It's almost a mini inland slab. Not at all what you expect to see, let alone in the heart of the British countryside. But as we pulled into Bristol's The Wave – the world's first public access Wavegarden Cove facility – dozens of unridden kegs were rolling down the lake, with a horde of surf media and a long-list of UK and Irish surf royalty gawking from the sidelines.
But, there's a caveat, we're told. That slab and barrel wouldn't be running today (Friday, October 25), this was just to show The Wave's potential. (but we've cut a few of the barrels shot by Image Cabin from Wednesday at the test phase into the above edit to show you what it can do). Something about risk assessments - which was a little confusing, but it means when the barrel runs, you couldn't have people on the inside. And that's how it's going to open to the general public. Basically, there's 15 presets you can surf. But right now, you can surf three different settings of the same wave type, the Malibu (or medium) setting at M1, M2 and M3. The increment in M number is slightly bigger than the one before.
Forecast: UK + Ireland
Now, we asked The Wave about whether we can all surf the slab at some point. They said the more advanced waves have been tested by the pros and some of those waves may be added to the advanced sessions, or some as special sessions for punters in the future. Other settings are likely to be only accessible to pros - but they assure us they're looking into it all and will make a decision so they get it all right for you. And for most people, the setting they're putting out will be ok. Fun, in fact and there is a head dip at the end. For the seasoned surfer, it may seem a bit slow but picks up as the settings start to jack to M3. But more on that later.
That's not to say the slab hasn't run – as mentioned above, a select few backers and surfers experienced it a few days before, with the consensus being it's legit, fun and can almost airdrop in to it, stall and get a cover up. If you're a grom, it's a stand up barrel. For the usually sized human, it's shoulder high and will certainly test the majority of surfers. But what was running in the lake earlier on was a cruisey wave and certainly the most consistent 2-3ft you'll ever surf – but we're excited to see how the slab holds up; and how it is under the feet of mere mortals. As mentioned, but for clarity again, there is a barrel section on the normal running wave.
As for the facility, here's some of the basics; parking's a little way away, a 5 minute walk or so, up past the gatehouse and into the foyer. Once you're booked in, it's straight into the cafe and retail area. Coffee, good food, beer for the post shred tipple is all available with ample seating that leads onto an outdoor viewing platform. To the right, is the surf area where you can store your kit, get changed, hire suits or boards and watch the mandatory safety briefing. Once that 60 second screening is done, it's through the doors and straight into the pool, where you paddle the 180m length to wait for the sets to begin.
There's a whole load of interesting things at play here. But (please) forgive me for mentioning the noise first. There's none. It's not the industrial roar of Slater's Tommy Tank steaming down the way. It's not the hissing pressure release of Yeppon's Mad Max machine. There's the lapping of waves to shore, the crashing of the barrel (when it's on) and the soft, vibrant hum of a dozen or so excited people. That's it. And it is...eerily refreshing.
Anyway, the wave. The water pulls back, and the first wave of the set is always left to roll through. Too small. The second wave fires up and it's a touch bigger, more shape. It runs into the lake's wall and angles back towards the origin, but soon catches up and it's your regular take off. Two swift paddles and you're on it. Easy mode. The common myth is that all waves are the same, and that's just not the case. Some can offer up a bit more of a wall, or, a little less ridge on the face of the wave.
If you want to play the comparison game, it's similar in length and height to Texas' Waco, a good chest high with a few turns, a cutty thrown in and there's a little ramp if you fancy it. Check Reubyn Ash's wizardry above.
In the water, there's three separate take-offs; the advanced, which is where the wave is generated. Intermediate is a bit further down and the beginner wave is in the white water. If you've spent a fair amount of time in the ocean, just go straight to the advanced, of course. Intermediate if you're transitioning to green waves and beginner if it's your first time putting feet to foam.There's no drop ins. The lineup's to the side of the wave in the rip, away from the peak, and you paddle in in turn.
The take off is easy but the wave seemed to go a bit slow at the start. So just try to work through it, let the wave do its thing for a second and the section will begin to stand up, that's when you really have to start to surf, pump through, few turns and you'll be on the inside. If you fall (and many did) paddle down with the white water, then out to the rip. And how is it? We think fun is the mantra of the day, probably like a fun 2ft wave on the coast - just take your time getting to grips with it - and be prepped for a bit of a slow start.
In about 30 minutes, 5 waves were surfed but that could easily be more if you sprint paddled back around to get into position. Depends how keen you are, but you'll catch plenty if you stay at a leisurely pace - and if you're in the water with people who will adhere to the system. Or get your head down and catch each best wave of the set. That's on you. And the cost? This is a tricky one as it fluctuates by how busy it is. But expect these ball park figures; beginner lessons are £55. Intermediate is £40 and advanced is £40 - all one hour slots and you get to choose which side to surf.
For the advanced wave, you will only have 14 people surfing it at one time, but up to 35 people in the water at once. If you paddle and miss your wave, you get a swing at the one behind. And if you're thinking about what board to bring, just pack your usual go to whip for a fave beachie. Let's put it this way; on the M settings, Gman was throwing tail for a few air revs, six time women's national champ Lucy Campbell tore the living guts out of it, as did Peony Knight whose surfing looks razor sharp. Adam 'Bearman' Griffiths and Ben Skinner were nose riding into the shallows and Skinner's son Lukas was hucking above the lip with ease. A real mix.
Chatting to Reubyn about the barrel, he surfed it when it was cranked AND won the Surf Snowdonia Pro a while back, he said: “Yeah, it's good. It's like this little barrel that's certainly got a bit more to it. It's fun and that's kind of what you want when coming here. Something fun. If I lived nearby, I'd be in here every day. It's also a sick training facility, something you can practice things over and over. To compare it to the ocean? It's like, a proper dredging beachie."
Meanwhile, Gearoid McDaid said: “Yeah, it's good you know. You can get barrelled, snag a few. It's kind of just on repeat, consistent. Fun, but different from the ocean. And that's the point, two different things.”
"Yeah, it is legit. It's super fun and kind of surprising," says Lucy C. "There's a lot of potential here for outside of surfing too. As an actual wave, yeah, you see this in the ocean and you'll be going crazy. It's really fun."
Anyway, the likes of GMan, Reubyn Ash, Lucy, Ben and (young grom phenom) Lucas Skinner, Harry Timson and more jumped in to sample the goods today. And the result? Hit play above. And take into consideration, this isn't The Wave in full swing.
Edit by Mr B Productions