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The UK’s new inland surfing centers: should we be stoked?

Projection for the Surf Snowdonia inland surfing center
Projection for the Surf Snowdonia inland surfing center

Two big construction projects currently underway in the UK could completely change the face of surfing. Thanks to recent technology, a couple of new inland surfing centers are slated to open in Snowdonia and Bristol, not only making surfing possible where it once wasn’t, but also allowing for an unheard of predictability of waves. Each of the sites will essentially consist of a large man-made inland lake featuring artificial (and highly consistent) waves.

Using Wavegarden’s wave generation system, Surf Snowdonia is promising to have world-class waves on-demand once the site opens in early summer 2015. “Revolutionary Wavegarden technology means that 1.9m high perfectly formed tubing waves that peel for more than 200 m with a 1 minute frequency can now be created at the touch of a button,” reads a section on their website. That’s over 6′ of wave. Meanwhile, The Wave in Bristol is looking to produce waves at least 5′ tall.

What such big (and regular) waves could mean for the sport is something that’s never been possible before — olympic status. Though over 23 million people surf, surfing has never been an Olympic sport, largely because, as The Guardian puts it, “only a few countries boast consistently good surf, and even they cannot guarantee to deliver during an Olympics.”

Pic of inland surfing from Bristol's The Wave
Pic of inland surfing from Bristol’s The Wave

But is all that even something surfers actually want? For us at Eidon, our motto’s always been “live, travel, surf,” and we think that’s a philosophy shared by many in the scene. Lots of people would rather see the world and feel a real connection with the ocean than ride artificial waves on an inland lake. And for many more, olympic goal just isn’t the goal.

It begs the question, are these massive construction projects happening because surfers want them? Or is this just a way for corporations to cash in, with the surfing centers eventually going to waste? And if sites like those at Bristol and Snowdonia do work out, are they going to attract the right people, or just turn surfing into a gimmick, something tourists can check off their list of things to do on vacation?

In the opposite view, centers like these could help grow the sport, bringing surfing to people from all over the world, not just those who are lucky enough to live where there’s great natural surf. Or, as Aussie surfer Dimity Stoyle said in interview, they could help ease some of the traffic in more popular surf spots: “I think it would open it up to a lot more people around the world and it would probably help the current situation in Queensland where surfing is getting so popular it’s a little bit out of control.”

Plans for Bristol's The Wave inland surfing center
Plans for Bristol’s The Wave inland surfing center

Likewise, International Surfing Association President Fernando Aguerre thinks inland surf centers mark a new beginning for the sport, saying in interview that “surfing no longer has geographical restrictions,” and that “we can host world-class surfing competitions with waves that are always consistent, powerful and publicly available. Surfing can now aspire to become a part of the Olympic Games and other multi-sport events.”

And for what it’s worth, the people behind the surf centers themselves think it’s for the best. Nick Hounsfield, co-founder of the Bristol site The Wave made a point of telling The Guardian that his center “will not be a middle class playground,” and that it’s “not intended to be a fake, plastic imitation of the ocean.” Rather, he hopes The Wave and other inland surf centers will make surfing even better:

“There is a lot of pressure on surf spots around the globe. Sometimes hundreds, possibly thousands, in the water, and half-decent surfers can’t get waves.”

Still, it’s an iffy call as to whether we should be stoked about surfing at these new venues or not. What’s your take? Let us know in the comments section.