Review of The Wave – Muddy goes surfing
Fancy catching some waves without sitting in a five-hour traffic jam? Then head to The Wave in Bristol - the narliest surf this side of Melbourne. Wannabe surfer Muddy Glos & Worcs Editor Sophie went along to road test the riptide.
What is it?
Tucked away in the unassuming Gloucestershire countryside just 20 minutes drive out of Brizzle and off an unremarkable junction there’s a tsunami-sized surprise in store.
Who says you need the sea to surf? Certainly not us. Meet The Wave – a 600ft wide, state-of-the-art WaveGarden containing 26 million litres of water, churning out 10 perfect surfing peaks per minute.
It opened in August last year and is the first inland surfing destination of its kind in the Northern hemisphere – the only other being in Melbourne in Australia – so I’d say a pretty big deal for little old Blighty.
This extraordinary place is the £25m brainchild of local surf pro and Director of British Surfing Nick Hounsfield who had a dream and a big field back in 2011. Located in Easter Compton the site pumps out Fistral Beach-style waves from 7am to 9pm every day, ranging from 20in (50cm) in height to more than 6ft (2m).
When I booked in I’d just returned from five days holiday in Cornwall (along with 97% of the UK), there’s so many of us down there right now (sorry Cornwall!) it was nigh on impossible to get some socially-distanced surf-time. So I really wanted to see whether Glos’ own surf garden would be like the real thing – but a lot closer to home.
Before you hit the waves
I’ve only tried surfing a handful of times on holiday, and the result has never been great – resulting in an awkward, horizontal belly dance as I flap my way to the shore like an angry turtle riding a piece of foam. But with staycations totally ‘the thing’ for the foreseeable I decided it was time to up my watersport skills.
Once you pull up at the site be prepared to walk, it’s a good 10-15 minute stroll to the waves. I’m not sure why the car park is that far away, maybe once you’ve committed that far there’s no turning back. But you hear The Wave way before you see it, which got the kids very excited, its Wavegarden Cove technology pumping out over 1,000 waves an hour.
It’s an absolute belter of a view when you walk in, shaped like a giant cake slice (or pizza as my son insisted), you’re met with an expanse of topaz-blue waves gently lapping at the shore. To be honest it took a lot of willpower on the hottest day of the year not to sprint in (especially after the 1000m walk) and belly flop into it, pretending it was Ko Lipe for a couple of hours. But not wanting to embarrass the kids more than I was already about to, I headed for our beginners’ lesson instead.
Our ‘Wavemaker’ teacher for the afternoon was Matt, a tousled, super-friendly guy with that ‘laid-back coastal cool’ that can only come from spending all day being a surf-god. Infact, you’ll find all the staff here seem to have been chosen for their epic levels of surfer-dude chill.
Next we picked up our RipCurl wetsuits from the kiosk – hire of them and a board is included – and prized ourselves into them in the outdoor changing rooms which have lockers for your gear.
During the current Covid rules groups are taught in reduced pods of five – making it a great and super safe way to have fun. Our group – me, my two sons, their friend and my husband – were then guided through a half hour safety briefing followed by a lesson on dry land.
By the end of the crash course I’d semi-mastered two ways of jumping up, many things not to do, some great timing tips, how to signal distress (likely) and how to dismount with an iota of grace (unlikely).
Before I knew it, it was time to surf and we were wading through the surf to catch our first wave. I was handed an enormous board twice my size, but I figured the more ballast, the better the outcome, surely?! And luckily for me one of the mottos at The Wave is no-one is judged – except on competition days that is.
Each ‘slice’ of pool has three areas, or channels, a deep one for fancy-pants pro-surfers and intermediate levels and a family-friendly shallow one down the middle, so you never have to be fully out of your depth which, I’ll be honest, was my main fear.
As we waded out I selflessly *coughs* ushered the family in front of me – age before no ability – before I got the nod from Matt to wiggle onto my board. There was no hiding now. One last thumbs up and I was soon shooting at 20 mph shore-ward, trying desperately to recall anything Matt had explained. Argh! … was it feet together? Paddle first?! Jump now?! …
I don’t remember much about the first wave other than surviving, but it was incredibly exhilarating and it began an hour of everyone excitedly racing each other back in to catch the next one. The floor of The Wave is made from a type of concrete, so it doesn’t have that soft reassurance of a sandy landing, but after a few wipeouts you forget about it.
Earning your fins
I must admit after the hour my arm felt like it might drop off (they make it look far easier than it is) and I was aching in places that should never ache. But the adrenaline spike of surfing the beautiful, crystal waves and having a great laugh at each other’s wipeouts was extremely addictive. It really was incredibly good fun. You can go at your own pace and if all else fails just bodyboard a bit – it worked for me.
The kids absolutely loved it, even the water shy 11-year old came away asking when we were coming back. And they all managed to get up on the boards for a few glorious seconds (yee-ewww! as they say here).
We rode about 10 big waves before the machine stops for a few minutes break – which was brilliant for catching your breath back. Basically like the sea but far better, with the groundbreaking technology replicating the exact way that water moves in ocean ground swells.
After the lesson Matt gathered us around to tell each other one thing we’d learned, and one thing we wanted to do better next time, which was a nice way to end the experience. Then there was time for a quick shower (they are outdoors incidentally, which was no problem at 30C but I reckon could get a bit nippy sometimes) before peeling ourselves out of our suits which get dipped in a sterile solution for the next class.
Before you go home I highly recommend moseying over to the Clubhouse, which sells surf wear, boards and accessories, and leads into an open plan cafe and restaurant.
The food is amazing and gives Rick Stein’s beach cafes a run for their money any day – we had the freshest, fluffiest fish burgers and pizzas from the pop-up pizza tent next door. Plus, head there this month and get 50% off in the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
I could have stayed all evening watching the sun go down from the terrace where you can chill out (aka recover) after your session with a nice cold beer. Infact we’ve already promised ourselves we’ll come back in a few weeks.
One cool fact is that The Wave prides itself on being a really inclusive place, you’re made to feel welcome whether you’ve got Olympic ambitions or you’re a child stepping out nervously on to a board for the first time (it’s for ages 6 upwards).
With sustainability at its core, it has plans to develop plant 16,000 new trees, 14 acres of wildflower meadowland at the site and open family-friendly camping with 25 glamping pods so you can stay and surf – watch this space for more on that.
Founder Nick’s driving mission has also been to help tackle mental health issues with the joy of surfing – just google #bluehealth and you’ll see what I mean – it’s a thing. I for one certainly came away feeling wonderful and worn out in equal measure after the session.
And finally, I know what you’re thinking … did I actually stand up?! Well, I got half way there – sort of a knee surf and more of a crouching tiger (mum) than Keanu in Point Break, but I consider that a win.