INTERVIEW: The Full Story Behind England's First Wavegarden

Jason Lock

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Updated 328d ago

Earlier this week, The Wave Bristol was announced to be finally going ahead. It's been six plus years of planning, setbacks, intense highs and lows, but England is now on track to finally get its first wave pool powered by Wavegarden technology.

Throughout the project, Nick Hounsfield has been the man at its helm, raising cash, giving talks, seeking investors to realise that inland surfing dream. But Nick admits it's been a tough journey filled with unexpected circumstances and more rings to jump through than should be humanly possible.

But he also firmly believes that in a world dominated by talk of the Slater/WSL wave pool, there's still a place for alternative means of artificial surfing. For example, The Cove, Wavegarden's 2.0 tech, is vastly different to what the GOAT has in Lemoore. Both inland, yet offering contrasting experiences. So, we checked in with Nick to talk Bristol Wave, Slater vs the rest of the industry and why the project took so long to come to some form of fruition.

Congrats on getting the contracts signed off for The Wave in Bristol, bet the champagne has been popped well and truly. When was the contract signed?
We signed contracts just a few weeks back - it was a great moment and an important milestone. They are a great company to work with.

How’s the site looking, is it all systems go?
Yes, all systems go. We have some enabling works underway at the moment which will then run into main construction over the summer.

© 2019 - The Wave

Right now the global surf media is gearing up for, perhaps one of the most important events in history, the Founders’ Cup of Surfing, seemed the right time to drop the news as conversations move to man-made waves. What’s your take on Kelly’s wave?
We're lucky enough to be making the trip to the Founders' Cup of Surfing this weekend. Kelly's wave is incredible and an amazing feat of engineering. There is no doubt that it is the biggest, longest artificial wave in the world.

It will be perfect for this style of competition. I’m excited to be visiting it and I’m sure WSL will lay on a great show.

Do you think Wavegarden tech, like The Cove, can stand up against Kelly’s/WSL’s juggernaut?
I don’t think the two are actually comparable. The Cove technology makes incredible waves at a frequency that will give noodle arms to even the best surfers in the world. The character of the wave is also very ocean-like and requires paddling back to the peak, just like you would in the sea. So many waves per hour and so much fun. It’s a big world out there and a big potential market and I’m sure these technologies can co-exist without issues

KSWC waves are hull generated waves, which in my experience are incredible to surf. You can practice pretty much everything on them that you would want to do in the ocean, provided they are engineered right.

Both technologies have their place. We have chosen Wavegarden Cove technology for The Wave Bristol because it fits perfectly with the demographics of the people who will visit us, the footprint we have available to develop on and the business model we need to deliver.

It’s a big world out there and a big potential market and I’m sure these technologies can co-exist without issues.

Our main focus is on delivering a great experience to people of all ages and abilities, however, with surfing now being included in Olympics, these inland surfing facilities will no doubt also play a part in high performance development. They look set to become a great training ground for our elite surfing athletes.

Talk us through the site in Bristol, it’s got a great catchment area…
Having 10 million people within 90 minutes' drive and an international airport make Bristol a prime location. We are in stunning countryside but just minutes from major road and rail connections.

The whole premise of our vision is to get people being active outdoors, in nature, and reconnect them to the health benefits of water, fresh air and healthy eating. To deliver this with an awesome surfing experience at its heart will be what makes it attractive for people to visit.

Also, talk us through the timeline The Wave, it began in, what, 2012? – and six years later it’s come to fruition?
It actually started right back in 2010 when several challenging life events made me reassess the world we live in and how we can make a positive impact on our planet and the people who live on it.

Having been a healthcare practitioner and a fanatical surfer, I really wanted to combine these two elements to create destinations that could draw people from all ages, backgrounds and abilities towards a healthier, happier, better connected future. I had no money, experience or team in place to do this, so had to build everything up from scratch

However, I had no money, experience or team in place to do this, so had to build everything up from scratch. We now have the best team in place to deliver our projects.

This has all been done with a backdrop of an ever-evolving wave technology market. We couldn’t make the Wavegarden Lagoon technology make sense from an investment perspective and it was only when we tried the Cove technology and understood the engineering and operational capabilities that we knew we had found the right technology for the project.

We were then able to submit a revised planning application which was approved in September 2017. Once we received approval, we had to complete the lengthy legal work to get us to this point. It has been quite journey and it feels amazing to now to be at the point of construction.

The plan was to go with Surfloch as well right? What happened to that partnership and why the shift back to Wavegarden?
One of the many criteria for our investors was to see a working prototype at full scale, something that we could ride and be reassured that it met the operational and engineering criteria we require. Wavegarden was able to do that with the Cove.

There’s been a few rounds of funding in the public and private sector – will there need to be anymore to see this project delivered?
When I set out on this journey, I optimistically thought that it would cost far less and who wouldn’t want to back it.  But after pitching to over 250 investors over the last five years, we have honed the business plan, got clearer on the construction costs, analysed every risk and put mitigations in place in order to deliver the appropriate return on investment required for our investors. We now have committed funders working with us to deliver the whole project.

We did a Crowdfunder campaign, as we had so many people wanting to be involved in funding and supporting us, and that was very successful. 

I have been told by many people that raising money is almost the hardest bit of building a business – they’re not wrong, although we still have the construction and operations to come.

What’s the total projected costs throughout the six years?
The total cost of the project is £22m.
Looking back on it, is there anything you’d have done differently?
I rarely look back, only forwards. Even things that seemed a distraction or fruitless become part of the journey, which makes the project stronger and better thought through in the end.

Stoked the project is finally coming together, and in terms of making The Wave more commercially viable, will there be festivals, live music?
Thanks Jason. We will have a rich stream of different activities, events and activities planned as we move through the coming years.

The core activity of surfing will make the business viable, but we want to deliver the whole experience and make sure we communicate the positivity of surfing and its culture to people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities… making waves of change.