All you need to know about surfing The Wave Bristol

We went to England to bring you this ultimate The Wave Bristol review. In the article below we investigate, explore and surf the UK’s newest surf spot...

This comprehensive report covers everything from The Wave prices to parking and all points in between. Is this surf park user friendly? Can you get barrelled? What’s The Wave cost? How is their board selection?

If you don’t have time to go through this entire article (we do get quite detailed) you can check out the abridged video clips below which give a broader overview. We have two 3-minute clips, one for the intermediate wave and one for the advanced wave. Please note that The Wave now has five surf settings: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, Advanced Plus, and Expert (videos at bottom of this article).

A curiosity at The Wave is the preference to the rights over the lefts. Could be due to regularfoots outnumbering goofyfoots. Photo by The Wave. Main photo by Image Cabin

How do I get to The Wave in Bristol?
Europe is home to some great low-cost airlines like EasyJet and RyanAir. If you are flying from a major city in the Old Country, you can book in fares as low as 25€ each way. Trains are fantastic in the UK, and it’s a three-hour jaunt from London. Unfortunately, you’ll want to hire a car to get from the airport and transport center to The Wave. The company encourages public transportation which, unfortunately, is a bit of a challenge in semi-rural England. There is a list with options at this link. If you’re local, take your bike. *Note COVID-19 measures, although recently eased, are still very restrictive in regards to travel. Be sure to check with your transport carrier.

The UK can be expensive. Finding low-cost accommodations in the Easter Compton part of Bristol was difficult. But we found The Almondsbury Interchange Hotel to be about 30% cheaper than others in the area. It’s basic and offers a full English breakfast for $7 (yes, England, so that means you’ll find beans for your toast). It’s not fancy, but it’s clean and the staff is quite nice. There are more youth hostel type accommodations in Bristol central, but that’s a 30-minute drive away. The Wave is currently constructing glamping pods for the season, so those are worth a look.

When the wave machine is not turned on, the Wavegarden Cove looks like a giant swimming pool. Photo by Global Shots

Where do I park at The Wave?
The car park for The Wave is a rough dirt lot with a container office functioning as a welcome center. The people at the booth are super helpful and will instruct you where to go and what you’ll need to do once at the wave pool. Getting from car lot to wave pool it’s pretty simple, just follow the well-marked path for about a kilometer until you see the main building. The walk-into the surf park is a great build up to your surf session, like the path to Lowers.

Can I arrive late?
No. Arrive early. The Wave recommends getting there an hour before your session. We saw people sprinting from the car park to the main building (almost one kilometer) because they didn’t factor in the 15-20 minute walk. Some locals have it dialed in and show up much closer to their scheduled surf time.

What amenities does The Wave have?

Once at the main Clubhouse, guests follow a new one-way system where they will be greeted on arrival by helpful staff who will inform them of what to do and where to go. There have been some changes post Covid-19 to make sure social distancing is maintained and that everything is in line with Government guidelines. In the main building, there is a cafe and restaurant and a surf shop. The check-in spot to get your gear is to the right as you are looking at the lake. Outside the big “kit” room, you tell the staff your wetsuit size, and they will hand you a back-zip Rip Curl wetsuit. Suits come in standard sizes, so if you need a Medium Tall or an Extra Large short, you’ll just have to make do. If it’s cold, boots and gloves are there for free as well. As they reopen following the Covid-19 closure, The Wave asks people to use their wetsuits if they have them. However, if you need to use one of their Rip Curl suits, then it isn’t a problem – and they now have a double washing system in place between use.

There’s a full surf shop on site along with a cafe and a restaurant. The interior’s blond wood decor gives The Wave a cozy, casual feel.

How is the board hire selection at The Wave?
Beginners have to use the Softech boards provided (included in ticket price), but intermediate and advanced surfers are encouraged to use their own at present. However, there are soft and hybrid boards available for free should you need them. The Wave has a good selection of boards from Toy Factory and Skindog Surfboards. For those looking to try out a performance hardboard, there is a £10 charge payable on arrival. All the boards have plastic fins. So if you’re tuned into more performance-oriented gear, bring your own fins. Or better yet, check out the FCS demo center and try out a new pair.

Should I ride a thicker board in a wave pool?
We tried three on-site boards during our sessions and all surfed well but were glassed heavier than we are accustomed to. Consequently, they had less flex than our standard at-home shortboard. So if you’re tuned into a board’s flex (often what makes a magic board ‘magic’) you might want to try thinner dimensions for your pool session at The Wave. Common advice is to chose a board with slightly more volume than you’re used to for two reasons: You will tire quickly from all that surfing and freshwater is less buoyant. We feel that going with your standard volume is better since the waves are performance waves and a more-responsive board (typically reduced in volume) will allow you to push your turns and your surfing. Riding your regular volume will be an intense workout for an hour, but your surfing will thank you for it. You can always catch your breath in the cafe later.

The board we rode had the same dims as our at-home shortboard (6’1” Tomo SKX at 32.8 Liters of volume) and went great in the wave pool. Fourth Surfboards feature several designs with round tails and the round tails fit nicely in the tight transitions you find in surf park waves. All the boards at The Wave are waxed, leashed, and come with these weird nose guards that are a throwback to the mid-90s. Grunge-era aesthetics aside, we liked the performance quality of the boards.

The Wave offers lessons for beginning surfers at £65 adult / £55 child. Photo Global Shots

How far do I have to paddle out to surf in a wave pool?
Once kitted out, a lifeguard will brief you on the wave pool and all the things to remember. From shore, it’s a 70-meter paddle to the takeoff spot. The paddle is easier when the waves are turned on because the wave action creates a current that runs along the center wall back to the take off zone. To keep your energy and strength try to time your paddles to the takeoff spot for when the wave machine is on. If you have a question once you’re in the lineup the lifeguard is just a few meters away and is happy to shout out advice. The most helpful thing to remember is that if the person on the wave in front of you falls, the lifeguard will instruct you to skip the next wave to allow time for the prior surfer to move out of the way.

Can I surf both the right and the left in the same session?
No. If you’ve booked a left thinking you’ll just cross over to the right for a few, then you thought wrong. Surfers have to commit to each respective side. You are given a colored singlet to wear to denote which session you’ve booked (advanced left or intermediate right for example.) Weekend sessions are fully booked on both the right and left. But on weekdays (at least during winter when we wrote this review) the left had fewer surfers. Maybe because there aren’t as many goofyfoots in the world. One figure years ago put the percentage of regularfoots in the world at 65% and the percentage of goofyfoots at 35%. (The WSL CT Tour is 30% goofyfoot at the moment). Also, you cannot glance across the lagoon to check the action on the other side. The pier is in the way. So if you have a friend surfing on the other side you can’t throw out hoots at their rides unless you’re dry and standing on the central pier.

Once at the peak, everyone bunches up at the narrow end of the pool. It’s usually friendly and chatty and people will offer advice. You will most likely see a diverse ability level, so be aware of what the surfers around you are doing. It’s a great lineup vibe and everyone shares. Do not let waves pass (unless instructed by the lifeguard) as this means those waiting in line will have to wait longer. If you’re not ready to take off, say because you’re catching your breath, then let someone cut in line ahead of you. Communication is key so speak up.

Advanced Wave Video Review

Is the Advanced wave setting at The Wave really Advanced?
The lifeguard will tell you where to lineup to start paddling for the wave. I lined up with a crease in the concrete retaining wall but soon found you could be within a very wide take-off zone and still get into the wave. By comparison, the takeoff zone for a Wavegarden Lagoon, or plow system like at Snowdonia, is very tight and hard to gauge. The takeoff zone at The Wave depends on the surf setting. As the waves are dialed up to Advanced Plus and Expert, the takeoff zone shrinks while conversely, it widens on the easier settings.

After the soft roll-in, the Advanced wave stacks up and goes fast. At size, you could get tubed, but on this day it was a fast, thick section great for snaps and turns, albeit small. The Wavegarden Cove offers variations of what they call Waikiki, Malibu, Turns, and Tubes waves. Advanced wave settings at The Wave are Wavegarden’s Malibu setting. We mention this because, should you choose the advanced setting at the world’s other Wavegarden Cove in Melbourne, the waves would be very different.

Once you get up and going, the first impulse is to outrun the section down the line. Don’t do it. You’d miss all the turn opportunities. The end of the wave is fat and burgery so you want to take advantage of the speed pockets at the onset. Timed right you can get four turns in. But you have to be quick. The Cove clips we see of pros are just that, pros who make a living making a three-turn wave become a five or six-turn wave. Bodyboarders can get barrelled on the Advanced wave, maybe even the Intermediate wave. But for standup surfers, it’s pretty difficult. For tubes try the Advanced Plus or Expert settings.

Intermediate Wave Video Review

How many waves will I get during my wave pool session?
We asked, but The Wave wouldn’t provide specific numbers on how many waves roll through each session. We had so much fun surfing that we forgot to count. But safe to say, you should score at least a dozen waves. If your session is fully booked, you’ll get about one wave per set if everyone files along orderly. If you have fewer people during your session you can sprint back out and possibly get two waves each set, upping your wave count. That approach is a full aerobic workout. Reminder: The weekdays are less crowded than the weekends, so try to book then.

Wave pools are great places to test equipment
Don’t be afraid to try a few different boards. It’s an excellent opportunity to dial in your quiver. We hit a rhythm during our session and were able to come in and switch out boards and run get back out to the lineup before the next set arrived (exhausting). You can try The Wave’s various soft and hybrid boards for free, but remember that the performance hardboards have a £10 charge. Let the lifeguards know your plans beforehand as getting out of the water during your session signals to the safety officers that something is wrong. Make everyone’s life easier and give them a heads up

The Wave offers both soft top and high-performance shortboard rental – along with all manner of craft in between.

In a Nutshell: Top 15 Takeaways

Arrive early – 60 minutes recommended, but go earlier to get a good read on the surf, hang out, talk to other surfers.

Skateboard from carpark to wave pool entry to get your heart rate up and activate your surf muscles.

Wetsuits: Mid-range back-zip models that come in S,M,L & XL. Be aware there are no subset sizes like Tall or Short.

Surfboards: High-end surfboard use included. We rode a Lee Bartlett Toy Factory model with exact measurements and volume as our go-to Firewire SKX at home and it worked really well. If you are a connoisseur, bring your own. Boards are glassed extra heavy so flex properties are different from most standard boards.

It’s tiring: You will paddle constantly, so try to be in good shape.

Board picks: try your normal high-performance board if you’re in shape. pick a board with extra volume if you’re out of shape. A board with more curve will help in the tight transitions of the waves.

Swap out the plastic fins with top-quality fins from the FCS demo center which has a great selection.

Equipment hire: wetsuits and surfboards are included in the cost of each session (excluding performance hardboards) – however, since Covid-19 The Wave is encouraging those who have their own wetsuits to use them.

Prepare: The water can be really cold in the winter.

Changing: Facilities and showers are clean and spacious.

Try out the sauna if you go on a cold day. It’s a great way to warm up.

Book two sessions: Make a day of it. It’s pricey but makes it a whole day adventure.

Do not book back-to-back: Don’t surf two-hours straight unless you’re in shape for the challenge.

Professional photos are available for £9 for a single digital high-res image with discounts for multiple image purchases from Image Cabin.

Good vibes are the standard in the water so make sure you’re on the same frequency.

Pricing at The Wave surf park

Beginner Surf with Lesson £65 adult / £55 child

Intermediate £50.00 adult / £40.00 child

Advanced £50.00 adult / £40.00 child

Advanced Plus £55 adult / £45 child

Expert £60 adult / £50 child

Just before the Coronavirus brought the world to a halt, The Wave tested out two new settings, the Advanced Plus and the Expert wave. The Wave now offer Advanced-Plus and Expert waves on early morning and evening sessions each day too. See videos below of both settings.

Main image of Hannah Bristow at The Wave by Image Cabin