How Nick Hounsfield is making The Wave a different kind of surf space

One thing that becomes obvious when speaking with Nick Hounsfield is that he’s a sincere gent. Or, since he’s been working on the impossible task of creating a wave pool in Bristol for nearly a decade, he’s just become very good at brand messaging.

He phrases debilitating project complications as “workstreams” and oozes LinkedIn can-do positivity in the face of the constant construction hassles, planning slips and all the traps inherent with building a wave pool. He has to. In creating this kind of space one has to have incredible faith and motivation above and beyond just wanting to get pitted or go shred the gnar.

Nick promised his dying father that he would make a positive, healthy place for people. That promise has turned into The Wave Bristol. The project originally started in 2010 is finally set to turn on their Wavegarden Cove technology this autumn.

From there, The Wave also has plans for a London wave pool and is eyeing a total of 10 projects in 10 years.

artist rendering of The Wave
The Wave artist concept with Wavegarden’s Cove technology in place

You’ve been at this for five years in various stages and you’re finally set to launch this Autumn. How much of your day is working on this?
I’d phrase that as how much of my day is not spent working on this. It’s incredibly busy. It’s hard to put things down but we’re all running full-out. Many, many work streams going, but all good.

How many people are on your team?
We have 24 but we’ll be up to 85 in the coming months.

Is it a full-size Cove?
Yeah, they all vary depending on layout but it’s 155 meters long. The Melbourne one might be 5 meters bigger.

How many surfers will be in the lineup when The Wave is up and running?
About 80. Wavegarden have suggested we can get quite a lot more than that. But we’re being prudent and don’t want to base our business model on something too optimistic and then disappoint.

When did you start?
2010 we started actually. My dad passed away from cancer and that was the point where I promised to him that I was going to do something in his memory but something that would have an impact on people’s health and well-being and leave a real legacy in his name and something that I could pull all of my passions into. I knew I wanted to create a destination where people could go an exercise and be healthier and be happier. At the time I didn’t know what was going to be the real hook or the pull that would make it all happen. And then as if by fate, the first grainy footage of Wavegarden was released and that was the first “eureka” moment where I realized “goodness, if we put that at the center of our health, well-being destination, that’ll be a real winner.” So I got in touch with Wavegarden straight away.

Construction at The Wave
On site. Nick says the site will be open this Autumn.

How was it starting that process with Wavegarden?
It took a few months to get a hold of them and even longer to set up a meeting. But we got along like a house on fire and I told them my vision for this destination. And they fully backed me as an exclusive partner. And it’s just been absolute determination since then. I started the whole thing with 500 pounds. Then had to build a vision, and build time team. Then had to find land and build all the planning from there. Get it costed. Get a business plan. Then I went and visited 230 investors with my business partner Craig Stoddart, and eventually kissed enough frogs that we eventually found a prince.

If you had to name one thing as the biggest challenge during this process what would it be?
It’s been the change in technologies. Great technologies have come out but it’s been very quickly by something else. And there’s been huge risk involved for investors. Being the first in anything carries huge risks. And obviously, seeing the first Wavegarden technology which we ended up having to walk away from because there were too many single-point engineering difficulties and failures. So we had to walk away from that. It was really sad because I had built such a good thing with Wavegarden. But then a few years later they came back and said, “Nick, all those problems are gone. We’ve got a new technology which does away with all those points of failure.” Then, when I went and saw the Cove for the very first time, and seeing what it can deliver, that was a very special moment and I knew immediately that was it.

Who was with you on that trip?
Our investor was there and he doesn’t surf. We put him in the water and within three-quarters of an hour he was riding a 1.8-meter wave in the advanced zone and literally whooping and saying “where do I sign?” It was a fantastic moment. New technology in a nascent industry. But the reality is if I had 25 million in my back pocket I might’ve gone with the wrong technology. But because we had to reassure our investors we had to do due diligence and prove that we were doing the right thing.

Early artist renderings of The Wave sought to incorporate nature. Hounsfield insists the wave pool wont have a “thrasher” vibe with pros dropping in on eachother. It’ll be mellow.

What advice would you give someone embarking on this journey?
Oh my goodness, they’d have to give us a call. The mistakes and the knowledge base that we’ve build going into this and the holes we’ve fallen into on the way are too numerous to count. I think it’s more about thinking big and having absolute tenacity. Don’t have a Plan B, because if you do then Plan A won’t work because you’re already set to fail. Also, get an amazing team around you. And keep smiling because, my god it can really bring you down at times. There will be a lot of people telling you it won’t work. But you just have to go ahead and do it.

What will the vibe be like at The Wave in Bristol?
Well, obviously, surfing is the core product and we do want to create an authentic experience. We’ll be celebrating the difference we do have to ocean surfing. The beauty of our site is how embedded it is in nature. And the key is showing how important nature is to surfing. It won’t have a real hardcore or thrasher type of vibe.

If people are expecting to show up and see a lot of expert surfers all snaking each other and trying to get as many waves as they can in an hour, you know with high testosterone levels and such, that’s not what we’re about. We are about being a place no matter what your ability level.

Nick has become the face of The Wave after nearly 10 years of hard work. Photo by Rebecca Faith

Who will be your customers?
It’s really critical to appeal to a wide range of people. If we look at this a few years from now and all our customers are white, middle class then we’ve failed. It makes business sense to expand and plus it’s the right thing to do.

Who’s gonna get the first wave?
That’s probably the most asked question now. People say “oh surely Nick, you’ll get the first wave”. We’re discussing this. We’ve got a bit of a period where we have to commission the lake. The people from Wavegarden will be out during that process. They’ll be pushing waves. But we don’t have a plan now. It’s not closely guarded, like a secret. Don’t get me wrong. Before we open I want to try it. And have a really good go. But it’s not about me. It’s not about that. It’s not about the obvious. I look forward to sharing the news once it’s all set up and then done.

What’s the long-term plan beyond Bristol?
Our investors are backing us and we have other projects going on, in London of course. But we want to do five projects in five years and ten within ten. We absolutely feel we’ll be the people to do this and bring this more holistic approach to wave pools to bring a real change to surfing. And not in a horrible cliched way, but to reach out to hundreds of thousands of people. It’s such a great opportunity to look at life through a lens that surfers do. And we’re committed to that.

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