When the opportunity arose for the Surf Report team to attend the official opening of the worlds first publicly accessible Wavegarden, at Surf Snowdonia in North Wales, we knew it was one we couldn’t miss. With the offer of a nights accommodation and a chance to ride the man made wave, it presented the perfect chance to check out the full Surf Snowdonia experience in full and offer our review.
The journey from our corner of the UK took about 7 hours, but it gave us time to mull over rakes of questions, such as would it be colder to surf than the sea? Would it make any difference surfing in fresh mountain water? Would the wave compare to a real ocean wave? Would the site be finished? What would the pods and other facilities be like? Is Surf Snowdonia an encompassing place for families and inclusive for people who can’t surf?
As we arrived at Dolgarrog in the beautiful Conwy Valley, it was hard not to be struck by the impressive imagery of the surf lagoon stretching out across the site, which only 15 months ago was the home of a dilapidated aluminium factory. The lake was shimmering in the bright afternoon sun as we watched the first wave roll along the central pier, breaking about head high and with an impressive roar as one of the pro surfers who was onsite to film a promotional video hacked the lip over and over again.
I have to be honest and say, having seen a few of the earlier test runs of the wave foil the first impression of the wave in the flesh was that it was bigger and faster than I was expecting.
It was also quite clear that work on site was still well underway and the team were working furiously to put finishing touches to as many areas as they could, whilst fencing off and making safe sections of the complex that would not be quite ready for the opening day. Surf Snowdonia are also promising that when fully operational they will deliver a wave a minute, but the boffins from Wavegarden who were at the controls of the Wave Foil, were still calibrating and adjusting the mechanics behind the scenes and for the whole time we were at the lagoon, the waves were intermittent and running at a rate of about one every 3 minutes.
The lagoon itself had been commandeered for promotional filming, so we took the opportunity to explore the site and check in and secure ourselves one of the onsite camping pods. There are a total of 36 pods on site, all offering parking, sleeping for 4, the use of the shower and toilet block and are all fitted with heating and electric sockets. Our particular pod overlooked the lagoon and from either the bench provided on the outside decking or from the comfort of the beds inside you could watch the wave as it surged along the pier outside.
The pods themselves are warm, comfy and fairly well insulated from external noise and consist of two raised single beds and one double bed at floor level, easily accommodating up to 4 adults. The mattresses are comfy and there is plenty of room to store bags under the two single beds. The pods are fitted with a blind at the front door and an internal curtain sectioning off the two sleeping areas, offering privacy and nice dark sleeping conditions. The back wall of the pod is fitted with a small openable window, which doesn’t have any curtains so there is some light ingress when dawn breaks.
When you check into your pod, you are given a rubber wrist band, which acts as the key to your pod, the bands are fully waterproof, unobtrusive and comfy to wear. All you have to do is swipe your wrist over the door lock to gain access to your own pod. There are plenty of male and female toilet and shower facilities on site, with a purpose built block alongside the pod zone. All showers are built into individual cubicles with plenty of room and are all lockable.
Surf Snowdonia prides itself on the fact that the site is not just about surfing and aimed purely at wave riders, there is so much more than just the wave lagoon and is definitely a family attraction. Although still in construction, one thing that is certain to be very popular will be the Crash and Splash Lagoon, a watery adventure playground, featuring rope bridges, monkey bars, spinning balls, balance beams and a guaranteed dunking at some point! The Crash and Splash Lagoon will be open to anyone over the age of 12 and will also feature ‘The Blob’ – a massive inflatable bag that is jumped onto, firing a friend or family member up in to the air and into the lagoon!
For those under the age of 12, they can look forward to checking out the Soft Play Shack, a sea themed indoor play area, with separate toddler and junior areas and plenty of fun obstacles to explore. Anyone, not struck by the idea of trying a surf lesson or looking for other adventurous water based activities will be able to try their hand at kayaking or take a SUP for a paddle on the River Conwy, which is nestled at the rear of the park. Surf Snowdonia also offer Yoga classes and are gearing up to offer early morning open water swimming sessions in the lagoon.
Surf Snowdonia also have a well equipped surf shop on site, packed with all the essentials, from wax and leashes to surfboards, full SUP set ups and wetsuits. You could turn up and completely kit yourself out with everything you would need to head back to your local beach and put your newly found skills into practice!
The main hub building on site, is where you will find the Surf Snowdonia reception, the surfside cafe, bar and coffee shop. The building is extremely light and airy and provides the ideal place to sit with a meal or a beer whilst looking directly out onto the lagoon and the wave riders in action. The staff on reception are all extremely helpful and polite and this is the place to check in, book lessons and ask questions. It is from here that you will enrol for any pre-booked lessons and then after receiving another ‘hi-tech’ wristband will walk through to the Academy, where you will be welcomed and briefed, before beginning your lesson.
So what about the wave? Well, we did manage to get in and try it out, but unfortunately it was a bit of a free for all, and there were more people in the water than there normally would be. This meant many waves were party waves, with up to five people riding it at the same time! The wave itself is not instantly intuitive, you would think you would surf away from the foil and the central pier, but you actually end up riding inwards, between the foil and the pocket of the wave. It is actually fast moving and creates a lot of turbulence within the lagoon as it passes. The pocket is the place to be, as soon as you get caught behind the lip, it is near impossible to catch it back up and get back in front of the wave.
There seemed to be some issues with backwash within the lagoon and the engineers were reluctant to run the foil every minute and at times you were forced to sit about for up to five minutes, in which time it did become quite cold. As soon as any teething problems are ironed out and the wave is running at the predicted one wave a minute, there will plenty of waves for everyone and keeping warm will not be an issue. The ends of the lagoon were steeper than we were expecting and this seemed to be creating some of the backwash. Instead of running itself out into the shallows, the wave surges up the steep banks and then rushes back out into the lagoon, bouncing around for a short while. These steep banks also shorten the amount of ride time a beginner might otherwise enjoy if they had a longer run out.
As for a place to visit, we would have to highly recommend Surf Snowdonia. It is most certainly a place that all ages, abilities and interests will enjoy and is ideal for family visits, with activities for every member of the family available. Surf Snowdonia is a must to visit if you are ever in the area and will soon be one of the biggest attractions in North Wales. Beginner surf lessons start at just £19 and there are a multitude of packages and bundle deals for all competency levels, full details including Pod hire (including breakfast) can be seen at the official Surf Snowdonia booking page here.
Surf Snowdonia has opened to the public this morning, fully booked and with so much global interest that their website is creaking under the strain! It will be another couple of weeks until the site is fully open and we will be hoping to revisit in October to follow up on this review, when the dust has settled and all areas are operational. In the meantime, checkout everything they have to offer at the Surf Snowdonia website and when you have been up to take a look, let us know what you think. Are you keen to try the worlds first surf lagoon and are you impressed with look of the wave?
Oh yes – those questions – Yes it was colder than the English Channel, but there was quite a bit of sitting around and the lagoon had just been topped up with thousands of gallons of water straight off the local mountain. It makes no difference surfing in fresh mountain water and the waves feel just as good as any ocean waves.
The official Surf Snowdonia opening video can be seen below.