Wavegarden is bringing the power of the ocean to the mountains of North Wales. They have been given the go-ahead to build the UK’s first inland surf lake. The giant wave lagoon, three times the size of a football pitch, will be the first of its kind in the world. (Video)
The technology to create the consistent perfect wave has taken a decade to develop and could transform the sport of surfing – giving it the potential to be considered as an Olympic event.
A prototype has been built near the Spanish city of San Sebastian. An underwater foil operates beneath a pier that runs the length of the lagoon. It works like a snow plough, pushing the water upwards and outwards.
Wavegarden engineer Alex Onatibia presses a button and 1.2m (4ft) waves rise up, peel and break in exactly the same spot. One is formed every minute.
Mr Onatibia demonstrated the hand-held control panel: “We have all the parameters we need to control the machinery. You can see the height and shape and speed and the temperature of the water and exactly where the wave is positioned,” he says.
Lloyd Cole is the GB surf team head coach. He spends a few hours surfing the mechanical wave.
The giant wave lagoon is about three times the size of a football pitch
“It’s so much fun! So much better than I thought it was going to be. Just the way the wave is formed and the power behind it,” he tells me.
“It’s going to be a game-changer, both from a coaching point of view and a surfing point of view. We’re really lucky to have it in the UK. It puts a smile on your face and that’s what surfing is all about.”
It was the idea of Wavegarden chief executive Josema Odriozola, who surfs in the Basque Country.
“Every surfer dreams of having the perfect wave in his backyard. Our ambition was to create a wave that is as good as a really good wave in the ocean,” he says.
In the natural world waves are created by the action of wind moving over the water and are affected by, among other things, tides and the geography of the ocean floor. It is a complicated mix.
“The computer simulation of fluid dynamics has changed dramatically in the last 5 years,” says Mr Odriozola.
“It’s hard if you make a mistake of 10cm in the depth of the lagoon. Surfers know with the coming and going of the tide that a wave will disappear. We have to be precise.”
It’s not just for experienced surfers. The wave can be made smaller for beginners. Mr Odriozola’s sons were both under six years old when they started surfing it.
The company bringing the technology to the UK is Surf Snowdonia. Construction has just started on a patch of wasteland near the town of Dolgarrog. An aluminium factory used to stand on the site but was closed down in 2007.
The freshwater lagoon will be 300m long and 110m wide and will generate an estimated 60 waves per hour. A ride of 18 seconds will be possible on the expert wave.
Andrew Ainscough is the project director. “The wave is on tap. You book your hour online, you turn up and you get in. It’s awesome,” he explains.
According to managing director Steve Davies, the International Surfing Association believes this facility could help persuade the International Olympic Committee to accept surfing as an Olympic sport.
“One of the obstacles is that every competitor wants precisely the same conditions as the other competitor, and when you’re dealing with the natural world, that’s impossible to guarantee. The Wavegarden technology produces a level playing field,” he says.
Andrew Cotton from Devon recently surfed one of the largest recorded waves – around 24m (80ft) – off the coast of Portugal.
“It’s a good way to get people in to surfing. But you’re missing out on the ocean. Every wave is different and that’s what makes a good surfer, reading waves and reading conditions. Learning about the ocean is the key to surfing. But at the same time you can progress your techniques and manoeuvres much more easily,” he says.
The Snowdonia team looks set to pip another group in Bristol which wants to bring a similar project to the West Country. The Bristol Wave hopes to get planning permission in the next few days.
There are other surf wave machines, including ones in Tenerife and Dubai. However they operate in a different manner. According to Lloyd Cole, water is lifted up and dropped and it loses its energy more rapidly. This new technology is mechanical, giving engineers the capability of creating a wave that could last for miles.
The Snowdonia site is set to open around Easter 2015 and looks set to be the first of many Wavegardens around the world which could revolutionise the sport of surfing.