Monday 21 September 2015

Thin surf and fat wallets

I suppose that people do surf on the East coasts of the Western European Archipelago WEA but the prevailing wind is from the West and that's what throws up the big waves. Serious surfers accordingly go to Doolin in Co Clare or Cornwall and North Devon in the far SW of England. I guess those serious dudes go and live in the West too. I know one case of a fit young chap who had a stonkingly successful PhD in Dublin and then upped-stakes to be a secondary school teacher in Sligo because it was close to Enniscrone and other great surf breaks.

That must be the reason why two monster artificial inland surf-centres are located close to the UK West coast facing the Irish Sea.  I gave a taster a week ago about Surf Snowdonia in Dolgarrog.  It wouldn't be fair if I didn't also give a compl{e|i}imentary puff to The Wave Bristol 200km South. It's actually quite hard to get a picture of how The Wave is going to work although they expect to open in 2016.  They've shifted their site from the Portway between the Bristol Docks and the container port at Avonmouth to a greenfield site in deepest Gloucestershire. They're still trying to promote their venture as green and eco-friendly: their mast-head devotes as much space to organic food and a yoga-bimbo [see R] as it does to hard-chaws sending the spray in wet-suits.  That's partly because their business model is multi-focus (unfocus if you will): the central pool is going to be surrounded by car-parks (natch because it's in the middle of nowhere), a bar, a cafe, a conference centre and "activity, sensory, healing, culinary and herb gardens" [that would be a big pink woo, followed by wah].

Their first vision was much like Snowdonia's: gritty industrial site using the Wavegarden plough-on-tracks technology.  Whatever the technology, it's going to be energy intensive. Shifting tons of water left and right and up requires power from somewhere; probably from the electricity grid. Punters might think of their implicit carbon foot-print as they sip their daiquiri watching the waves from the sensory garden.  They'll have to imagine the white sand and the palm trees. But Wavegarden wasn't right for their image, so they signed up with an American company called Wave Loch which has a system that looks as much like an ocean wave as a skateboard park looks like a mountainside.  Piffling about on 5cm of moving water on top of a pale blue neoprene "wave" looks like a lot of fun but it's a long way from Hawaii.  But it's also got to be efficient: a ton of shifting water goes a long way if it's spread thin.

But that can't be what's going to go down in Bristol because they are talking about generating 6 to 8 waves a minuterather than a continuous flat fire-hose. Their website's explanation "Just like the ocean we use wind (pneumatics) to create our waves. After years of research and testing we found that this was the best way to deliver a vast quantity of almond-eyed barrels" is short on techie detail and long on hip neoprene-speak. Just how do they generate those almond-eyed barrels?  It becomes a little more clear from this scale model demonstration, but not much. I think that the business end of the pool consists of a huge paddle which displaces a bunch of water as it descends vertically. The displaced water has no place to go but along the pool pushing people along with it. In effect it's a controlled tsunami. This is both good and bad when compared to Surf Snowdonia. 1) Surfers are kept separate from the solid moving parts and there are no immovable stanchions or pillars with which to make whack contact but 2) "Surfers will be able to paddle back to the start of the wave and therefore improve their fitness and technique"; the waves only go one way, so just like at sea you can to paddle out again to catch the next ride.  Waves may come every 10 seconds but you're going to miss most of them as you develop your upper-body muscle-mass paddling back to the start.

Is there anything that cannot be monetised and productified?  When I were a nipper, we'd play 'battleships' with no more equipment than 2 sheets of squared paper and 2 pencils. In 1971, MiltonBradley=Hasbro ripped off the idea and packaged a lot of plastic in a big cardboard box. In 1979 they made a version which was needlessly complexified to make deeply unsatisfactory electronic sounds to infuriate any adults in the house: they call pushing three coloured buttons in turn 'programming'.  It's now available as which is free delivers you to advertisers. I am happy to report that pencils and squared paper are still widely available and the surf is up in Co Clare too. harrrumph!

I think the saddest thing about both ventures is that the surfers ethos of freedom, rebelliousness, cut-off jeans, beer, chicks and waves has been monetised by blokes in suits whose product is only available if you have a full-time job to pay for it . . . make that 'whose products" because it's no longer only about the surf its about the designer coffee, the sensory experience, the organic snacks and the holistic rifling of your wallet.

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