Learning to surf – a review of The Wave in Bristol

During the school holidays I took the kids surfing. Now, before you think “ooh Cornwall can be chilly this time of year” let me explain: they went surfing in Bristol. It can be increasingly difficult to find things to do with teenagers, and I’ll do pretty much anything to get them off their beds for a few hours. So when the team at The Wave got in touch to ask if we fancied a surfing lesson, and my kids said yes, I didn’t hang around to double check.

First surfing lesson at The Wave in Bristol

The Wave is a ‘slice of the ocean’ which opened in Bristol in November 2019 and brings the joy of surfing and benefits of being in and around water to people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities – from a child stepping on a board for the first time, to a professional surfer training for the Olympics.  

Aerial view of The Wave surf venue in Bristol

At The Wave, they talk about blue health – the benefits of being outdoors in the water on our wellbeing, and I was struck by the number of single adults going in and out of the venue with their own boards early in the mornings. It dawned on me that for the surfers of Bristol, this is their version of going to the gym, and I thought how much better it would be if everyone could something they love doing that just happens to work out their whole body.

A beginner’s surf lesson at The Wave

As I watched some of the regular surfers at work, I wondered if it might feel a bit intimidating to be in the water as a beginner but I needn’t have worried. After getting kitted out (everything is supplied as part of your lesson) the kids joined a group of beginners for instruction on the basic manoeuvres of handling a surfboard.

As beginners, they took the shore part of one of the huge triangles of water powered by tech that provides up to 1,000 waves of varying sizes and shapes an hour – with heights starting at 50cm and peaking at almost 2m, there is something for everyone.

The coaching was thorough, and there were two coaches in the water with the group, offering hints as they watched what each surfer was doing. Safe to say there was a lot of falling in, but my two both managed to get upright on their boards a few times.

Learning to surf at The Wave Bristol
Starting gently with surf lessons

Founder of The Wave, Nick Hounsfield, says: “Riding waves makes you feel alive. No matter what level you are at, being in the water and having fun feels rejuvenating. We are all so busy in our day-to -day lives that we do not take that time out to step back, reset and simply ‘be’. I found that surfing and being close to nature really worked for me and I wondered if there was a way of giving more people access to this feeling of wellbeing.  

That’s what he’s managed to create just outside Bristol. As an inland ‘surf simulator’ I wasn’t sure what to expect, although the sheer size of the venue gave me confidence that it might feel like the real thing. And it definitely is as close to the real thing as you’ll get, away from the beach.

As the kids worked on their technique I wandered towards the back of the water where the more experienced surfers were practising. There were some pretty impressive moves going on!

Credit: Image Cabin

The Wave has also recently launched its Cold Water Dip experience for those who don’t want to surf but are keen to get the benefits of cold-water immersion. There are also newly installed saunas to enjoy for free after your surf session.  I wasn’t feeling brave, so I used my excuse of having to take photographs! 

Can you stay overnight at The Wave?

Absolutely – and in style! The Camp at The Wave opened in 2021 and offers family-friendly accommodation as well as shared dorms, just a short walk from the shore of the surfing lake. Built to withstand the elements, the tents sleep up to 8 with comfortable beds, a kitchenette with hot water, private toilet, fridge, large balcony area at the front, and wood burner, which we made good use of in the evenings. 

Games by the fire at The Wave camp

It’s not often I get quality time with both my kids now that my eldest is at university, so it was wonderful to come back to the beautiful safari tents and play games in the evenings at The Wave. We sat round the fire, remembered all the years of UNO battles we’ve had as a family, and ate snacks while we got cosy, before getting into proper comfortable beds. It’s really not camping, apart from the odd spider!

What’s the food like at The Wave?

I wasn’t expecting much from the food offering at a sports venue. I thought food would probably be what we used to call a “distress purchase” when I worked in food retail – unimportant but available when you came out of the waves ravenous. However, the Clubhouse at The Wave serves up great food, and we enjoyed both dinner and breakfast there – which is lucky, because it’s the only place to eat unless you take a drive. I never want to cook on holiday (although there were adequate facilities for knocking up a spag bol or a bacon sandwich in the tent) so the food was important to me.

There is, of course, the essential stuff like burgers and fish and chips, but I was surprised by some of the other items on the menu: smoothie bowls for breakfast, a great Middle Eastern platter for brunch and delicious sandwiches that can be turned into a salad – mine looked so impressive that another customer came and asked me what I was having, so he could order the same.

Probably the best thing about the clubhouse, though, was the cheerful way everything was delivered. There’s a self-serve element where you go to collect your food from the kitchen counter and even the kitchen staff were really friendly. I’m thinking they’re really there for the surfing, but that’s why they’re so happy! We stayed for a couple of nights in the camp, so we got to know the staff, who even recommended things to do in Bristol – never easy to figure out in a new city with teens.

We spent our second day exploring Bristol. We’d been told a great way to see most of the city is to start in Clifton Village, take in the views of Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge, and walk down Park Street to the river. We got to see the incredibly variable architecture of Bristol, and spotted a couple of Banksy’s along the way, before stopping for a drink on Wapping Wharf, where the SS Great Britain is. I’d been unimpressed by Bristol as we drove into it, but let’s just say you can’t judge a book by its cover, and Bristol city is a great place to hang out with teenagers. Check out Visit Bristol before you go, to see what would work for your family.

Would I recommend doing The Wave?

100%. If you have energetic teenagers who are up for trying new things or into sport at all, The Wave is worth a try. They may come away with a new passion that will add to your holidays, but at the very least they’ll be off the sofa and laughing. And if you’re not close to Bristol, I’d definitely recommend an overnight in the Camp at The Wave. Super comfortable, and no screens!

The Wave is located in a beautiful rural site on the edge of Bristol, close to the M5. A one-hour surf costs from £45 for an adult and £35 for a child, depending on the time of year and day of the week. A 1.5-hour surf session with coaching costs from £55 for an adult and £45 for a child. All prices include everything you need including wetsuit, wetsuit boots and surfboards. To find out more and book visit www.thewave.com. 

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