Wave pools have had a lot of hype, so in April I went on a five-hour pilgrimage to Surf Snowdonia to give it a try. Here’s how I found it…
What’s the surf like?
Good, but also kind of frustrating!
Yes, there’s a constant stream of peeling waves firing out of the central reservation. But those waves are also like nothing you’ve ever surfed before.
Getting used to surfing the waves is a lot more tricky than I anticipated. To me, it felt like learning to surf all over again.
Catching the wave
Although I wasn’t expecting it to feel like the sea, I was still caught off guard by how different catching a mechanical wave is.
To catch the wave, you have to sit next to a wire fence (under the intimidating “advanced take off sign”). You basically need to be right up against the fence which is much trickier than it sounds, thanks to the currents.
After the previous wave has passed, you have a short window to paddle across the lake, position yourself in the right spot and stay there. I found that once I got myself in position, I barely had time to count to ten before the whirring of the wave started and you needed to start paddling.
Clinging up against a fence waiting for a whirring noise to start is a poor second to watching the horizon for bumps of swell, but at least you know when the wave is coming.
When the wave does arrive, it has a very unusual shape to it. You are immediately pushed away from the fence, and you basically have to train yourself to paddle the opposite way to the way the wave is going (i.e. away from the fence) to catch it. This takes a while to work out, but the staff were pretty friendly and helpful when we were there, giving us tips on what to do differently when they see you’re struggling.
One thing I really hadn’t anticipated was the pressure.
If you’re surfing on the south side, you’re right in front of the cafe. I’d been sitting in there before our session watching the waves and commenting on the surfers, so I was acutely aware of a cafe full of people doing the same for me. This, along with the previously mentioned differences, made me surf like a total kook. Even once I’d mastered catching the wave by my second session, I was making silly mistakes I hadn’t made in years.
One session isn’t enough
You will need more than one session to get used to it. I was relieved to see it wasn’t just me finding it difficult. I witnessed several frustrated water punches and boards thrown as people struggled to make the transition from the sea to mechanical waves.
The fun part
There is some good news – once you master the weird currents, the strange way the wave breaks and forget about the people watching, you can get some fun waves!
It took me my whole first session just to master catching the wave, but James and Ben, who I went with, started getting some fun ones in their second session. I imagine once you’ve got past the awkward getting-the-hang-of-it stage, you can actually start to work on improving your surfing.
I was pretty impressed with the facilities themselves. It was sparkling clean and is clearly a well thought out centre. Plus it was snowing while we were there, so I was grateful for the opportunity to get changed inside!
But what about…
Even though I had read loads of reviews before I went, I still had some questions – here’s the answers to questions I couldn’t find online.
How warm is the water?
It’s a small body of water, so it’s warmer than the sea. Plus, you’re only surfing for an hour and you can get changed in the warm so you can probably get away with a bit less neoprene than the sea. Bear in mind though, if you’re coming from down south that Snowdonia can be pretty chilly (there was snow showers while we were there in mid April).
Should you surf the advanced or intermediate wave?
We studied the guidelines beforehand and watched countless clips of the wave to decide if we should book on the advanced or intermediate sessions. At £35 an hour, we didn’t want to get it wrong.
We all classed ourselves as intermediate surfers. We’re not complete beginners and we’ve all been trying to get better at surfing for over ten years. At the same time, we are definitely not advanced, so it was with some trepidation that we booked onto advanced sessions.
In hindsight I wish I would have booked on the Surf Snowdonia Intermediate to advanced course. It’s not much more expensive than just booking two sessions and you’d have more guidance so would waste less time getting it wrong.
Personally I wouldn’t travel five hours for the knee-high intermediate wave, which is much smaller without much of a green face. It’s the sort of wave you could easily catch dozens of in the sea and it didn’t look like you would be able to catch it on anything other than a big floaty board.
Are the mechanical issues sorted out now?
Who knows? Our second session was delayed by about half an hour after they closed the lake for some maintenance, but other than that it appeared to be running smoothly. It did feel like a bit of a risk driving so far and booking accommodation but at least there’s a lot to do in the area should the worse happen.
How many waves do you get?
It depends on how many other people are in your session. There’s a wave every 90 seconds and we had three people in both our sessions so got every third wave (about 13 if my calculations are right). This felt more than enough but while we were there there was a couple of sessions where just one or two guys were booked in and had it all to themselves. Even so, they still missed a few as they couldn’t get back in position quick enough.
Can you just go right/left?
Not if you want all your allocated waves. You stay on the same side of the lake and the wave comes from one end, then the other. If there’s three of you in, you’ll switch between ends for each wave.
Where to stay
Surf Snowdonia has some wooden “surf pods” overlooking the lake but they’re fairly pricey for what you get, and it was a little chilly to be staying in a pod, so we opted for a very nearby Airbnb. It’s very reasonable if there’s a few of you.
There’s also plenty of campsites and hostels nearby, including Conwy Valley Barn.
What else to do in Snowdonia
Snowdonia is an incredible place and there’s so much to do. It was 100% worth making the trip just to enjoy the area.
We went for a weekend, and managed to fit in a hike to Aber falls waterfall plus a trip to Beacon Climbing Centre for bouldering. There’s plenty more to do if you’re around for longer, including:
- Climbing Snowdonia (which we planned to do but it was too snowy)
- Bounce Below
- Loads of hikes
- Mountain biking aplenty
- Zip World
Check out the Adventure Map for more.