Alf Alderson suits up to check it out…
“A wave park?! Ha! It’ll be crap…” was the first comment I got from my mate Tony when I told him I was off to Surf Snowdonia, the world’s first wave park.
Located as it is in the heart of the Snowdonia National Park in North Wales, you’ll find yourself surfing amongst green wooded hills, scudding clouds and regular rainfall; but you do get surprisingly good waves. Don’t imagine some sloppy wave rolling down an outdoor swimming pool – this is as near as technology has yet come to creating a ‘real’ barrelling wave for the masses.
There are three waves – beginner, intermediate and advanced. The advanced wave is the most impressive, of course. It’s a reasonably fast, reasonably powerful 1.5-metre high wall of water that rolls for some 300 metres along the freshwater lagoon without losing power or shape.
Alan Stokes off the top. Photo: Nick Pumphrey
One wave is released every minute, breaking both left and right, providing rides of up to 18 seconds before ending in smooth whitewater; yes, it’s cold (I wore an old 3/2 wettie and was not particularly warm) but it’s a good wave, and that’s all that counts, surely.
When I surfed the advanced waves at Surf Snowdonia I was sharing them with former pro Kalani Robb who was totally stoked with the experience, despite the cool water and the lack of blazing sun – so stoked in fact that he seemed to think it just fine and dandy to drop in at every single opportunity. The fact that he’d flown over from California for the day to surf here perhaps had him thinking he had a right to every wave; either that or he’s a bit of a tit…
However, it was good to see a real expert in action – Robb was having no problem at all ripping the wave faces apart, and even I managed to get in a few decent top and bottom turns (the secret for your more ‘average’ surfer is to use a bigger volume board than you might normally; I surfed a high-performance mini-mal).
Surf Snowdonia styling. Photo: DTL Photography
For first timers the beginner’s wave is fun and not at all intimidating, and instructors will get you up and riding on a soft, easy-to-use beginner board, whilst the intermediate wave is a playful waist-high roller on which you can improve your technique before maybe taking on the advanced wave. Boards and wetsuits can be hired on site if you don’t have your own.
There’s also a heap of options for non-surfers, including a watery assault course in the separate ‘Crash and Splash’ lagoon, and ‘The Blob’, a huge air-filled rubber tube floating on the surface of the Crash and Splash lagoon – you, aka the ‘blobber’, sit in position at the end of the blob; your friend, aka ‘the jumper’, climbs a 4.5-metre tower at the other end of The Blob, leaps off onto said Blob and launches the ‘blobber’ high into the air to then splash into the lagoon. How else would you spend a summer afternoon in the heart of the Welsh mountains (other than surfing?).
Setting up on the left
There’s a café and bar alongside the lagoon where it’s actually quite mesmerising to watch the surfers ride past just a few metres from your cappuccino, and there’s plenty of other stuff to do locally after you’ve surfed.
North Wales has recently set itself up as the self-appointed ‘adventure capital’ of the UK, so within a few miles drive of Surf Snowdonia there are epic downhill mountain bike trails at Antur Styniog, whilst if you’re into zip wires you’ll be in heaven – Zip World Velocity in Bethesda is the fastest zip wire in the world (and the longest in Europe) and Zip World Titan in the historic slate mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog is the first four-person zip line in Europe.
Then there’s the slightly bizarre ‘Go Below’ at Conwy Falls, where you can yet again try zip lining (they’re obsessed with the things in this part of the world) but this time it’s in an underground cavern. You can also climb a massive vertical shaft in one of the largest abandoned slate mines in the world, traverse an underground abyss, scale a subterranean waterfall, or abseil down to the deepest point in the UK.
Or you could just go for a nice walk in the mountains…
So, Surf Snowdonia – would I go again? Yes, I reckon I would, especially if I was in the area. It ain’t cheap but once you’ve got the waves wired you know that each one will be exactly the same so you can practice manoeuvres and technique or just plain enjoy yourself for a full hour without any of the hassles of ‘regular’ surfing such as the swell dropping off, changes of tide – or ex-pro surfers dropping in on you…
Surf Snowdonia is in the small town of Dolgarrog in the Conwy Valley, UK.
Tel. +44 (0) 1492 353 123
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