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SURFER CHICK FOR A DAY AT THE WAVE

Last weekend I was invited to The Wave near Bristol for a beginner’s surf lesson in the white-water of their artificial lake, and to stay over in one of their onsite safari tents. To say I had a good time is an understatement.

Surfing at Watergate Bay, 2011.

This photo was taken in August 2011, during the last of a handful of lessons I had with Ashley from O’Neill Surf Academy at Watergate Bay over the course of a year or so (here’s a really old blog post about the first of those lessons). Living in Lincolnshire at the time, it was quite the trek to get some board time, so planning holidays to include lessons was my way of attempting to become the surfer chick I dreamed of.

Life has flown by, and it’s now 11 years since I last popped up. After being reminded what an amazing outdoor adventure surfing can be by Belinda Kirk in her recent book Adventure Revolution, I really wanted to get back on a board to rekindle some of that spirit.

I was very excited therefore to be invited to spend some time at The Wave, both to surf in the lake and to stay at The Camp.

About The Wave

The Wave is an inland surfing centre near Bristol, where the emphasis is on catching waves and using that to be happy and healthy. Its main feature is a surfing lake offering consistent perfect waves suitable for all levels of surfer, set in green space.

“The Wave is the first inland-surfing destination of its kind, where people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities can experience the joy of surfing and its many physical and mental health benefits. But it’s not just about surfing. It’s about getting back to nature, improving health and well-being, connecting with other people, enjoying great food and drink, and having a load of fun in the process!

The Wave from above- Photo: Nick Hounsfield.

Outdoor Wave Pool

The massive outdoor wave pool is a far cry from the waves you might find in the Subtropical Swimming Paradise at Center Parcs. The Wavegarden Cove technology, which is powered by renewable energy, generates up to 1,000 quality white water waves per hour, ranging from 50cm (1.7ft) to almost 2m (6.5ft) in height. There’s a new wave every 8-10 seconds.

The consistency of the waves and clarity of the (fresh) water makes this a fun and safe place to learn to surf, to practice skills, or to try new techniques. Importantly, The Wave has been designed to ensure each person has the space and time to enjoy their surf without needing to contend with the crowds or deal with the unpredictability of the sea.

Doing Good through Surfing

I can’t not mention some of the good work that The Wave are doing through their social impact programme. They want to share the surfing adventure experience with anyone who wants to enjoy it, including people who may often feel excluded by disability, age, gender, background, income, fears or pressures to conform. 

This involves running sessions specifically for women, helping BAME communities access surfing, providing support for the UK adaptive surfing community, and actively bringing those from vulnerable groups to The Wave to work on their mental health (for example). On the Sunday I was there, the team were running a special day for women and girls – there was such a great atmosphere, a lot of fun was being had by those involved.

I particularly like that The Wave aims to be a place where no-one is judged (except on competition days…) and everyone is equal and free to be themselves.

There’s more about how The Wave is trying to do things right on their website.

View of the lake from the roof of The Clubhouse.

My Beginner Surfing Lesson

I joined a small group of other beginner surfers for a sunset lesson in the predictable white-water waves of the west bay area of the artificial lake.

Right from when I got there I noticed and loved how relaxed the vibe of the centre is, just as you’d expect somewhere dedicated to surfing should be. Everyone there, staff and visitors alike, seemed to be having the most excellent Saturday. It is so nice to be in amongst a crowd having a great day out.

After checking in (I’d signed the waiver online earlier in the week), and getting into my wetsuit and boots (borrowing a wetsuit, boots, gloves and helmet were all included with my lesson), we started our lesson with a safety briefing overlooking the lake, before having a 20-minute (ish) on-land lesson taking us through the techniques we would need to get us surfing once in the water. The instructors were clear and cheerful in their delivery, and although I’d been surfing before, this recap was very useful especially as it had been so long.

Changing rooms, showers, and the on-land surf school.

Try, Try and Try Again

The in-water bit of the lesson was an hour of try, try and try again. Surfing is an excellent way to build resilience, after all. It was a case of wading into the water (hard work against the current but perfectly doable), quickly catching up with one of the two coaches, pointing the board in the right direction and jumping on, paddling to catch a wave, and (hopefully) popping up to surf back to shore. And repeat.

There was help at every step along the way. To begin with, the coaches would hold the board to make sure I got on, and helped push me as the wave arrived to make sure I got a good start. But as the lesson progressed they assisted less and less, as I was able to catch my own waves.

Being the last lesson of the day, the group was nice and small and there were fewer people hanging around The Wave. There was just seven of us in our group, with two coaches, which meant we had so much space. For each set of waves (there is a set of waves then a period of calm on repeat), I would have time to catch two without rushing around or pushing my endurance.  

Not me – but a photo I took of the more experienced surfers on Sunday morning.

Popping Up

By the end of my hour in the water, I had ridden a heap of waves in the prone position, a bunch on my knees, and some on my feet – saving my best pop up for the very last wave of the session. As this was a solo trip there is no photograph evidence, so you’ll just have to take my word for it – I would say it was a very successful hour in the water (by beginner’s standards).

The sun set while I was surfing, which was pretty special, I have to say. We also experienced all weathers in that short space of time; from sunshine to thick cloud and then rain and even a short snow shower. It might have only lasted a couple of minutes, but I’m now saying I surfed in the snow, it counts!

Of course, now I need more lessons to hone my skills and once again chase my childhood dream of maybe one day becoming super cool surfer chick; with The Wave only being an hour away from home I think it’s likely I’ll be back for more and hopefully not too far into the future.

Maybe one day!

Safe Space to Learn

The Wave definitely lived up to the claim that it’s a safe space to learn, both physically and personally. The enclosed and predictable set of waves, with periods of calm between the white water, were coupled with a pair of coaches doing everything they could to give each person in the small group of seven the best chance of popping up, whilst keeping it fun and relaxed.

I think one of the biggest benefits of learning at The Wave, apart from the excellent tuition and predictability of the wave sets of course, was that the water is not salty. While I adore being by the sea and clearly surfing is an ocean-based sport, it is rather nice not to have to deal with sore salty eyes or even that taste in your mouth!

I left the water at 8pm super happy, tired but not completely worn out, and ready for a warm shower and to get cosy in my safari tent just the other side of the main building…

The Camp

I am at home camping. I absolutely love spending nights under canvas, sleeping outside, being close to nature, making a mini adventure of going to bed. Rather than heading straight home after my surfing lesson, I was invited to try out one of the safari tents at The Camp. And I could definitely get used to glamping rather than camping…

The Camp is a glamping-only site right next to the surfing lake, making it ideal for those who love to surf early or late.

My safari tent at The Camp (on a cold and frosty morning!).

Safari Tent Facilities

There are a bunch of safari-style tents on site, each complete with chunky wooden furniture with space to sleep six to eight adults. There’s a little kitchenette with pans and plates provided, a fridge, an en-suite toilet, hot running water, and space to sit and relax pre- or post-surf.

For summer days there’s a large deck area and space outside to dry wetsuits; but for the sub-zero temperatures of my visit, I was very grateful for the wood burner that made the tent cosy, and the little electric stove on which I could boil water to make a cup of tea (or two) and make a simple meal. Hot showers and large sinks are just a short walk away.

Entertainment

There’s a communal tipi style shelter for groups to gather under, and The Clubhouse café and bar is a great place to sit and eat and watch others surfing from breakfast through to dinner.

There’s no television or radio (this is camping after all), but there is wifi which means you can watch something on a laptop or tablet if you’re not the type of surfer who’ll sit and read a book to relax. And, as an encourager of everyone getting outside more, I should mention there is a lovely nature walk around The Wave, and a series of public footpaths crossing the grounds which provide a decent length walking (or running) loop if you want something active out of the water.

Comfortable

I had a very comfortable stay indeed. It was a particularly cold night, but the wood burner and my hot water bottle meant I went to bed warm, and the provided bedding was enough to keep me snug until morning. I even had a lie in!

The large one-size-fits-all tent was probably a little big for just me, but I wouldn’t be against returning for another solo surfing getaway sometime. There’s no law that says individuals aren’t allowed space to spread out when away from home! And staying here has definitely made me want to hunt out other glamping options for little solo adventures this year.

The safari tents at The Camp would be ideal for someone – or a couple, a family, a small group of friends – wanting to really get stuck in with lessons or surf sessions. This may well be how I organise my next trip – lesson, sleep, lesson, home.

Surfer Chick Loading…  

Even at its most basic level, my surfing lesson at The Wave was a most excellent way to spend One Hour Outside. More than that, it was an opportunity for a mini adventure, to test my resilience, to let my body and mind remember something that it once loved, and to very much be in the moment.

And staying at The Camp reminded me how much I like the simple life; spending a night away in such a nice setting helped to elongate my adventure into something that was more than just a quick hit.

If you’re looking to learn to surf, either just to give this super chilled adventure sport a try or because you want to fully immerse yourself in the surfing lifestyle, The Wave is a real and sensible option. They offer lessons from beginner up, and surf sessions with waves to suit beginners through to expert (including barrel waves if you fancy surfing through tunnels).

Find out more about The Wave on their website.

With thanks to The Wave for inviting me to surf and stay at their centre near Bristol. My lesson and stay were gifted, but this is not a sponsored post.

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