Local Knowledge: Let’s hit The Wave with Phil Williams

On our last trip to The Wave in Bristol – of which you can see the fruits Here and Here in the form of video guides – we ran into a smiling grommet of an older gent named Phil Williams. We’ve heard people say surfing is Jaun Ponce de Leon’s mythical Fountain of Youth and after watching Mr. Williams enjoy the wave pool, we’d have to agree. He started surfing in the 1970s when British surfing was still just a tattered weedling and grew with the scene. In the process he became an avid tidal bore surfer and now, wave pool surfer.

What is your local wave pool?
My local wave pool is The Wave in Bristol, UK.

What is your surfing background?
I started skateboarding (building our own skateboards back in the early 1970s) and as a teenager used to hitchhike to the beach 160Kms away, camp in the dunes and hire surfboards in the day. I then studied at Plymouth, which was pretty close to the sea and my surfing passion really began to take off – that was just over 40 years ago.

I have been very fortunate to have traveled around the world surfing both for pleasure and also for the charity which I head up in Europe (Christian Surfers). To me surfing is more than just catching waves it is the beauty that surrounds us, the community that loves the sport, and the smile on people’s faces as they experience surfing for the first time or continue to improve.

Yes, there are images of The Wave in Bristol during warm weather. Phil enjoys his local wave pool year round.

How many sessions a month?
Well, the reality is people think I surf far more times at The Wave than I actually do! I try to get in perhaps twice per month, but I visit there far more often, as it is also an amazing space to connect with the surfing community, from throughout the UK and beyond

Do you think of yourself as a ‘wave pool surfer’ or ‘ocean surfer’?
I still very much see myself as an ocean surfer but with the incredible privilege of having this amazing facility in Bristol just 21 minutes away from my doorstep, this is giving me the opportunity, even at my age of 59, to continue to improve my surfing and to experiment with all sorts of equipment which I have never done before.

We also heard that you surf the Severn Bore quite a bit  – share with us what that experience is like.
Yes, I have been riding the Severn bore for just under 30 years and being part of the ‘Muddy Brothers’ community. It’s an incredible phenomenon which I have had the privilege of being able to ride for up to 27 min. I have had some amazing positive experiences surfing through Gloucester countryside but also some near misses, hitting trees, getting my leash wrapped around pipes and being held under quite a few times by all sorts of objects in the water. But it’s an amazing experience, shared by an amazing crew who love the River and the experience we share.

Phil’s other local break is a tidal bore where he once rode a wave for 27 minutes

What other wave pools have you sessioned?
I have visited Adventure Parc Snowdonia on several occasions, which I also really love, although a completely different setup and different type of wave generation. It is still so enjoyable especially with the mountains all around. I hope to go back and see Andy and the team in the next month or so to see how things have developed there as they open up again after lockdown.

I have got my eye on visiting the Swiss new wave pool Alaia Bay (and of course waiting for Kelly to invite me to the ‘Ranch’!)

What is the best thing about your wave pool spot?
Obviously, the waves rank pretty high, but for me it’s also an incredible community who I get the opportunity to meet – the ‘Wavemakers’ who work there, those traveling from all around the country – and the chance also witness some of the social impact initiatives, like the Wave Project and some of the adaptive surfing activity. I absolutely love to see people progress in surfing and when you can see this in a controlled environment, up close where the smiles are visible, and see that progression, there is nothing better.

With my Surfing England volunteer director hat on its’ also a fantastic opportunity for the squads to visit this amazing facility and benefit from great coaching and feedback and a sense of, camaraderie.

What is the worst thing about your spot?
Not too many negative things about this spot, although I would have to say the 985 meter (3/5 of a mile) walk from the car park to the main building in the middle of winter when it is chucking it down with rain and the wind chill is minus something, is not something that I look forward to, but thankfully those experiences are few and far between

Share with us something most people don’t know about The Wave! 
The first thing is that actually, I do not work at the wave, which I think most people think I do!

Although on a more serious note, perhaps the story and the length of time it has taken to build this amazing facility and the challenges that people like Nick Hounsfield, Craig Stoddart and the team have had to go through. From Nick’s dream of creating a place that would make a positive difference, to the reality of The Wave being built has been a huge journey. It’s not all been plain sailing, but the results are absolutely fantastic.

Biggest piece of insider advice you can give to someone about The Wave?
If it is your first time, I suggest you definitely get there early. It isn’t nature that is generating this wave, so it’s massively different from the ocean. It is a machine so understanding the set-up, and asking advice of those who regularly surf it and their experiences, is likely to make your experience far more positive.

And the final thing is paddle hard, especially the last couple of strokes as this could be the difference between missing the wave and not.