The WaveGarden Centre

Written by on 20th January 2014
Published in Learn to Surf, Photos, Team Surfers
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The received wisdom is this:
• Artificial waves are naff.
• You can’t reproduce the majesty of the ocean in a swimming pool … not in any sensible way that doesn’t cost the earth at least.

The received wisdom is wrong.

The Wavegarden is about to change everything.

Artificial waves aren’t new. From Florida’s Typhoon Lagoon to the Japanese Ocean Dome, via Siam Park in Thailand to the Tenerife installation, various ones have been tried and tested. The recent star is the Wadi wave pool in the Middle East. The trouble with all these joints is cost. They take seriously deep pockets to build, in excess of twenty-million Euros, and use huge amounts of energy: pumping water up in to tanks to be dropped to make the wave. The reset time is slow. So one surfer gets to ride one wave every five minutes. If they fluff the drop that’s a real pain. It’s also not an operation that will ever cover its costs. The huge Japanese one went bust a few years back and the rest remain as pools for tourists to play in 99 percent of the time. Nothing more than a curiosity for the magazines and brands to play with when they’re cranked up to the max. The quality and size however is good. Anyone that’s seen Dion Agius or Reubyn Ash’s clips from the Wadi park can’t deny they’re perfect for progressive high-performance surfing.

The other concept that’s yet to evolve past the small scale model phase is the disputed ‘doughnut ring’ shaped Slater/Webber model. Supposedly there are plans afoot to build many but none as yet are confirmed and the science is questionable.

Which leads us to the Wavegarden. The Basque curiosity which first emerged two years ago and went viral very quickly. The small, but perfectly formed, DIY left in what looked like a farmer’s field captured the world’s imagination. It looked like a water feature Charlie Dimmock had knocked up after a few too many mojitos. A rudimentary hole in the ground lined with black pond liner that somehow had this mesmerising hollow left running it’s length. The smattering of tour pro’s that sampled v1.0 were impressed. The verdict was unanimous: the concept is a definite runner … it just needs to be bigger.

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Two years later in June 2013 another video dropped. The first look at Wavegarden v2.0. Again a who’s who of the world’s pro contingent starred. Dane, Medina and more who did things on the substantially bigger, and now also doubled up, white lined, all together more professional looking installation.

The Basque test facility is just that. It’s their mad scientist lab for working on, improving, and occasionally breaking the concept. It’s where they can turn things up to 11 and see what happens. It won’t ever be open to the public. v2.0 is built on the same land as v1.0. They just made the hole bigger. But there’s the rub. The remote mountain valley that is their Bond villain style lair for world wave domination is limited on space. On one side a steep pasture and the other drops down sharply in to a river. They’ve pushed it as long and as wide as they can.

The Basque test facility is just that. It’s their mad scientist lab for working on, improving, and occasionally breaking the concept.

But the science remains the same. The planned commercial operations, which number in the double digits, will be sited on land with more room. So the lakes can be wider and longer; which means the waves can be bigger. Right now the test site is the ultimate grom/junior training ground. Sure grown up surfers can smash it but it’s a bit too small to go proper nuts. When they make the wave proper overhead it’s going to be a sight to see. Which, being British, we’ll be the first to witness, the North Wales and Bristol developments lead the pack and should be the first commercial operations open to the public in the world.
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‘What about the cost and the energy use?’ you cry. Well, kids here’s the thing. Not only does the garden produce a sweet left and right running long enough to knock off multiple turns every wave once at the end the magic tech that makes the wave does some fancy stuff and is ready to go back the other way. Yep, you read that right. So you surf a left one way. Wait three minutes (at the moment, they’re working on a one minute turnaround for the public versions) and surf a right back again. Imagine that. Getting a wave so long you can do six turns, really work on the kinks in your technique, frontside and then repeat backside.

Yeah, for sure, after surfing the one in Spain the potential for it is insane. Easily get barrels and I’m sure they will find more crazy stuff to do!

With two people riding simultaneously either side of the lake. So the wave count is good. The energy use minimal. Once up to speed the wave generator, the tech of which we’ll leave you to marvel about, suffice to say it doesn’t involve gravity dumping water like the established parks, uses little energy. And here’s the kicker: a basic Wavegarden is yours for four-million euros. Yep. Less than a fifth of the cost of other schemes and able to sate many more surfers a day.

The expression is: #winning. And for more cash you can go bigger and longer. If you had the land and the money you could build one a mile long, hell, if you’re an oil sheik, ten miles long. The tech is that clever.

Suffice to say the lucky few pro’s to have surfed the test facility have all been blown away. It’s legit.

Cynics will sneer ‘these kook pools are just going to clog the real oceanic line-ups with lake learned grockles’. Well heads up Mr Grumpy: the Wavegarden ain’t for beginners. If you can’t paddle into a wave and stand up then you’re not going anywhere. It’s for intermediates and advanced surfers who will, to a human, froth on it until they can froth no more and will go home exhausted beaming from ear to ear. Any cynic won’t be once they’ve had a ride.

The wider lagoons at each end are perfect for people to learn how to stand on foamies in a safe controlled environment but the fact remains a lake and the sea are completely different. Learning to surf in a lake won’t get you very far in the sea. It’s like all surfing should be: it’s about having fun.

We’ll be watching progress at Surf Snowdonia’s North Wales facility and The Wave at Bristol very closely. This summer is the proposed opening for the planning permission approved Welsh one and Bristol’s impressive planning application has just been made and they’re aiming to be open by years end.

We can’t wait. We’ll be amongst the long list of people wanting to help ‘test’.

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ERRANT TEAM RIDER HARRY TIMSON Q&A

Was the Wavegarden anything like you imagined it to be?
Harry: Not at all! I thought it would be more like a Flowrider, where it’s not exactly like surfing but it’s so much like a real waves it’s incredible!

How weird was seeing that first wave?
Not at all! I thought it would be more like a Flowrider, where it’s not exactly like surfing but it’s so much like a real waves it’s incredible!

How weird was seeing that first wave?
Crazy, and seeing as the water was calm its barrelled the whole way and pretty much was like a dream come true!

How freaky was surfing your first wave?
First wave was a bit weird trying to get used to surfing a waves that doesn’t have one drop of water out of place!

How many waves did it take before you had it figured out?
Not sure exactly but definitely took a fair few!

Was surfing in the middle of the Basque mountains the strangest thing?
The background around it is so crazy and it’s even weirder when you remember you’re surfing in the middle of a grassy valley with huge trees!

Considering they could produce bigger/longer waves do you think proper barrels are possible?
Yeah, for sure, after surfing the one in Spain the potential for it is insane. Easily get barrels and I’m sure they will find more crazy stuff to do!

Did that one day session improves your surfing in any way?
Afterwards you seem to feel a lot quicker however you don’t normally get a wave that lets you do eight turns with the same section every time!

How much did you ache the day after?
So much! Felt like the most hardcore workout!

What are the downsides?
Not a lot but if you wanted to be picky I guess the only thing I can think of is the time you have to wait between waves.

It’s the ultimate thing for intermediates and advance surfers to work on their technique. What do you say to people that reckon there will heaps of beginner surfers clogging the line-ups?
They can have the line-ups and I’ll surf the Wavegarden! Haha!

If you won the EuroMillions would you get one for the garden?
What kind of a question is that?! You’d have to be stupid not to get one!

So what do you think: Will WaveGarden’s be a handy place to hone your surfing or the end of surfing as know it? Let us know in the comments below.

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