Surfing “The Wave” in Bristol. What you need to know and what I think about it.
First things first… I’m not a purist, who thinks surfing has to be exclusively in the ocean, and I am not new to surfing other kinds of waves. In 2005, I surfed the Sunway Lagoon in Malaysia and in early 2006 I tried river surfing for the first time. Another stationary wave I gave a try was the flow ride in Durban in 2009.
Surfing is the act of riding waves, in what ever way they might come. But for me personally, everything around is at least equally important! So all those artificial waves never really caught me.
But as I said, I was never per se against wave pool surfing and always interested in it. My fist time in a pool was a long time ago, when I went backpackeing through Malaysia and Thailand. It was foamy surfing and nothing “real”, but great fun for one afternoon.
How ever, things have changed in recent years and got more serious if it comes to wave pool technology.
The Wave in Bristol uses the “the cove” technology by wavegarden. The same as those two pools we get in Switzerland. The quantity of waves there is impressive and probably unrivalled in the ocean.
I choose a few days in March and had the chance to test the Advanced plus and the Expert settings as well. They are not running on a daily base just yet. Other that this, I surfed the advanced setting on both, the left and the right.
So lets start our “the Wave Bristol” review with the whole experience and the normal settings…
As it was early March, it was relatively cold, and I’m not used to this. At least if it comes to surfing. It was the first time for me to surf with a 5 millimetre wetsuit, gloves and a hood. And I haven’t been surfing for around 6 weeks previously. But not enough with this. I was recovering from a fracture in my shoulder and my fitness level was far from where it should have been. But maybe this is not a real problem in a wave pool, not like on a beach, right?
Wrong! “The Wave Bristol” is not a merry-goes-around, where you jump into the water, surf your wave, walk back and do it all over again.
You have to paddle! First you paddle out, as you would do in the ocean. With a pool length of 180 meters (yes, you have to paddle the whole pool to get to the take off zone), and a more than 100 meter long paddle back after every wave (15-20 waves per hour), you’re probable around 2 km paddling per session! So better be fit and ready when you come here. It’s just more fun. Same as on every other surf trip.
So remember: Just because it’s a pool, it doesn’t mean you have to paddle less!
Being out of shape here, is almost as bad as in the ocean. The only difference is, you don’t have to duck dive.
You get there early enough to gaze at the waves, sign in, and get ready. They give you Rip Curl wetsuits free to use. They have different models. The best one I got was a “dawn patrol” that absolutely satisfied me. The booties were really bad, so better bring your own if it’s cold. The gloves and hood were alright.
At the wave in Bristol, they give you surfboards free to use as well. And they’ve got a good selection. But you can never be sure which board is ready for you. Or even worse, if all of them are dinged and in repair. So once again it’s really similar to every other surf trip… You decide if you bring your own board or try your luck with their rentals.
Some people say you should bring a bigger board, as the buoyancy in fresh water is not as good as in saltwater?! Not sure how much you really feel about that? I definitely felt the extra weight from the thick wetsuit, and how hard it is to paddle with it. But I would’t say that I felt like my board had not enough buoyancy because of the missing salt. So bring the board you’re used to and you would surf in small waves usually. A bit of extra volume is always good, in the ocean too. But I wouldn’t say you need it here more than somewhere else.
Once you’re registered, you get your lycra shirt and you have to wait for the briefing. Do your stretching, warm up and get excited to be here.
After the short explanation of how it works and how you have to behave in the water, let your excitement take over and paddle out.
It felt weird to sit at the top of the pool. As the take off zone is so close to the triangle at the very end, it has almost a claustrophobic feel to it! A concrete wall to one side and the pier with the net on the other. This was probably one of the biggest downsides of the whole experience for me! Surfing has so much to do with freedom, being in nature and the possibility of looking around and seeing the horizon. Always having concrete right in your face is just not the same! I guess this is why I love being in the mountains just as much as the ocean?
The whole group is sitting out there. Board to board. And when your turn comes, you paddle right next to the wall. If you like a steep take off, you could easily touch the wall!
Depending on the setting, the time between waves is somewhere between 6 and 8 seconds I’d say. This is a really different rhythm than in the ocean, where we prefer to surf swells with a higher period.
The spoiled ones of us, who surf often in places like Indonesia or wintertime Morocco, are more used to 12-16 seconds between waves. That means you’ve got only half the time to get ready for your wave!
Once the machine starts, the first wave rolls through with only half the size (no one surfs it). During the whole set, every wave is identical. At least in theory! There might be little differences due the water movement or wind, but nothing major.
If you’re on an advanced session, you get two tries for your take off. If you miss the first one, you should paddle a bit away from the wall and try again. But keep in mind, that the next one is coming in a few seconds! If you miss it again, or if you fall, you have to stick as close as possible to the concrete wall, and let the white water wash you in. Doing this, you make sure you’re not in the way of the person behind you. But don’t worry, it’s a super easy take off. The waves have enough power to push you forward, and placing yourself in the right position is as easy as it can be.
As soon as you stand up, the wave is nice and steep, but becomes really flat and fat within a few meters. I have to say I didn’t like that about this setting. After a fun take off, you have to either do a super fast top turn, or a long drawn out cut back in the flat section. And then you have to stay close to the white water and get ready for the last section of the wave. The last section is much steeper and great to practice your top turns. But by this point, the wave is already pretty small.
After the first three sets, they make the waves a bit bigger. By this point, people who really shouldn’t be in the water, hopefully have realised it. Or they’ve been told by the lifeguards, and leave the pool. And after a few more sets, they scale it up again. This doesn’t make it any more difficult to surf it, and it’s still small and friendly, but great fun.
From the end of your wave, you have to paddle towards the pier, or walk in the knee deep water in that part of the pool. Next to the pier is a channel with deep water, that makes the paddle back really easy and you don’t have to dive a single wave. It’s really important, that you go across to the pier (if you fall, you first have to let the whitewater wash you in). If you try to paddle back out over the waves, as you would do in the ocean, you probably end up being in the way of the person behind you! Remember, the waves come very close behind each other. Do your part, and paddle back along the pier, as you were told in the briefing. If you’re selfish and don’t care if you’re in someone else’s es wave because you don’t play by the rules, you might be told to leave the pool!
You can try to be on the first wave of the set and count over how many waves you paddle on the way back. By doing this, you know how many more are left in this set. As I said, I wasn’t fit, and I worn a thick wetsuit. So my paddling was definitely much slower than it could be, or would be with a 15 years old local grommet! If I was on the first wave, I managed to be back out and ready to go again for number 14 or 15. So two waves in one set are absolutely possible.
You see, even if there are enough waves here for everyone, the level of surfing and the number of people in the water have a big influence on how your session turns out. Let’s say you go on a weekend afternoon with perfect weather during summer holidays, every session is probably fully booked. And if the session is full with people who fall on the take off, or don’t get the wave, 20 waves in a set are not enough for everyone! But this means on the next set, you’re further in line. But on the other hand, I went mid morning on cold workdays in early March and the sessions were never full.
And that means, if everyone sticks the take off on their first attempt, the first few people can get a second wave in the same set. With 12 surfers per side, and no one falling, half of the people could surf a second wave! So once again, make sure to be fit when you get here. You’ll get more waves for your pounds. Just like surfing in the ocean.
Advanced Plus and Expert session
As the wavegarden “the cove” technology is still in it’s infancy, new settings and wave-types will keep comming. I had the chance to try the Advanced Plus and the Expert session, what means bigger and more powerful waves. But this equals in much more movement and current in the water, what makes paddling a lot harder. The take off is a bit further toward the edge of the pool, what means even less space, and it’s a really sucky and fast take off. It actually has a bit something of a little slab. At least the Expert session. Here you have to paddle really hard to get into the wave, and make sure you know how to stick a steep and fast drop. While the take off during the Advanced session is among the easiest take offs I had ever done in my life, the take off in the Advanced Plus and Expert Sessions is another piece of cake!
During these settings, the rule was one try only! And pretty much everyone missed or fell on a few waves! If you paddle hard enough and are used to this kind of take off, it’s amazing! The wave is not only a bit bigger, but it actually throws the lip. During the Advances session, you sometimes feel like you can find a little head dip, but that’s it. But on the Expert session, there is actually enough space to fit a small surfer into the barrel! And as it is a mechanical wave, it’s really easy to hold your line and get a little cover up.
The wave has still more or less the same sections, but as it pumps with more power, the flat part in the middle becomes step enough too.
So you have to paddle real hard, stick the sucky drop and decide if you simply want to hold your line and try to get a cover up, or if you want to build speed and hit the lip. The nice thing is, that even the end section has still a bit more size and offers you enough space for another 2-3 turns.
They are testing around, and more settings will come at some point. I think this is great, as even if it comes to wave pool surfing, the chance to surf a “new” wave will get you excited.
So what’s about my the Wave Bristol review?
These two pictures are actually enough of a “the wave Bristol review”! What more do you want that such waves that keep you smiling?
As I said, for me surfing has a lot to do with freedom and forsight, and this is something you won’t find between concrete walls! But if you strip down surfing to the sole act of riding waves, you definitely get a lot of time under your board while spending little time in the water. This equals in progressing faster than you ever could in the ocean!
So if you can do a take off, on a big softboard or Mini-Malibu in small and slow waves, the intermediate session will help you to progress quickly. Having the same gentle wave over and over again, helps to get the feeling of a good take off and riding along the green wave. And this will make it easier when you’re back in the ocean.
Once you’re pass that stage, you can really think about what part of your surfing needs improvement and focus on it. As a training facility, this is incredibly helpful and will make people progress so much faster than ever before. Of course, back in the ocean, many other factors play a role too. And these things can only be learned with patience and time in the ocean.
If we have to breed the next generation of surfers to be wave pool trick ponies is a whole different question.
BUT fact is, if all you want to do is, to ride waves, train your manoeuvres, and progress as fast as possible, there is no better option than a wave pool.
Another things I love about surfing is, that even if it’s always the same, it actually never is! Traveling and surfing different waves is a never ending story for us. And surfing a wave pool is in a way as different as it gets! In my opinion, this is enough reason to give it a try. It’s okey if you don’t fall in love with it, and if it won’t replace the ocean for you. It never will for me! BUT it’s a nice alternative and as soon as Wave Up opens here in Switzerland, it will become another question if and how often I will go? As I said, You have to be fit to surf it. Or you WILL be fit if you surf it on a regular base. And this will guarantee that you get more waves where ever else you go. And staying in shape this way is for sure more fun than paddling in a lake of hitting the gym…
So I really enjoyed it! It was my first time in Bristol, which is a super cool city with great restaurants, good live music and fantastic beers. Surfing the pool felt in many ways like surfing a wave in the ocean. The number of waves you surf there in one, two or three sessions on a day is much higher than on most beaches around the world! And the quality of the waves is definitely great. It could never replace surfing in the ocean for me, but it doesn’t has to!
As it is a bit out of town and getting there can be a mission. Think about a rental car, or take an UBER, just to make your life easier. If you spend so much money to ride waves, you can spend a few extra pounds to get there too. The wave isn’t cheap!
Will I be back?
I have to say, I would prefer to go to a beach somewhere with a smaller chance of such quantity waves, and guaranteed good conditions. Because even on a surftrip, the time we spend in the water, is actually a relatively small percentage of the whole day. And spending time on the ocean is priceless for me.
Will I be surfing Wave Up’s wave in Switzerland every day once it opened?
Well… probably not, as it is pricy to surf it. I guess I’s rather safe my money for a trip to some exotic place. But I think I would go every once in a while. Just to make sure I won’t get too rusty. And probably a few times just before the trip, to be ready once I taste the salt again on my lips.