Ocean or Wave Pool – Which is better for UK surfers?

21/06/2021

Ocean or Wave Pool – Which is better for UK surfers?

Over recent years, there has been huge advancements in thew ave pool technology that has brought surfing to remote locations to make it more accessible to the masses. The concrete visionaries at Wavegarden have built an incredible machine called ‘cove technology’ that can pump out up to 1000 waves per hour with 2 waves generated every 8 seconds…crazy right?

How does this compare to the ocean you might ask?

One of the best surfers of all time – the late, great Andy Irons explained surfing as being “Kissed by God”. Stoicism aside, Andy Irons description was more focussed around nature of the ocean rather than mechanical pull of the cove, so can that feeling really be replicated by a man made wave?

This blog aims to outline all the benefits and potential negatives of surfing in the ocean and the wave pool.

Having worked at a Wavegarden as surf coach for the past 2 years, I have personally seen just how good the Cove tech is at boosting performance. From beginners catching there first waves to elite surfers fine tuning there wrap arounds and backside rotations on a frequency of perfect waves no matter the weather.

That being said there is no crystal clear answer to which is better, but here is my view.

Indication Point - BARRA DE LA CRUZ

WAVE COUNT

It’s simple. The more time you spend up on a wave, the better you are going to get.

In your hour time slot at the wave pool, you can catch up to 13 perfect waves for around a 10-15 second ride. This is providing you make the take-off next to the board crushing concrete wall. Once over this fear, you are greeted by a wave that peels down the lake for you to practice speed generation, bottom turns, top turns and all the things in between.

In the ocean it may take you 2/3-hours to catch the same amount if you understand how to read the wave formations and have a decent level of surf fitness to navigate around the line-up. It can sometimes be tricky with the average wave lasting between 5-10 seconds when there is a circus of people in the ocean.

So, one session in the wave pool can equate to 2/3 hours in the ocean – so the answer as you may have guessed – wavepool!

Kelly Slater Barrelled at his wave pool

WAVE QUALITY

The answer again – wave pool!

The beauty of the Wavegarden technology is that it has the ability to push small spilling waves, perfect for beginners looking to catch their first green waves. Right up to pumping out 6-foot faces to practice critical turns and manoeuvres.

The cherry on top? The barrel mode – everyone who surfs wants to experience a barrel/tube ride/green room at some point in their surfing career and the wave pool can provide that. All you do is book.

In the ocean however (especially in the UK), mother nature dictates where and when we will see the waves we want to surf. Even when they do arrive you may be struck with gale force winds that blow the hell out of the shape making hard to find sections for advanced surfers and unsurfable to beginner and intermediate surfers.

If you commit and venture down to the South West or to Scotland, you do have your pick of the type of wave and break you want surf. Hollow shore breaks for seasoned surfer to cruisy longboard waves for the weekend warrior- all you have to do is drive and pay for parking.

The other downside of the ocean is that the best swells arrive in the winter. The days are shorter meaning the window to surf is a lot shorter than in the summer. Don’t forget, this happens at the wave pool as it is also dictated by daylight. Last session in the summer can go on until 9pm – winter, lights out at 4 pm.

Surfer in lots of neoprene at The Wave - Credit: Surfing Croyde Bay

WATER TEMP

The height of summer in the UK wave pool, the water temp can heat up to a tropical 25 degrees meaning that board-short surf sessions is very much on the cards! As soon as it is warm outside the water temp will heat up quick!

On the reverse though, the heights of winter mean you will have so much neoprene on that your arms will get tired just by paddling out. As the wave pool matches the outside air temp – expect artic water temperatures below 5 degrees and mind-numbing brain freeze as if you have just chugged a pint of slush puppy!  

Note to parents: your children will not last long in a beginner session in the depths of winter. Expect blue lips, uncontrollable shivering and teeth chattering after 10 minutes despite being wrapped up – don’t waste your money!

The ocean is a bit more constant though. There is 5,719,200 gallons of water in the UK wave pool. The Atlantic Ocean has roughly 82 Billion Billion gallons of water. This means it takes a lot longer for the water to heat up but on the reverse, it takes a lot longer to cool down.

In the winter it is between 6-10 degrees which makes a huge difference from the artic 5 degrees. In the summer the water temp can sit between 15-20 degrees from August to October. As you have to move around a lot more in the ocean you tend to stay warmer.

Pretty equal in my opinion.

The long walk from the car park begins...

VALUE FOR MONEY

This one is tricky…

If you live by the coast, it is quite easy to stroll down to your local break and check that is firing. You jump in your wetty and go for surf…simple. If you live further afield – let’s say London for example – your closest break is up to 3-hours away by car which means a lot of travel time and fuel cost. Then you factor in equipment rental if you do not have your own, it all adds up!

Not to mention the overnight accommodation you would want to pay for so you can make the most of your trip. You don’t want to be dozing off on the motorway.

Inland wave pools tend to be more accessible from major cities, with better transport links and guaranteed waves. It is a sure-fire way to get your fix of riding down an open face for the land locked surfer.

You just have to pay the price for your session which can be anywhere from £45-£65 depending on what session you book. If you have come from afar, it is likely you will be booking minimum of 2 sessions. Adding on the cost of food you will be racking up a hefty bill for 2-hours of surfing.

Be careful: if you get stuck in traffic, then wave your session goodbye! Plan accordingly but there are no time slots in the ocean.

All in all – it probably fares up pretty equally from a cost point of view. You can go to day trip to both places and if you’re smiling at the end your surf…mission accomplished!

Nothing better than surfing with friends

VERDICT

 It might seem more fun and beneficial to go to the wave pool due to the number of waves and consistency but I’m going to f*** you up with some truth – its fake and unnatural.

You surf in fresh water next to a great big machine pumping out wave after wave while you wait your turn. You’re accompanied by 15 other surfers waiting to catch a wave every 8 seconds…quite daunting for the uninitiated! You catch a wave, and it might get ruined by someone floundering on the inside while you charge down the line.

If it is a full session, you might find that some people miss their take-off meaning you have to let a couple of waves go through so they can clear the area. If you’re at the back of the queue, it’s likely you’ll miss your wave of of the set while you watch 3 pounds worth of empty wave roll through – one of which you could be practicing your technique on. This is no fun at all in the winter…

Don’t get me wrong, there is great scope for progression at the wave pool due to the close-up perspective you can use for live feedback from a coach/friend who can give you tips while you surf.

You get to master the fundamentals of popping up and angling take-offs as you know exactly what is coming behind you each time. In the ocean this can take a little while longer as you need to understand what to look for in the breaking waves.

There is added benefit of photos from your surf at the wave pool, (you might get lucky at the ocean with an amateur photog) which can give you a visual aid of your anatomical positioning on your board to refine technique…however these photos are mainly used for new profile pictures onFacebook.

In the ocean, it is fair to say that no one wave is the same. The ones you do catch is individual to you. No one else will ever surf that wave again that travelled thousands of miles to shape up at the shore for you to ride…that satisfaction cannot be replicated!

Having surfed the wave pool many times, I can count on one hand the waves/sessions I remember surfing. In the ocean I can remember waves from 10 years ago when I first started surfing and many many more since then!

I believe if you surf the wave pool too much – it makes you a lazy surfer. You lose ability to put what you practice in the pool and apply it to the ocean! You lose the ability to read different wave formations and the micro-adjustments involved to develop proper surfing technique. The wave pool is a place to practice and refine – not to be relied on as your local!

In my opinion, the ocean will always win! The search for waves, unrestricted time slots, the individuality that comes with surfing each wave and experiencing the raw power of the ocean! Use the wave pool to progress but make the effort to venture to the ocean to understand the true essence of surfing and really feel what it is like to be “Kissed by God”.