So last Sunday (9th August 2015) I took my first trip to the newly opened Wave Garden! It was a birthday present from my partner and I was very excited to be one of the first lot of people having a go.
I had no idea what to expect, I had just seen a few close up videos and a couple of news clips. I wanted to write this guide to help people to get the most out of their experience, coz lets face it – it’s not cheap!
There are two halves separated by a pier type structure where the wave mechanism moves up and down. These are north and south, which you are allocated either when you arrive. The mechanism moves up and down creating a wave from either end. For beginners this creates four areas of beginner waves. For intermediate, this creates two sets of left hand waves and two sets of right hand waves, a left and a right in each half. For the advanced that gives them a wave either side of the pier running the full length both waves.
The advanced surfers have no more than one person on a wave at a time and I don’t think there is ever more than 3 in each side at a time. This means that you get at least every third wave and get the full ride to yourself. The intermediates have up to 3 on each of the 4 waves and the beginners looked as though they may be up to 6 on the beginner waves.
We were lucky as it was just me and my partner in the north area. As I sat in the allotted area waiting for the first wave to come, I heard this creepy mechanical sound of the pulleys, a similar sound to when you are about to be dropped by a ride like Oblivion. The scariest thing though is watching someone flying towards you and getting ready to catch the wave. Although the advanced wave sticks to the pier and you get it’s white water, its still very unnerving! With my heart racing I catch the first intermediate wave, its my birthday so my partner gives me first go. I do as they said and catch the white water, hold on and get ready for it to stabilise before I try and stand up. Up I got, but I was too far from the pier and the white water flung me to the side and I heard my board hit it (grrrr).
After a few goes of being washed around as I got too close to the advanced wave and too far I finally found myself the right spot (which for the north side is in line with the telegraph pole and the tree on the other end) and caught my first proper wave. As white water turned to green as the wave reformed, I found myself pumping over the fat part of the wave, standing almost on the front of my board. Then yes I’m over and I made a right turn and speed along the steepening wave before jumping off and getting a bit washed to the side (!). I managed to get it right a few more times but it was a bit too late and before we new it we had to get out!
I was sad it had ended and a little frustrated that in heinsight I probably could have got more out of the session. So here are my top tips for you to try and get the most out of your time at the Wave Garden.
1. Turn up two hours before your time slot. I know this sounds a bit excessive but trust me I wish I had. We were there an hour before and only ended up having 10 minutes or so to watch people on the waves. And it is really important you watch how the waves work and how to do it (and quite often how not to) as an hour is not very long at all!
2. Spend time watching the waves. Whether you are going for beginner, intermediate or advanced, I would definitely recommend spending a bit of time studying the waves. Where to get on, which way to turn. This is particularly true for the intermediate wave. It is very strange, you get on in the white water of the advanced wave and then it reforms and you turn back in towards the pier.
3. Get the right level for you. You don’t want to spend your precious hour wishing you’d picked the level up so be brave and go for it but also be realistic. I personally found that the intermediate wave was too short once I got on it (if you have a long board you get a bit of a longer ride) and actually quite fast and steep. Whereas the advanced wave – although 6 ft :S – is much more mellow and a much longer ride. There is also only ever one person on the advanced wave whereas the intermediate wave can have up to three people on it. Which you wouldn’t think was a problem but surf etiquette seems to go out the window! I also saw people on the intermediate wave who really should have been in the beginner bit, which added to the mayhem. There was a guy who got demoted from the advanced wave as he wasn’t getting on well with it.
4. Choose the right board. If you are going for the beginner or intermediate and bringing your own board, choose a long board you get a much nicer ride. Otherwise even with a mini mal you have to pump and I could have pretty much done a hang 10 at one point I was so far forward to get over the fat part of the wave. It then goes really steep and fast as your turn into it and go down the line. Great fun!
5. Get in for two hours. If you can afford it, you can definitely do with 2 hours. 1 hour is just enough for you to get used to the wave, so you need another hour to get the most of it. Everyone I spoke to said the same thing and they were itching to get back in to try again. I personally feel that if I had got there a bit earlier and watched people it would have been a bit better but still if I’d done an hour, got out and watched for an hour, and then got back in I would have got waaaaay more out of it.
6. Have someone video you. Even better yet, if I had someone videoing to help me review it that would have helped heaps so drag a spectator along and get them to video you on the wave to help you improve. They seem to do that if you book a lesson but at the moment they haven’t put a camera on the pier so you’ll need to do it yourself. I was pretty surprised that they didn’t even have a theme park style photo booth for you to buy a photo of the day!
7. Pay for a lesson. There are lifeguards on the side that will give you tips, but otherwise you are pretty much on your own. If you want to go the whole hog, getting a lesson would be really beneficial. They really show you how to get the most out of it and give you some great surfing tips along the way.
So overall, what did I think of it? I think it is a great experience and a great thing for Wales, and if you can afford it, it is well worth a go. However, I would say in terms of getting something out of it other than just a great experience, thinking about actually assisting your surfing here, the people it would likely benefit the most in just that hour is people on the advanced wave. It is a great place to practice one move over and over on a constant wave. If you need to practice turning left and right then the intermediate would be good for that too (once you get the hand of it!).
I personally think though, unless you are afraid of the sea or can’t easily get to it, the beginner wave is not worth it. At a wave every 3 minutes, and a short ride at that, you really might as well go to a good beginner beach where you get the full outdoor experience and a wave very 5-10ish seconds. Lots of space and a nice soft surface to land on. And for the £25-£35 you pay for a 2-3 hour lesson (depending on where you go) including board and wetsuit, you get much more value for money if in fact you do want to learn to surf. And I’m not just saying that because I am a surf instructor!
Overall though I would give the Wave Garden two thumbs up and will be going again, maybe to brave the advanced wave…!
If you are looking for somewhere to stay we stayed in a campsite called Glyn Farm in Trefriw. Great little place really pretty and £15 for the night for my transporter no hook up. I think it is £18 with a hook up. A great pub called the Fairy Falls is within 2 minutes walk which is a good local with friendly bar tenders. Food is very pubby food. There is another pub a couple of doors down called the Old Ship Inn where we ate and I had a lovely vegetarian meal there and my partner had the shoulder of lamb which was really good too. There are loads of walks near there as well if you have time to fit them in and a water sports lake.