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Surf Trip Travel Guide: The Wave Bristol, United Kingdom

By: Alex Murphy

The growth of surf parks worldwide is fueling a new trend in surf travel, sending surfers to destinations once foreign to the surf community. Thanks to a recent deal, places like the United Kingdom now have two options up and running and more on the way. The Wave in Bristol, an industry leader at the forefront of that expansion, opened up shop two years ago and continues to offer a unique surf experience. Their success continues to help the brand grow, bringing a new influx of surfers from across the globe to West England to experience The Wave firsthand.

Surf Trip Travel Guide: The Wave Bristol, United Kingdom
Drone view credit: @wavemakernick

Sitting near the coast of the Bristol Channel, Bristol is roughly a two-hour drive ​​ (1hr 40min train ride) from London, making The Wave a fairly easy visit from most destinations. 

Visitors are encouraged to pre-book visits as the park continues to navigate COVID-19, including both surfers and spectators. Booking in advance is also a smart way to secure a spot at the popular destination.The UK’s covid rules are constantly changing – any update on restrictions that affect visitors are posted on The Wave’s website.

Once guests arrive, they’ll find plenty of amenities including food and drink and a well-stocked surf shop. The Wave offers a range of surf experiences, from Beginner Lessons up to its Expert Barrel and Expert Turns sessions. There is also a Play in the Bay option, which allows anyone of any age to just enjoy some time in the water. For the full lowdown on the surf options, check out the Surf page which includes a great ‘Find your Wave’ video, with professional longboarder, Ben Skinner, and British Olympic Snowboarder, Jenny Jones.

The inland surfing destination is powered by Wavegarden Cove technology which creates about 1,000 waves an hour, making the Wave a great destination that aims to create an inclusive surf park for all levels and experiences. At the heart of The Wave is its core purpose which is to bring the positive power of waves, surfing and the outdoors to more people.

Nick Hounsfield surfing The Wave Bristol
Founder Nick Hounsfield photo credit: Jack Hewett

Nick Hounsfield, The Wave Founder, sums it up: “Surfing for me is more than just a sport, a culture, a way of life… it is my medicine, my reset button, the thing I do to rediscover the best version of myself. I wanted to share this feeling and the many health benefits of surfing with people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities.”

Speaking at 2021’s Surf Park Summit’s Summer Session, The Wave CEO Craig Stoddart said:

“One of the things a lot of our core surfers say is they absolutely love spending time in the water knowing they get as many waves as they need without having to fight for it, but still having that ‘community feel’ out in the waves. They can bring their families and are able to surf in the same space as their children, and that’s something that really starts them to crossover that culture and attract others to try it.

“One of the amazing things about these facilities is you can literally have one of the best in the world surfing on the more advanced section and you can be on the same playing field as a complete beginner who has never having surfed before. There are not many sports where you can do that.”

Getting There

There are multiple international airports throughout the UK, but London’s Heathrow Airport may be one of the most accessible routes. From there, visitors can rent a car or even use public transit to get to Bristol. The GWR, a train that connects a lot of the UK to the Bristol area, runs frequently and is cost-effective. The nearest train station is Bristol Parkway, only about a 20-minute taxi ride from The Wave.

There is also an airport in Bristol, but visitors from the U.S. will most likely need a connecting flight to get there.

The Wave is located just north of downtown Bristol, providing visitors plenty of opportunities to enjoy the local fare and secure accommodation.

What to Bring

The price of admission gets visitors more than just into the park, as it comes with most of the gear you need, namely a surfboard and a Rip Curl wetsuit, with the option of boots and gloves. However, if you prefer your own gear, here’s a look at the items you need to pack:

  • Passport. This may seem obvious, but you won’t get very far without it. 
  • Surfboard. Sure, it may cost you extra to fly with, but plenty of surfers prefer to use the board they’re used to. Keep in mind, The Wave is freshwater so a thicker board will do a better job of keeping you afloat.
  • Wetsuit. Bristol stays fairly cool year around, so you’ll need a wetsuit along with boots, gloves and a hood for most of the year. As mentioned, Rip Curl wetsuits are provided with the cost of admission, but they are standard sizing so someone needing a medium tall or other variation may want to bring their own. The water temperature fluctuates quickly in line with air temperature and in summer can go up to as high as the low 80s – which means surfing in board shorts and rash guard!
  • Camera. You can bring your camera to capture pictures, but an even better option may be professional photos you can purchase from the park. Not only are they a good way to remember your visit but you can use them to improve your surf and get some great takeaways.

The Waves

Visitors who are new to Wavegarden Cove technology will find a variety of opportunities to create a unique experience based on their skill level.

Surf lessons at The Wave Bristol
Surf lessons at The Wave photo credit: Katya Og

Lessons: All 1.5hr

  • Beginner. This 90-minute session comes with coaches to help newcomers understand the basics of surfing.
  • Waikiki.  These are all about taking the step from the white water to catching a green, unbroken wave in the Reef area of the lake, with a focus on building skills and confidence.
  • Intermediate. Taking place in the Reef area, the intermediate lessons help build skills and focus on areas such as perfecting take-off, controlling and maneuvering your board, generating speed, and working on turns.

Open Water Experiences: All 1hr

  • Waikiki. A relaxed setting for both beginners and those looking to enjoy smaller waves and build on the basics of surfing.
  • Intermediate. A very popular setting for those with a little more experience and a great opportunity to get comfortable with wave pools and to work on training.
  • Advanced Wave. This setting requires a higher skill level to ride, but has more of an ocean feel.
  • Advanced Plus. This setting provides more power with a faster wave and is intended for the more serious, advanced surfers.
  • Expert Turns Setting. This is a fast and challenging session, full of the most powerful turning waves to test your performance turns.
  • Expert Barrels Setting – This is dedicated to The Wave’s most popular barrel settings. Ride powerful waves with consistent and fun-to-navigate barrels.
Barreled at The Wave
Barreled at The Wave photo credit: @imagecabin

Where to Stay

The Wave offers onsite accommodations at The Camp, featuring 25 rentable tents, paying homage to the original spirit of adventure found within surfing. The Camp is far from your typical camping experience, as each tent can house up to eight people, and is equipped with comfortable beds, wood burners, wifi, electricity, a kitchenette, and a private toilet. Guests are also welcome to bring their own food and beverage to cook and enjoy at their tent.

Outside the park, visitors will see plenty of familiar name brands such as the Travelodge located near The Wave and a Doubletree closer to Bristol’s City Center.

For the experience many U.S. tourists imagine they would find in England, there are a few classic lodges like The Swan, which operates as a gastropub with overnight rooms. ​​If you are after a luxury boutique hotel then check out Berwick Lodge.

Where to Eat

The Clubhouse, home to their onsite surf shop, also features their cafe-bar, offering breakfast, lunch and dinner service with a sustainable, local touch, in addition to a full-service bar.

Outside the Wave, most food stops are closer to Bristol’s City Center area– the city is renowned for its great food offering. The Visit Bristol website has a huge amount of detail on the many delicious options available.

When to Visit

While you have to contend with the weather, The Wave operates year-round although with shorter opening times during the winter months. Overall, the weather stays mild from the low 70s in the summer to the high 40s in the winter. The water temperature fluctuates with the air temperatures, but the water can be warmer in the winter than the air.

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