Ride a perfect wave in the Welsh mountains
It always rains in Wales, or at least that’s what you are told. This is not factually correct, but if you are heading up to the Conwy Valley on the outskirts of the Snowdonia National Park you will be sure to want to spend a lot of your time outdoors to take in the stunning scenery. If it does rain, that doesn’t really matter as there is a perfect new attraction that’s suitable for all weather situations.
Surf Snowdonia opened its gates in the summer of 2015. In the sleepy village of Dolgarrog, home to circa 500 people and formerly known for a) a large dam disaster in the 1920’s, and b) an aluminum plant which operated for about 100 years before closing its doors in 2007, a worlds first inland surf lagoon has been created. The Wavegarden concept – a 300 foot long lagoon with a wave generating system that creates a perfectly formed and consistent two metre wave every 90 seconds, is the perfect way to entice surfers, from pros to beginners to get out onto the water and test out their skills. This adds to an increasingly long list of adrenalin based attractions in the North Wales area, making it a more and more popular tourist destination for people into extreme sports. Music to my ears, being a local lad from the area.
I have been visiting Surf Snowdonia on my trips to North Wales since it opened in 2015. As someone who isn’t a strong swimmer, the idea of getting into the water has always left me with an hint of anxiety and I have always enjoyed the spectator aspect of my visits – watching the experts on the waves while sipping a cold Surf Snowdonia lager. However, I always told myself that I needed to get out onto the water one day. So that’s what I did a few weeks ago, along with my partner. We booked a beginners surf lesson to coincide with a visit, and there it was – commitment.
The surf lagoon is separated into different sections – Advanced, Intermediate and Beginner. Advanced surfers take off from the centre of the lagoon where the waves are at their peak, Intermediate start further along and then the Beginners start out towards the ends of the lagoon where the waves are smaller whitewater waves, giving everyone the opportunity to test their skills safely.
The lessons are 1.5 hours long – half an hour in the Surf Academy with an instructor teaching you about the surf board and surfing techniques, then an hour on the water – the aim being to get you up on your feet during your first lesson (but without any pressure to do so). Ours was a group of six, the perfect size for the instructor to be able to observe everyone’s techniques and offer advice where necessary (I needed a lot!).
Our instructor, Lotte (from the Netherlands – surfers travel from across the globe to work and surf here) was excellent – knowledgeable, patient and very constructive despite the fact that I was never really getting the hang of it so well!
I really enjoyed the experience, although there was a high level of apprehension when you heard that first wave heading towards you and the instructor shouting ‘PADDLE!‘ Needless to say that first wave threw me off my board, but after a few attempts I managed to catch a few waves, get onto my knees and ride all the way to the edge of the lagoon. Success. Kind of.
Once you have had a lesson, you are then able to partake in free-surf sessions within that particular area of the lagoon, so I will definitely be trying it out again next season.
If surfing is not really your thing, Surf Snowdonia is worth a visit regardless. There are plenty of things to keep you amused on site including a restaurant and cafe with outdoor sun terrace, a coffee shop incorporating a soft play area for children, a surf shop and the Crash and Splash Lagoon.
The Surfside Cafe Bar is open all day – offering breakfast, lunch and dinner, located to the side of the lagoon with floor to ceiling windows.
The Crash and Splash Lagoon is a water based assault course incorporating a variety of inflatables, monkey ropes, balance beams and rope bridges before the grand finale of the ‘catapult blob’ – a giant inflatable where you are flung through the air and into the water by the weight of the next person in the group jumping off the platform onto the blob – hilarious to watch! Great for groups of friends, families, team building and corporate events.
If you want to make a weekend of it, there are glamping pods available at a very reasonable rate, situated on the edge of the lagoon. There is also a hot tub, sauna and events marquee.
From a photography point of view, the attraction is a great place to test out your sports photography skills. I have spent many an hour at the edge of the lagoon trying to get those cool surfing shots. Here are a few of my favourites – watching the professionals / instructors doing their thing.
On a personal level being a boy from the Conwy Valley, I feel that Surf Snowdonia is a huge a success story and has injected some life and vibrancy into an area where, over the past few decades, has seen large businesses fold resulting in a high numbers of job losses. Pubs and local shops in small villages closing, leaving no real hub or sense of community, nowhere for people to meet for a chat.
The valley is coming alive again with visitors travelling from far and wide to experience new attractions. Europeans living amongst the locals. It’s great to see and makes me feel very proud of my roots. I don’t think I’ll ever make it as a surfer though.
Surf Snowdonia Adventure Parc, Conwy Road, Dolgarrog, Conwy LL32 8QE