Nick Hounsfield is a British surfer and social entrepreneur, founder of the first inland surfing destination in Bristol known as The Wave and is also the Chairman of Surfing England and a member of the UK Sport International Leadership Programme.
Nick will talk about how he got into surfing and what lead to the idea of bringing an artificial wave to Bristol and the ups and downs of creating the facility from funding the project to construction and all the lessons learnt along the way.
Nick has a strong interest in ‘blue health’ (linked to wellbeing through contact with water) and will discuss his own personal experiences and what has helped him.
Oli Russell-Cowan: When did the idea for the Wave come about?
Nick Hounsfield: It was in 2010 that the mission started so to speak. Before then I didn’t really understand anything about wave Park technology and stuff like that.
To me, it was just all about getting out to the ocean. I understood how important it was for me to fundamentally get out into the real ocean, real waves and have great horizons and perspective on life.
That was really important to me. Then unfortunately, my dad died from pancreatic cancer. And it was literally on his deathbed that I said to him. I made a promise to him to do something that would be bold, something courageous, something a bit wacky, that would really impact people’s health and wellbeing on a much bigger scale. I had absolutely no idea first of all, what that promise was actually kind of transpire to be but I guess over the grieving process of those next six months was around start to formulate.
I was having an impact on people’s health and wellbeing at the moment which is great, but it was only one person at a time. Normally middle class white people. It was it really narrow and I didn’t feel like I was really creating massive impact or not a diverse amount of impact.
So I started to think about building a destination a place where people could go, visit, exercise, eat good foods, educate themselves a bit on things that I felt were really important and also just create those connections between different people.
People who normally, definitely in Bristol around that time of people really engaging with each other.It was then almost becoming like a health destination with gardens and amazing food, something that pulls it all together.
I looked at the Eden Project. I had been really inspired by the Eden Project for many years and I thought something like that in Bristol could be really wicked.
I called Tim Smit and said, Tim, I want to do something like this but I wasn’t sure what the hook would be in the middle, something that would be different. I stumbled across on that actual day wave garden technology getting announced for the very first time. That completely blew my mind! Being a mass consumer of surfing and anything about it if you put that at the centrepiece of that bigger vision that holistic vision that would fly.
I spokes Tim Smit about it and he said that’s just the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard, but you 100% must do it. He opened up his book his black book of people who can help me do that.
That was the proper start, having somebody who was so out there go, ‘you’ve just got to do it,’ there’s no reason why I shouldn’t.
Oli Russell-Cowan: Have you surfed any artificial waves before that like flowriders or like the one in Dubai or anything like that?
Nick Hounsfield: No, I didn’t really know that they existed. It literally just flashed up on YouTube one day it’s like oh, that’s quite cool. There’s a lake then suddenly out of this mist appears a perfect wave. Then the very last clip was somebody actually surfing it.
I was like if you put that in Bristol, that would fly, I know that will fly. So many people around here who love surfing, love the outdoors who can’t live by the sea because of work or home life. If you put that wave here, that’s going to fly. I just know it’s going to fly.
Oli Russell-Cowan: Going from the idea stage and then reaching out to people getting their thoughts on it what was the initial kind of plan? Did you put a business plan together?
Nick Hounsfield: Not really it was a bit of a back of a fag packet idea. It’s interesting reflecting back on that. Fundamentally, the thing that we started out with was a very clear purpose on why we wanted to do something.
I guess that was always the common thread all the way through. I aalready knew why we had to do it, what our core purpose was, that got refined quite heavily. I met up with this guy called Chris Hines, an amazing guy who’s been a mentor, for the last 11 years. He was one of the founders of Surfers Against Sewage, and was also sustainability director for the Eden Project.
The very first thing we did was not a business plan, but actually we wrote our sustainability policy. How we were going to be as a business, what’s going to be our ethos and our values. Then off the back of that we started to then go right? Well, we clearly can’t just be a charity, because we have to raise tonnes of money. So we’ve got to be profitable, because we’ve got to raise investment.
We can be profitable with a really clear purpose on the way that we want to be as a business and the way that we want to touch lives in the long term.
It’s based around this triple bottom line of sustainability for our business, we call it:
The Three Wave Principle
1. Financially Sustainable
2. Socially Impactful
3. Minimise Harm to the Environment
The three waves of making sure that we’re financially sustainable, socially impactful, and making sure that we’re doing no harm to the environment or minimise any harm to the environment. That became the template by which all of our decisions were made. Then you feed into that the business plan, the business modelling, then that starts to flow off that really.
Oli Russell-Cowan: Was all the manufacturing done by WaveGarden?
Nick Hounsfield: The original technology that I put my money down to secure the exclusivity for that ended up being installed in a couple of places, Surf Snowdonia and a place called N land in Texas. But because it took me so long, to be able to raise the money, actually, the second technology was developed in that time.
We got the benefit of the number two version which fundamentally addressed all of our concerns around single points of failure in the engineering. Capacity of the lake, which obviously drives the business model, the business plan. It addressed loads and loads of our worries.
When they release the cove technology, which is what it’s called. That now is a really investable prospect. Hence we sign on the dotted line.
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