Almost a decade in the making, the world’s first public Wavegarden Cove, located in the land-locked city of Bristol, England, will start pumping out waves next week — and open to the public in early November. (UrbnSurf, the Melbourne-based pool also using WaveGarden Cove tech, is currently filled and will open to the public in a couple months.)
As a reminder on Wavegarden Cove tech: its patented wave-making system can reportedly generate up to 1,000 quality waves per hour, ranging from one foot to six feet. Rides are between 10-15 seconds, and wave size and shape can be changed with the touch of a button. The Wave is 180 meters long.
Nick Hounsfield first introduced the idea of a wavepool in Bristol in 2010, and there’s been multiple rounds of investment and millions of dollars poured into the project since. “It’s been a rollercoaster,” says Nick, which is an apt description, given the fact that he pitched to around 230 investors over the course of the project. The tech evolved as well, from Wavegarden (ala Surf Snowdonia) to a Tom Lochtefeld tech back to Wave Garden when they introduced the Cove.
Timelapse of filling the pool.
We caught up with Hounsfield a few weeks back, as the finishing touches were being put on the pool. Needless to say, he’s excited.
This has been in development for some time now, let’s run through the timeline of The Wave.
2010 was when I first started to put together some thoughts about creating a health destination — and that idea came at a fortuitous time, right as the first Wavegarden tech was released in 2011. That became the centerpiece of the vision. Being a surfer for 40 odd years, I had a massive vested interest in trying to create a wave inland. It was a real bringing together of waves and passions. I met the Wave Garden guys back then, and we said yes, ‘let’s do this, let’s build one of these in Bristol.’
Back then, I thought it was going to take two years and £2 million. Then there was the change in technology, planning permission — the first application was approved in 2014. It took that long to get the land sorted and various deals in place, get the funding together. This then had to be revisited by 2016, ready for The Cove tech. Had to get the funding deals done, the construction drawings ready. Then the last 10 months have been a huge acceleration, we’ve had to do the archeology and enabling works, getting the site ready to build on. Then the proper construction started really end of December or start of January this year. It took eight months to build the main lake and the clubhouse.
That’s a feat of engineering, when you put it in scope of the past nine years.
Yeah, it really is. A year going from technical drawing to having a final design solution that’s ready to build. It feels short in the grand scheme of things [laughs].
You mentioned a change in tech, too. Wave Garden was going to be used, then Surf Loch, then back to Wave Garden, what were the reasons for changing?
We were originally going to fit the lagoon technology, as they call it, the hydrofoil under the pier structure like Surf Snowdonia. And then when we saw the engineering frailties and single points of failure…we went through the due diligence process and both us and our investors decided it was just risky. We then went back out to the market to see what other tech was in development. We came across Tom Lochtefeld, the grandfather of wave-making tech. He had his new system that he wanted to bring to fruition. We wanted to work with him. It’s principally the same as the American Wave Systems machine, it’s a pneumatic system. But we were struggling to get a full scale prototype built to prove to our investors that the technology worked.
One day, got a call from Wave Garden and they said, ‘we’ve taken on all your concerns from before and we’ve developed brand-new technology which addresses all your concerns’. Two days later, I went out with the investors, saw it, cried [laughs] because it was that ‘this is exactly what we need’ moment. The investor who had never surfed before in his life, we got him in the water, within 45 minutes to an hour, he was racing down the line on a quite mellow, shoulder-to-head high wave, yelling, ‘where do I sign, let’s get this built!’ A real pivotal moment.
A lot of people are going to be unsure of the differences between Surf Snowdonia and The Wave. The Wave is Wave Garden’s Cove technology. For those who don’t know, how would you describe the differences between the two?
If just looking at it from a surfing perspective, it’s many more waves per hour being produced. There’s been a bit of anxiety from people booking about value for money with waves, like, ‘are there going to be enough?’ The previous technology did not deliver enough waves. It’s this strange thing where people are putting a currency per wave, and I just don’t think that’s the way to look at this. It should be around the actual experience. Because there’s so many waves, people aren’t going to be able to catch every single wave we produce for them. I’ve surfed Wave Garden 20 odd times, waves pass you by because you can’t get back to the start again. In terms of an experience and volume of waves, it far exceeds any other technology out there at the moment. The main thing is the authenticity of the wave. Say for example, Slater’s wave, you’re next to a central pier, it’s pushing you away it doesn’t feel like the ocean – but it’s an incredibly fun wave. But The Cove tech, what we’re using in Bristol, is much more ocean-like in the way it behaves. If you were to close your eyes, it absolutely feels like the real thing.
And there’s more implications here for Olympics here. This could be a training facility that could raise England’s Olympic hopes. Is there scope for this at The Wave?
Yes, absolutely. I know there’s scope for it because it’s already in the plans. I’m one of the directors of British Surfing and Surfing England, there’s conflict of interest there – I’ve got the place for the training but the high performance and elite athlete side is so important for the way that the sport is moving. Are they going to get the benefits of it before Japan? Timing’s a little bit tight. We’re very much looking at this winter onwards to be able to invite a larger, wider pool of the top UK athletes to use this place as a training facility. Getting people comfortable in waves we can create, having this waves, at the press of a button, any time of the day, getting pro coaches to help the athletes tweak their performance.
As an example, a couple of weeks, ago we took Lukas Skinner [UK wondergrom and son of longboard champ Ben Skinner] out there in a heaving, slabby wave. He went over the falls, popped up and said, ‘that’s a legit wave.’ Two, three waves later, a couple of tips from the side, and he started making this really tricky drop and in the end, he was flying through deep, throaty barrels and boosting on an air section. When that wave turns up in competition, he’ll know exactly what to do. For him, he said it was some of the best waves he’s ever had in his life. I’m excited about the direction here.
This has been an almost 10-year process. What’s been some of the most difficult moments to get this from idea to reality?
Trickiest thing was the frustration of the tech not being quite ready for what we wanted to achieve in the early days. And then the absolute Eureka moment when we saw The Cove, the product to fill our aspirations and the aspirations for people who have never surfed before. To deliver that to a mass market, is incredible.
Without a doubt, the hardest, was the investment raising process. The tech wasn’t robust nor proven enough. It really made that process tough. It took two and a bit years, speaking to 230 or more investors, each one a dragon’s den environment, getting a good old toasting every time [laughs]. Every single person saying, ‘this is amazing, the tech looks great but we won’t back it yet. Come back to us when you want to build the second one.’
Every night, coming back to my wife, she would ask, ‘how’d the meeting go?’ And I’ll be like, ‘brilliant, they loved it!’ Then, five days later, hearing back from them, they loved it but they’re not going to back it. Doing that, every day for two years, that was brutal. But we got there.
What frequency are we talking about here and what types of waves?
You’ve got three different sandbanks working. You’ve got the outer sandbank, or a reef-type wave, where the wave will break further out in deeper water at a bigger height, it’s what we’re calling a reef wave. That main advanced wave, we’re able to adapt the shape and characteristics of that wave, so we’ll end up with a few presets. We can have an open-walled wave, easier to surf, lined up, not seriously critical but a nice open wall you can carve off and do some maneuvers.
Then you can ramp it up. We’ve got an easier barrel mode, which will create a second section barrel, so you can take off, get in the barrel, followed by some open face. It keeps going up to what they’re calling the slab and beast mode. A really critical, draining wave — a proper heavy barrel. Skinner and his son were surprised by how critical that wave was. We know we’re not going to be running that every day, really, it’s going to be the day-to-day wave and have to host special sessions for those who want to take a swing at more challenging barrels.
You’ve then got a reform on the inner reef, which then gives us an intermediate wave, which will be waist-to chest-high, more a Malibu type wave, something you can cruise on a funboard, an open-faced wave you can go down the line on.
Then the wave on the inner section becomes like Waikiki — your crumbly whitewater with a bit of green face on it, which will be great for beginners to learn on. Maybe some turning but it’s your classic whitewater learner wave.
So within each side of the lake, you can have around 40 people, surfing different waves at different ability levels. Quite close proximity but a safe and manageable distance apart.
Could you run through how that tech works?
Yeah, it’s a succession of what they call modules. A series of individual components, each one creates a pulse of energy. It’s like a paddle system that creates that energy. We stacked up 40 of them in an array, so we’re introducing that pulse at various moments across the wave. The wave is generated then when it starts to trip up and run down the reef, we’re adding another pulse of energy every yard or so. You’re getting consistent power all the way along the wave until it dies out.
Those 40 modules run for about 80 yards across the lake, and that creates enough power and force for the wave to not only peel over the expert, or reef wave, but also creates power for the intermediate and beginner waves too. That’s the principle. The great thing about this system is that all the working parts are out of the water — so if anything breaks or needs maintaining, we can do so while the waves continue to work. We can actually lose up to 30 percent of those modules and there will still be a wave good enough to surf. If anything broke, it’s kind of off-the-shelf mechanical parts we can get from a multitude of UK suppliers – not like a foil system where if that breaks, you need to shut down. So any down time is reduced from days to just hours. And even then, it’s unlikely you’ll notice it.
The Wave will be open year-round and a one-hour surf will cost £40-45 for an adult and £30-35 for a child, depending on the time of year and day of the week. A 1.5 hour surf session with coaching costs £55-60 for an adult and £45-50 for a child. All prices include wetsuit, wetsuit boots and surfboards. There are dedicated areas of the lake for beginner, intermediate and advanced surfers. More info here.