Source: The Telegraph
A disused factory in Dolgarrog, Wales, is being transformed into a giant artifical surfing lagoon in a world first
The tiny Welsh community of Dolgarrog is about to become one of the world’s top surfing hot spots, despite being 10 miles inland. Plans are underway to build the world’s first commercial artificial surfing lagoon near the village.
Surf Snowdonia, the company behind the enterprise, predicts that the attraction will host more than 75,000 visitors a year – quite a leap from Dolgarrog’s current population of 500.
The madcap project started 20 months ago, when serial entrepreneur Martin Ainscough heard about an artificial surfing experiment in northern Spain. The Wavegarden project creates perfect waves in a man-made lake using “hydrodynamic wave foil” technology.
Ainscough was looking to develop a 55-acre plot he had purchased near Dolgarrog. The factory site had been used for aluminium smelting for a century, but had become unviable and closed in 2007. Ainscough had originally purchased the land to build houses. However, with little employment in the area, the idea became unworkable.
The site is also on a flood plain of the Conwy valley, which posed further challenges. The answer, he decided, was to build a giant waterpark, and bring the Wavegarden technology to the UK, commercialising the concept for the first time.
Surf Snowdonia’s managing director, Steve Davies, was enlisted to make the impossible dream a reality and after 18 months of planning, the diggers arrive in a fortnight. “This is an industrial area that is crying out to be beautified,” he says. “We’re regenerating the whole area, and creating jobs and revenue for the local economy.”
The facility will be 985ft (300 metres) long and 370ft (113 metres) wide, able to create a wave every minute. These will rise to a peak of six feet (1.82 metres) in the centre, with intermediate waves of four feet, and a beginner’s three foot wave. “Learning to surf will be easier than it’s ever been before,” says Davies. “It’s going to make the sport so much more accessible to the general public.”
The park is being designed to appeal not just to surfers but to whole families. “We’re planning to offer a huge number of exciting outdoor water sports,” says Davies. These will range from body boarding to rubber ringing, even rubber raft races. One of the wackier offerings will be “blobbing”, where swimmers jump on to a “giant inflatable pudding”, he explains. “Two mates jump on the other end and you are sent skyward!”
The company is also building a children’s play building and outdoor activity lagoon, and will construct a boardwalk packed with restaurants, cafes and a shopping arcade. Visitors will be able to stay in lodges on the site, offering bed and breakfast. The whole project will cost £12m to complete.
Once the waterpark opens, Surf Snowdonia will create 60 jobs at peak season, and pump £3m into the local supply chain, he claims. It will position the UK as one of the surfing capitals of the world.
“The surfing culture here at the moment is cold water, wetsuits, and lots of disappointed surfers congregating at beaches waiting for the conditions to change. We will produce perfect waves that can give surfers a 20 second rise, that’s considerably more that you’ll get anywhere else around the country.”
The Surf Snowdonia project has already caught the attention of the International Surfing Association (ISA) in California. “It has been campaigning to get surfing recognised as an Olympic sport,” says Davies. “But an inhibitor has been the inconsistency of ocean waves. Every competitor wants the same conditions as his predecessor.”
Surf Snowdonia’s new wave lagoon produces the same wave every time and a stadium lets people watch the surfers from all sides – “Like a gladiatorial arena,” says Davies. Perfect for Olympic viewing, according to the ISA, which plans to come and view the site.
Surf Snowdonia aims to open the waterpark by June 2015. This is an ambitious timescale, but Davies says most of the grunt work has already been done. “We spent a huge amount of money on site investigations. The decontamination of a former factory site is an expensive challenge, but we’ve done our homework.”
The company is also working closely with Conwy county council to ensure the influx of visitors doesn’t negatively affect the locals. “We’ve made a £50,000 contribution to upgrading a local junction that may get busy, and we’re trying to see if we can increase the frequency of trains to the local station,” Davies says. The toughest challenge was winning local hearts and minds.
“Dolgarrog has a huge emotional attachment to the factory, so we spent a lot of time talking to the community about our plans. There was also the Eigiau dam disaster here in 1925, which washed away the village and killed 16 people. The tragedy is deeply ingrained in the psyche here, so it was important to be sensitive. We know that we can’t please everyone, but we hope that when we’re up and running, people will realise that the problems they see are more perceived than real.”
As the world’s first commercial artificial surfing lake, Davies is confident that the site will attract considerably more visitors than the 75,000 forecast for the first year. However, the company only needs to pull in 61pc of this number to break even. “Better to grossly undershoot than overestimate,” he says.
“But we’ve definitely created a destination attraction that people will come from all over the world to see. We’ve brought Hawaii to Wales!”