01 Feb 2023 World leisure: news, training & property
Sign up for FREE ezine

Attractions Management
2022 issue 1

View issue contents

Leisure Management - Waves of change


Waves of change

As inland surfing destination The Wave announces plans to open six more sites, Magali Robathan goes for a surf and meets CEO Craig Stoddart to hear more about the plans

The Wave founder Nick Hounsfield (left) and CEO Craig Stoddart (right) Image Cabin
Wavegarden Cove technology is used to create up to 1,000 waves per hour ImageCabin
A clubhouse faces a central access spine and two large wave pools global shots
A range of initiatives aims to attract a broad spectrum of people to The Wave Global Shots
The Wave worked with the adaptive surfing community on the design of the site Surfing England
The Wave worked with Finisterre to develop kit for Muslim women Image Cabin
The company is looking for further sites in Europe, Ireland and the UK Katya Og
The Clubhouse acts as a hub Matt Austin
The Clubhouse acts as a hub Matt Austin
Glamping-style accommodation units opened in 2021 Matt Austin
Glamping-style accommodation units opened in 2021 Matt Austin

The artificial surf park sector is fast-growing and set to boom over the coming years – predictions suggest that there will be around 100 surf parks operating around the world in the next decade. As Craig Stoddart, CEO of inland surf lake The Wave, tells me: “It’s a very blank canvas right now – there are only five operational surf parks in the world. We intend to be one of the leading multi-site operators internationally; there will always be a few significant players in the industry, and we want to be one of them.”

When I visit The Wave – just outside Bristol, UK – it’s been open for almost three years. The team has just announced an exclusivity agreement with Basque wavepool designer and manufacturer Wavegarden, and is pushing ahead with plans to open a second site in London in 2025, and a further five more sites across the UK and Ireland, while also looking at potential locations across Europe. It seems a good time to try the facility and to catch up with The Wave’s chief executive to find out more.

When The Wave founder Nick Hounsfield first had the idea of opening an artificial surf lake, wave generating technology was still in its infancy. An osteopath and lifelong surfer, Hounsfield was determined to harness the physical and mental benefits of surfing, and to open a safe, accessible place for people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to try the sport.

When Hounsfield came across Basque wavemaking company Wavegarden (www.wavegarden.com) via a Youtube video, he was impressed, and went to meet the brothers behind the company. That meeting led to the creation of The Wave, which features a 180m-long cove-shaped lake, with a pier in the centre, and uses Wavegarden Cove technology to create up to 1,000 waves per hour. The waves are generated using 40 paddles which move backwards and forwards.

Importantly, the system is customisable and can be used to generate waves of different height, length, frequency, power and speed, so that a facility can be made suitable for everyone from complete beginners through to champion surfers.

The Wave opened in 2019; right from the start it was designed to be as inclusive as possible. The site has been designed with people with disabilities in mind – the whole place is fully accessible for wheelchairs, it has smooth ramps into the water, beach wheelchairs and specially trained surf coaches. There are also a number of initiatives in place to remove some of the barriers to surfing and encourage more diversity in the sport, including women-only surfing sessions, a partnership with outdoor clothing brand Finisterre (www.finisterre.com) to develop a wetsuit for Muslim women, and funded surfs for children from deprived inner city areas of Bristol.

Highlights from 2021 included the opening of 25 glamping-style accommodation units on the site, meaning visitors can stay for several nights, and the hosting of the English Adaptive Surf Championships for the second time.

The day I arrived at The Wave for my beginner's lesson was a truly miserable one – cold, low mist, heavy rain. “Makes no difference once you’re in the water. Rip it and grip it,” advised my surf-mad brother, when I messaged him to say I was having second thoughts about the wisdom of taking my first lesson on a freezing winter day.

Things didn’t improve much when I pulled up at the waterlogged, pot-holed carpark, and realised it was a 1km walk to the Clubhouse and lake [this is due to planning laws, although surfers with mobility issues can drive right up to the venue]. There are signs along the way to encourage you to keep going, but it wasn’t a fun walk, with the rain really hammering down by this point.

As soon as I walked into the warm, bright, welcoming Clubhouse, my spirits lifted. I checked in, was kitted out in a wetsuit, boots and gloves, and directed to my group lesson – the whole process was very smooth and well organised.

Beginners lessons cost £60 and include wetsuit and board hire, as well as half an hour of coaching on land and an hour in the water.

Our instructor, Teigh, was excellent, explaining the safety aspects of surfing and how to paddle and pop up on our boards in a clear and easy to understand way.

In the water, we took it in turns to catch (or try to catch) the waves. Teigh gave us a helpful push-off onto the wave to start with, until we learned to paddle and catch the waves ourselves. He watched us and was extremely encouraging, giving each of us tips and things to try on our next go.

The experience has been designed really well, so the water didn’t feel at all crowded, and there was plenty of space to catch the waves without fear of colliding with anyone else. The waves come in sets, with a break in between to get back out and catch your breath. There were several ‘Wavemakers’ in the water watching us all, and we felt extremely safe.

I’d wanted to try The Wave for a while, but was worried about feeling intimidated or self conscious – once in the water, this wasn’t a worry at all. All in all, I was very impressed, and would definitely like to go back with my children.

The Wave CEO Craig Stoddart
Once I’d dried, off, I spoke to The Wave CEO Craig Stoddart, to find out more about the company’s ambitious growth plans.

You’ve announced a partnership with Wavegarden to open several more sites across the UK and Ireland. What does this mean for the business?

We’ve just announced an exclusivity agreement with Wavegarden, who are our technology partners and providers of The Wave technology kit. It’s a geographical exclusivity for most of the UK and the whole of Ireland. We always intended to have a multi-site approach – what we needed to do was prove the model and show what it was capable of. Without COVID we would have probably done this a lot earlier – we secured a site in the Lee Valley in London about four years ago. We’re now really pushing that forward.

We’re looking to get the planning applications submitted for the Lee Valley site later this year. I’m hoping to be close to starting construction this time next year. Realistically it will be a late 2024/early 2025 opening date. By this time next year I’d hope to be close to starting construction on the London site, having successfully got a planning permission in place with at least one other site – probably one in the north of England.

By then, I would also like to have identified at least three or four other sites across the UK and Ireland. We’re also looking at a number of sites in Europe at the moment.

Where are you looking for sites?

I can’t be too specific at this stage, but we’re negotiating on a site in the north of England, in and around the Peak District, and we’re also looking for further sites, particularly in the South East of England.

One of the things we’re looking at is failed golf courses – there’s an oversupply of golf courses in the UK and quite a number have shut. They have planning for leisure in the green belt, they have good facilities, generally good access, and good access to water.

What do you look for in a potential site?

Typically we look for quite large sites – at least 50 acres and ideally about 100 acres. We’re looking at green spaces rather than pre-developed sites and the sites should ideally be relatively flat. They need to have good connectivity, ideally with sustainable transport options.

The other key thing for us is to be able to provide other facilities alongside the surf lake. While the surf lake is the hook and the anchor, we view ourselves more as a health and wellbeing destination. In time we’ll develop further activities in addition to surfing that will create a health and wellbeing destination around active leisure – we might look at skate parks, bike trails, yoga, nature trails and bouldering.

It’s also important to us to be able to provide accommodation. We have 25 glamping units in Bristol, and we’d ideally like to be able to put in around 75 – 100 accommodation units in our new sites – these are likely to be a mix of units, including some insulated accommodation that will help us extend the season.

The final element we’re looking for is space to put solar arrays, so we can power the site off-grid.

In Bristol we recently got planning permission and have got a funding agreement in place to put in 10 acres of solar and battery array. We already buy 100 per cent renewable energy, but this should enable us to produce about 110 per cent of our energy requirement ourselves.

How would you sum up the philosophy behind The Wave?

We want to make surfing available for people of all ages, all backgrounds and all abilites. The sport has historically been quite inaccessible for various reasons – geography, the challenges of getting to the beach, the health and safety risks when you throw yourself into the sea and the male-dominated nature of surfing. All of those things are barriers to a sport that brings real joy and huge mental and physical benefits. We felt there had to be another way, and that it could be a sport for everyone. We sponsor Surf England to help adaptive surfing with the goal of sending some of the elite athletes off to the World Adaptive Games. A lot of that community are big champions of ours, and we got a number of them involved in the design of The Wave site.

We’ll develop further activities in addition to surfing that will create a health and wellbeing destination around active leisure – we might look at skate parks, bike trails, yoga, nature trails and bouldering

We work really hard to provide an accessible surf experience for as many people as possible; the site has been designed to be accessible for wheelchairs and all of our systems are set up so that if you have adaptive needs we can work with those to get you surfing – that’s part of our normal booking process. That enabled us to hold the English Adaptive Surf Open championships here last year.

Another focus is on cultural access to surfing. A lot of minority communities feel surfing is not something they’ve been exposed to – we’re trying to break some of those barriers down. We’ve worked with Finisterre who have developed a suit for Muslim women so they can feel comfortable surfing – we hope that is opening up the sport to that community. We’re also trying to open up surfing to more women.

We’re trying to harness the blue health benefits of surfing. We work closely with a charity called The Wave Project which brings in children and young adults with anxiety and mental health challenges. They’re receiving funding from the NHS because they now have enough data to show that the outcomes they’re getting through surf therapy are significantly better than normal medical interventions. It’s reducing the reliance on antidepressants and drugs and delivering better outcomes for the kids.

And finally we offer significantly discounted surfs and try to raise funding to enable more people to try – that ranges from philanthropic donors to corporate groups to public grants. We have some philanthropic donors who are focused on bringing in children from schools in deprived inner city areas, for example. This year the target is to do more than 5,000 social impact-funded sessions.

More: www.thewave.com

Originally published in Attractions Management 2022 issue 1

Published by Leisure Media Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385 | Contact us | About us | © Cybertrek Ltd