The traditional destinations for a ‘surfing safari’ range from Hawaii to the shores of Peru. Certainly, I don’t recall The Beach Boys ever singing about the north-west suburbs of Bristol.
And yet, here we are, a mile or two from the M5, M4, and M49 motorways, watching swarms of wetsuit-clad men and women carve their way along a seemingly endless succession of perfect turquoise waves.
A couple of hundred yards away is a luxury tent where our ‘quiver’ of surfboards stands ready for action. If all goes according to plan, we’ll watch the sunset on the tent’s pretty wooden veranda.
Catching waves: Surfers at The Wave – a giant pool in Bristol shaped like a pizza slice where a reverberating machine can churn rideable waves
I envision drinking a restorative beer and talking my thoroughly exhausted wife and children through the thrills, spills and wipe-outs of our respective teatime surf sessions.
This may seem a peculiar scenario, given the nearest thing to a local beach is the mud-brown Severn Estuary. But recent times have turned this previously unlovely corner of the West Country into England’s surf Mecca.
The man responsible is Nick Hounsfield. Back in 2010, he was just a middle-aged osteopath. Then he chanced upon an internet video showing how engineers had built a working artificial surf lake in Spain’s Basque Country.
Waves at The Wave are churned out from dawn to dusk, seven days a week
Inspired by his late father, who on his deathbed told Nick to do something ‘big and bold’, he decided to create a version on low-grade farmland near Avonmouth.
Nine years and the thick end of £25 million later, he opened The Wave, a giant pool shaped like a pizza slice where a reverberating machine can churn out a thousand perfectly rideable waves every single hour, from dawn to dusk, seven days a week.
Nick is busy turning The Wave into a full holiday destination. Now, visitors can stay overnight at a posh ‘glamping’ facility close enough to the lake to hear the never-ending whoops and hollers.
It’s called The Camp at The Wave, and helping me road-test the place on its opening weekend is my wife, Katie, and our three sprogs — William, ten, Megan, eight, and Henry, five.
Our home for the night is less Hi-de-Hi!, more Out Of Africa: one of 25 mega-tents containing three bedrooms, a living area complete with fully functioning kitchen and wood-burning stove, plus wi-fi, iPhone charging sockets and a faintly terrifying eco-friendly toilet that incinerates its contents at the touch of a button.
The tents can sleep eight at a squeeze (it involves turning the living-room sofa into a bed) and are accessed by a network of wooden walkways lit by hundreds of fairy lights after dark. Everything is solar-powered and ultra-sustainable.
Over at the lake, there’s a real buzz, with packed bars and a busy daily rota of lessons (for beginners) and sessions for every other standard of surfer. The machines have a variety of settings that can produce waves anywhere from 50cm to 2m high.
The Daily Mail’s Guy Adams with his children Henry, Megan, William and wife Katie. They stayed overnight at a posh ‘glamping’ facility close enough to the lake to hear the never-ending whoops and hollers
Tents sleep up to eight people and cost from £105 per night (£200 per night in summer) with a two-night minimum stay in the week and three-night minimum at weekends.
Surf sessions (lasting one hour) cost from £50 for adults and £40 for children in peak season. Beginner lessons (one-and-a-half hours) cost from £60 for adults and £50 for children in peak season (thewave.com, 0333 016 4133).
Hour-long sessions cost from £40 for children and from £50 for adults in peak season, with wetsuits, boards and all other kit included. They tend to fill up weeks in advance, but residents of The Camp get priority booking.
Katie takes William and Megan for an introductory lesson with Emily, a bubbly Welsh surf champ whose infectious enthusiasm has them grinning like Cheshire cats.
After half-an-hour’s practice on dry land, they wade out into waist-deep water where — magic! — they all manage to ‘catch’, ‘pop up’ and actually surf a series of knee-high waves.
Thanks to a vaguely misspent youth, I’m a reasonable (if unfit) hobby surfer, so have booked an intermediate session. In the course of an exhilarating hour, I get to ride more waves than I’d expect to hop aboard on a weekend trip to Cornwall.
Nick’s vision is for The Wave to become a sort of all-round wellness retreat, where visitors book into a couple of surf sessions a day and while away the rest of their time taking yoga classes or visiting vast adventure playgrounds and skate parks, which he’s hoping to build in the coming months.
For younger children — you need to be six years old and capable of swimming a good 25 metres to surf — there are ‘play in the bay’ sessions, where beachy toys are laid on.
I’d happily stay at the water’s edge for days. But those who get itchy feet can venture out to the Aerospace Bristol museum to see the final Concorde made, or Bristol Zoo.
After a red-letter afternoon, we emerge from the water with arms that feel like spaghetti and stomachs in urgent need of filling at the excellent ‘beach’ restaurant. Before we retire to our mega-tent, I allow the children to order a round of enormous ice-cream sundaes. We’ve probably earned it.