When a 2m barrelling wave peels down a valley in Snowdonia in July 2015 something remarkable will have been achieved.
A world first for this technology promises a scaled-up version of The Wavegarden which you can surf for a few shekels. Of course, other artificial waves already exist but they aren’t desirable in terms of the punch surfers seek. These slow mushy burgers which fail to raise the pulse will be replaced by the best long range surf forecasts North Wales is ever likely to see, in this soon-to-be-centre of the surf world.
Located in a valley next to a hydro electric plant and on the site of an old aluminium factory this isn't your archetypal surf locale. But unlike any wave which has come before, Surf Snowdonia promises a 2m wave “every minute, on the minute” peeling in either direction off a central generator with a second reef running in parallel offering a 1.3m intermediate wave to either side. This means four surfable waves a minute, plus the learner area at either end – all day every day.
Surf Snowdonia promise a 2m wave 'every minute, on the minute'
Utilising the wave energy a second time will effectively double the wave's carrying capacity. “I don’t think the public know much about the intermediate waves yet.” Andy Ainscough, Surf Snowdonia director, and keen surfer tells us. “We will have the wave closest to the pier like you see in the Wavegarden videos and then the wave will travel from deep water to a shallow reef and break for a second time. This intermediate wave will be the same size as the wave they have in the The Wavegarden test facility right now.”
You will probably have seen videos of the The Wavegarden in the Basque Country, a perfect peeler which set the internet on fire, but one you desperately wanted to grow by a foot or two. Well that wait is almost over.
It was in fact those same videos which alerted the Snowdonia team to the potential of this patch of ex-industrial real estate. It could easily have ended-up as a wake or canoe park, instead it was Mick Fanning's razor turns on the muddy waters of The Wavegarden V.1 which set the gears whirring in Wales.
“We immediately thought it was unique and doing something with surfing was a dream come true,” explains Andy Ainscough. “We fancied that more than artificial white water rafting and went over to see The Wavegarden in early 2013.
“By this time they had the new prototype, the one you see in the current videos and we started looking at business plans, funding from the Welsh government etc. And signed an exclusivity agreement for the North of England in early 2013.”
We immediately thought it was unique and doing something with surfing was a dream come true. Andy Ainscough
The Snowdonia team are certain that the maths adds up for this wave. The Basque Country prototype is too small to create the size of wave coming to Wales.
“The Wavegarden would lose all their water if they made a 2m wave at their test pool,” jokes Andy.
“All the computer models are running in sync at The Wavegarden and we have a very high degree of confidence in the 2m wave. Basically it is a bigger piece of kit which moves though the water powered by a bigger motor in a larger lake.
“We know what the entry costs will be and exactly how many surfers we need to make it feasible.”
Any surfer who has studied or visited the prototype will be asking themselves at this point “what about the turbulence?” A major obstacle to artificial wave frequency has historically been backwash from the creation of the first wave messing up any subsequent wave. Imagine someone driving a tractor through a paddling pool and then having to wait for it to settle.
A vast expanse of water is one way of combating turbulence and for this reason the Snowdonia Wavegarden will be 113m wide, allowing interference to propagate away from the peak.
But, not content, Snowdonia has another tool to combat this issue. “Around the edge of the lagoon will be a baffle system,” says Andy. “The water runs up the bank and trickles down through this system which kills the energy. Think of it as mesh surfers can walk on over a plastic rigid frame to access the lagoon.
How can we get this water settling quickly enough for the one minute turnaround? Andy Ainscough
“A lot of the The Wavegarden’s time over the last 12 months has been focussed on the question: ‘how can we get this water settling quickly enough for the one minute turnaround?’ This technology is already working in Spain perfectly.”
The surfing lagoon will be supplied with water from a nearby hydroelectric plant with water pipes coming as standard on the site of an old aluminium works. The availability of cheap electricity and water, which was once enough to make this remote location viable as an industrial site, will now be put to use in facilitating hoots and hollers from stoked surfers.
Conwy Adventure Leisure Limited, the team behind Surf Snowdonia purchased the 55 acre site from Dolgarrog Aluminium (which employed 170 people at its closure) some time after it entered receivership in 2007. In terms of funding what is a prohibitive capital project it is a mixture of public and private finance.
“We received a grant from the Welsh Assembly to clean up the site because it was heavily contaminated. We also got some support because of the tourism we are going to bring and the 60 jobs we are going to provide. But that was more than matched by private equity from ourselves.” Andy told us. “It is a private project.”
Aluminium smelting is a dirty process and this redevelopment will achieve the added bonus of stopping a previously toxic site from leaching into the the nearby river.
“We had to suck out all the pits, there was grease, oil and solvents like sulphuric acid. We had to take that all away,” said Andy.
Post industrial sites are never the most attractive locations for development and this landscape might well might well have sat quietly suppurating for many years before it was tackled.
According to Steve Davies, Surf Snowdonia managing director : “The key challenge has been the integration of the cleanup plan with local and national authorities.
“Unsurprisingly with a SSSI and a tidal river on our doorstep people were focussed on the potential for a screwup and a chemical release into the water course.”
Talking with the team here you start to gain a sense of the magnitude of the task which has been undertaken. Everything had to be planned with multiple agencies and subject to regular monitoring. Even now all the water extracted is carbon filtered as it leaves the site and this extensive greening process deserves recognition.
“We dug 260 inspection holes and there was no doubt this site was gently leaching into the River Conway," continues Steve Davies. "Before our arrival there was no prospect of a cleanup happening at this rather grim site. And so aside from the fact we are going to have a fantastic surfing park, one of the key positives of this project is the betterment of the local environment."
With all these environmental and structural obstacles will it be delivered on time? Apparently so. “The guys from the Wavegarden are over every couple of weeks checking the construction.” Andy informs us. “We have 70 guys on site doing civil, constructing The Wavegarden, the campsite, the car park. And now we have the steel going up for the buildings with the contractor. It is really exciting.”
When construction is complete expect to see a 200 cover restaurant running for 50m alongside The Wavegarden, changing rooms and reception. A separate building for kids indoor play and even a Total Wipeout style padded obstacle course, spanning the area of two Olympic swimming pools, plus of course blobbing, which is worth a Google if it is new to you.
In terms of a season the business plan is based upon a seven to eight month opening period. North Wales in winter is a fiercely cold proposition for first time surfers.
“If we have enough bodies wanting it during the winter we will open up. I think real surfers will want to surf it all year round but whether we can fill the beginner bays is still unknown,” says Andy.
The team here are keen to advertise that they are recruiting for an Operations Manager, full details available here. Applicants should send their CV and covering letter to email@example.com