Written by Matt Hyslop, Destination Consulting lead at Colliers International, Bristol
Surfing is a popular, and growing, pastime around the UK coast – and nowhere more so than in the South West.
Next month’s opening of The Wave, an inland surf destination near Bristol, is set to make a step change in more ways than one.
This is innovation in the South West that is right on trend, far beyond the surfing itself. The Wave reflects innovative thinking in technology, business model and attitude, and is a perfect fit with modern consumer expectations.
The surf park sector is a young and fast evolving market, with only a handful of operational lagoons worldwide. The basic premise is a man-made lagoon with a surf machine that generates waves for surfing. In an inland location or urban setting, this allows easy access to good quality waves. The commercial model is usually based on selling hours of surfing or lessons, supported by catering, hospitality, retail and accommodation.
Located at Easter Compton, to the north of Bristol and close to the M5, The Wave will be the second surf park in the UK.
While the principles are very similar to other surf parks, The Wave is really quite a different proposition. It is the first destination in the northern hemisphere to offer Wavegarden Cove wave-making technology. This promises a lot of high quality waves, for all abilities. The lagoon provides up 1,000 waves of varying sizes and shapes an hour – around one wave every 10 seconds. Heights start at 50cm and peak at 1.8m, providing sport for all ability ranges from first-timers to Olympic hopefuls.
This is a significant, high-tech investment that is a global leader and a major coup for Bristol and the South West.
Innovation permeates beyond the technology itself. The business model will ultimately blend that of a visitor attraction with health club, resort and sports centre which will be quite different from a regular day-out experience or membership-led health club.
Most impressively, there is an attitude and brand ethos that genuinely holds central the ideas of inclusivity, wellbeing and fresh-air fun which should prove the perfect antidote to busy, stressed, screen-heavy lifestyles.
While community and sustainability are at the heart of operations, two challenges are presented around pricing and energy consumption.
The surf offer will be a premium experience which comes with a premium price tag. A one-hour surf will cost £40-45 for an adult and £30-35 for a child, with boards and wetsuits provided. Coaching sessions cost £55-60 for adults and £45-50 for a child.
The £25 million-plus investment is also a sign of a burgeoning confidence in the UK tourism and leisure market.
Since the 2008 crash, the ‘staycation’ trend has been prevalent in the UK. At first, it was born out of necessity with strapped-for-cash holidaymakers opting out of more expensive overseas trips. But since then, both consumers and the industry have realised we have an excellent visitor offer in the UK, with amazing places and experiences that hold up to international comparison.
The weather really is not the be-all-and-end-all. Investment over the last ten years has greatly improved the product offer and services, and now a relatively new-found self-confidence has taken hold. Raising £25 million in investment for an exciting new surf venture is not to be underestimated, and illustrates this trend further.
The Wave will help evolve and grow the sport of surfing, especially in the South West. Its innovative approach and offer should reach beyond surfing and is an internationally significant project of which Bristol and the South West should be proud.