeared. The staff rep was keen to state that you had to stay as close to the pier netting as possible when paddling and be quick on take-off to make a turn and get down the line. It was clear from the tone that people were struggling in the advanced group with these issues. “Don’t hold onto the netting either”, he said. “Why would you need to?” thought I, looking out at the lake?
Hour 1) My 6.6 is like a cork in the sea so I ignored the floaty warning and jumped in with it and was first up, surfing front side. The sled/wave by the way goes both ways down the lake – i.e. you don’t need to paddle out, just back and forward sharing with two others so every third wave belongs to you and you alternate front and back side – this by the way works really well. Incredibly simple, at any one time there is one on a wave and one waiting at each end.
It went downhill from there, I fell on the next couple (too far inside), then missed a couple (too far outside) or couldn’t get over to the open face. Pressure started to build and it started to all feel like hard work, plus I was paying for it. The depression of the fact that it just wasn’t that good started to dawn on me.
Front side I got over to the face a couple more times which was great as it really walls up with a load of push behind it, but I had almost nothing to shout about backhand. By the time I got out after the first hour it felt like a waste of money for a lot of frustration and 2 maybe 3 good waves. And a few people around me were muttering the same thing.
Here are the problems with the wave that I found.
1) There is a lot of current kicking around between waves. They had to reset the plough at one point and my board got sucked up against the netting from under me – it was mildly disconcerting! I was constantly paddling one way or another just prior to each wave. Tucking a subtle toe into the pier netting helped.
2) The wave does not push straight – the waves are created by the sled in the middle but they break from the outside back towards the sled. This makes the dynamics feel very different to the ocean, as the wave pushes you out from the pier as it comes underneath and the take off is sideways but away from the direction you want to go. Get pushed too far and it is just a late drop in the white water and a waveface you are unlikely to recover. The more I think about it the more I think the trick is to stay as close to the pier as possible when paddling and never give up on that. My best waves were when I remembered that. Mentally you push wide though because it feels like it would naturally give yourself an easier take off. It doesn’t. The reverse happens and you look like a kook. It is easier in against the pier, trust me.
) The inconsistency. All Wavegarden waves are created equal right? Not so, the biggest surprise seemed to be that you didn’t know what you were going to get. I spoke to a few people who felt the same. One moment you were being launched over the falls, the next struggling to get into it, and then if you did, you were missing the section.
4) Lack of time to size up the incoming wave. You get precious little. If you compare the start point of the sled with a normal wave, the sled starts from about 20-30yards behind you. At this point in the sea, most of the decision making is done, i.e. you can get in the right spot, simple as that. The first measure you get of a Garden wave is when it is right up behind you, therefore to a degree you paddle and hope, rather than line it up.
First wave I was up easily backhand and I got stuck behind the section and struggled to chase it down. Second wave, again up ok and the wave died under me. The sled had stopped. It stopped for half an hour. I stood on the side in the howling wind talking to my Mrs and bored kids whilst trying not to freeze to death. With twenty minutes to go they got it going again with a rumour we were going to get an hour extension. I started to enjoy myself.
Back up and running I was backhand again and again I got stuck pushing then for the section and fell – the wave gets flat/fat in the middle and it really is hard to come from behind. Next front side and I was up and in the spot dropping into the meat of the wave and what the fuck, the power seemed to disappear and I bogged and lost the face. Hmmm. Next wave, backhand, along the pier, early drop and straight into the meat of it. Fly down the line, pump, pump, pump and exit before the beginners – perfect wave – finally it is beginning to happen for me. So I get out to wait for my next wave (it’s easier just to get out between waves by the way!) and find out that it is me done for the day, end of session, no extra hour. I had been keeping a tally scratched into my wax and I had had five waves.
Got out, got changed and asked for a refund on the second session which turned into a credit for another go on another day. Not a great option if you live in Scotland eh, but I have a contract currently in North Wales so should be ok for a return. The staff were great in this respect, they were good all day in fact. There is no doubt on my second session, longboard.
So Wavegarden. Heaven or Hell?
Before arriving I was ready to put aside the many (online) suggestions that it is not real surf, and figured that if the wave was good it would work and who cares about the rest. Now I am not sure. To feel worth it the wave had to be nice to ride and reasonably easy for an average surfer to roll into.
To be clear Inter did not seem worth it, you are paddling into the white water and catching a fat reform or trying to stay out the way of the advanced surfer. I didn’t see an inter who looked like they were having much fun. The couple I spoke to seemed pretty low on it, had gone in for more float and there was mention on someone asking for their money back. A friend suggested the beginner group could be me more interesting.
And the advanced waves, the only short boarders I saw catching waves were as good as the best surfers in my area and anyone else was on longboards or oversized boards. For someone like me who regularly surfs waves of this size it was just not user friendly enough, especially on the take off. It could be just me having a bad day, but I surfed a better sized Pease comfortably less than 10days previously and took far more waves off a busy pack. I have not had a surf like the Garden for a long long time, additionally the vibe was not great in the water or the changing room. I heard it said a few times that “it would get better as they refined it” and I hope this to be true.
Dynamically I don’t think they will be able to lose the odd sideways push from the sled and the factor of the curl coming the other way. Bearing in mind you start paddling down the pier you end up taking off about 15 feet across from it. I don’t also think the current and wash can be removed either which to be fair I started to get used to and it’s not exactly Thorntonloch on a big day.
But they can work on consistency and calculate the speed that gives the best wave given the wind and bottom contours and also offer better advice for paddling. They could also screen the open end off from the wind which was a pain all day. That could really bring it on.
It has no soul…
I wasn’t going get involved in the arty-souly-surfy bit as my friends will rip the shit but the reality is that waiting for a sled to push a wave towards you has absolutely no soul whatsoever. Being timed into a wave has no soul. Or being in a changing room with people with back to front wetsuits, or pulling out before entering the beginner zone when the wave is still running nicely, or being told to get out after an hour. “fuck you” I wanted to shout at the end of hour 2, “I am just getting into this”.
The issue can’t be overlooked. Surfing in a lake highlights everything that is great about surfing in the sea. Watching sets roll towards you and choosing the waves, the ebb and flow of a session, taking turns and sharing with people enjoying that same mind-set.
But surf Snowdonia are not trying to create that, they are putting on an attraction (like a snow dome) and it I love them for that. Business like this deserves to work because there is passion behind it – and the wave will get better, I loved the madness of it only being open for a couple of weeks and being rammed, the staff running round in a mild state of panic and apology. They were great btw but don’t expect them to answer the phone in a hurry. They do care, they are just busy. If you think Surf Snowdonia is the end of surfing as we know it then you are probably taking yourself too seriously – I’d be more worried about powered water craft.