Stab Magazine | Future now: A wavepool surf contest at Surf Snowdonia

Future now: A wavepool surf contest at Surf Snowdonia

For most surfers, Surf Snowdonia might feel rather surreal. When past futurists imagined how surfing might look decades on, an arena thundering with Olympic-volume applause while two surfers battled in chlorinated perfection below isn’t far from their vision. Surf Snowdonia is nothing like that. But, in surfing’s version of the space race, Snowdonia is the […]

news // Mar 8, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

For most surfers, Surf Snowdonia might feel rather surreal. When past futurists imagined how surfing might look decades on, an arena thundering with Olympic-volume applause while two surfers battled in chlorinated perfection below isn’t far from their vision. Surf Snowdonia is nothing like that. But, in surfing’s version of the space race, Snowdonia is the first place in the world to create an artificial wave that doesn’t feel too weak, too short, or as though it’s running away.

“The technology comes from Wavegarden, but this is the biggest one to date,” says ex-pro surfer and coach to the world’s best, Jarrad ‘Clouse’ Howse. Clouse recently dropped by to test the wave and discuss plans for an upcoming surf contest there. But, more on that later. First, let’s break the wave down:

“It’s a fully functioning wave,” says Clouse. “There’s never a lack of push, you never feel like you’re falling off the back. The whole concept is hard to believe until you get there. If you paddled out at your local beach right now, you’d be constantly waiting for the next bump from the horizon. But at Snowdonia, it breaks in exactly the same spot every two minutes. You get this weird anticipation and anxiety – you know it’s coming and exactly how it’s going to break, and you’re like, shit, I hope I don’t miss it or fall off, so I don’t have to wait two minutes. But really, if you went for a 20 minute surf and got 10 waves that ran for 100m… it’d be the surf of your life.”


The pool can run at one wave per minute, but since it’s a, uh, pool, backwash can become a problem at that rate. Once every two minutes is enough – the wave runs for 100m and it only takes one turn til you’re moving with the speed and rhythm of the wave. The only downfall? “You struggle to break your rhythm,” says Clouse. “If you start doing top turns, it’s hard to stop. It’s an eight turn wave when it’s running at capacity. But, I’m from the horizontal era of surfing. You get someone light-footed of the 2015 variety who can throw the tail in there… you’ll see some good surfing. The wave never changes. If you had an hour out there, you’d have a lot of time to test and master. It’s got a skate bowl feel.”

Wavegarden was remarkable when it was first unveiled, no doubt, but the glow soon dimmed when it became apparent just how small the wave was. Snowdonia steps it up by about two feet, making it the current yellow jersey in a race that also involves Kelly Slater and Greg Webber. “It’s nothing like wake surfing,” says Clouse. “It’s way more like surfing. You’re actually just on a wave. There’s no power problem, it never feels like the wave needs more power. It’s different to the ocean but very close to it.”

Snowdonia is a little more than just artificial waves, too. “Apart from the pool spectacle, Conwy and the surrounding area has insane history, lots of amazing castles. The actual pool is like going to a snow resort, you can get a wetsuit, a board, stay in a bungalow. It’s all there.”

And so, what about this contest?


It’s called Red Bull Unleashed. There’ll be 24 surfers, comprised of 20 internationals, and four UK surfers. It’ll go down on September 19 and 20. Clouse, who’s onboard as sports director, explains the format: “The idea for the first day is a format whereby it’s similar to Formula 1 time trials. They’re not competing, they’re just freesurfing. They get 10 waves each, twice a day. They’ll take their top one wave to a live leaderboard. They get a ranking from one to 24 based on the best single waves. The final eight will make up the quarterfinals, then it’s regular format onwards and a champ will be crowned.” A capacity crowd of 2,500 (who’ve each paid £8 to get in) will be watching from the platforms.

Judging? Not what we’re used to. The idea is to have one judge for each aspect of surfing. Jake Paterson has been confirmed as head judge, though the rest of the panel is still being firmed up. Stab would adore seeing Taylor Knox judging power, Rob Machado judging speed and flow, and Ozzie Wright judging airs and progression – though, there’s nothing solid yet.

As far as surfers, you can expect freesurfers and a select few Q surfers. World Tour surfers sign contracts that forbid them to compete in non-WSL events, a fact that Unleashed has been careful to remember. But it is difficult to steer too far from the usual WSL format: “The idea behind the scoring is a similar criteria, but with an emphasis on entertainment and progression,” says Clouse.

What’ll be missing? Barrels and broken boards, but also laydays and lulls.

And now, some breezy data:

Red Bull Unleashed
19-20 September 2015
Surf Snowdonia, Wales, UK
24 Surfers – 20 International invites + 4 UK invites (To be announced soon)
September 18th – Qualification / Seeding: Formula 1 style grid qualification. Each surfer given a number of opportunities to count their best waves in determining the top 16 and event seeding.
September 19th/20th – Match Play: Surfers compete wave for wave with the best wave winning. A maximum of 5 waves per surfer per match play will be surfed.
Wavepool Technology: Wavegarden
Lagoon Dimensions: 300m x 113m
Wave speed: 6-7 meters per second
Wave length: 150m


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