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(The Gear Loop) - Surfing is a fickle pursuit and the often frustrating act of catching a wave, using its power to propel your surf craft and gracefully carving turns upon its face, is often down to Mother Nature and the goods she decides to serve up on any given day.

Unlike, say, football, it's difficult to even begin to start progressing your surfing unless you have the mystical combo of favourable weather conditions, the correct wind direction, ground swell from a far away ocean storm and the right sandbars or seafloor topography to generate the right kind of wave - one with enough power and the right shape to enable surfers to get up to speed, both literally and metaphorically.

With that in mind, it's no wonder surf boffins have been busy concocting technology to emulate "the perfect wave" in controlled environments for some time now. Granted, we've all enjoyed a sloshing wave pool in our local leisure centre as a kid, but these carefully groomed artificial waves are next level. In the UK at least, we got our first taste of these man made marvels at Adventure Parc Snowdonia (formally Surf Snowdonia), an old aluminium works in Dolgarrog that was transformed into a surfer's paradise with the help of Wavegarden technology.

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In essence, a giant foil is pulled back and forth underwater by a huge ropeway drive system and this, coupled with a carefully contoured lagoon floor, creates the kind of consistently breaking waves that can accommodate elaborate turns, cutbacks and even flamboyant airs if you really know what you are doing on a board.

But things have moved on at great pace and the technology has been refined, tweaked and improved across the globe, where inland surf spots are popping up at a staggering pace. In the UK alone, we now have two leading sites, with Bristol's aptly named The Wave sporting arguably the latest wave tech and one of the best artificial waves this writer has ever experienced.

Further sites are now planned in Edinburgh, Scotland, Bournemouth and in the land-locked surrounds of Birmingham. Travel further afield and you'll find Wave Gardens in Spain, Switzerland, South Korea and Brazil. Inland surfing might not be able to replace the fun, unpredictability and the zen experienced when properly bobbing around nature's salty playground, but it is rapidly gaining popularity with those who want to improve in a controlled environment. So is now the time to jump on the bandwagon and take your surfing to the next level? If so, here's everything you need to know...

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A guide to inland surfing: how does it work?

Different inland surf lagoons use various methods to create a wave, but in general it involves some kind of mechanical foil or paddle that creates energy in the water and carefully constructed lagoon floors that force this energy to disperse and a continual wave to break.

It sounds complex but take The Wave at Bristol for example. It features a jetty that runs down the middle of a man-made, fan-shaped cove. Hidden inside this jetty is an "engine house" where a machine that uses a number of enormous paddles resides. Thanks to the carefully contoured cove bed and the ability to control the power and precise movement of these paddles, it is possible for a Wave engineer to produce up to 1,000 waves of varying sizes and shapes an hour - that's around a wave every 10 seconds. 

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Wave heights start at leaner friendly and fluffy 50cm and peak at 1.8m, with proper barrelling sections (the kind you see pro surfers tucked inside of in Indonesia and Hawaii). There are larger faces for the more experienced, as well as gently crumbling white water further along the cove for beginners and those just looking to have some gentle fun. The central positioning of the jetty means that there's a left and a right side, with a wave breaking in the direction for regular footers (those who surf on their forehand on waves that break to the right) and goofy footers (who generally surf more comfortably in the opposite direction to regular footers). 

A guide to inland surfing: is it safe?

It most certainly is. Because the water is carefully controlled and monitored, there are no invisible rips to worry about, no submerged objects, boats, jet skiers, fishermen, angry swimmers, sharks or any other common hazards that you might find in the sea. What's more, an inland surfing cove is like an amphitheatre for the sport, with spectators watching along the sides and trained lifeguards and "Wave Makers" patrolling the boundaries to make sure everyone is safe. Don't worry, nobody will point and laugh.

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Unlike the ocean, where surfing rules and etiquette are generally picked up along the way, inland wave lagoons come with their own set of strict rules and safety advice, to ensure everyone has fun and remains in one piece. If this is your very first experience at surfing, it is arguably one of the safest choices out there. It's also controlled to the point that beginners are advised to wear a helmet, while trained first aiders and expereinced lifeguards are always on hand. During beginner lessons, you'll also have an insturctor or two in the water with you at all times.  

A guide to inland surfing: is it expensive?

Compared to surfing in the ocean (which is free for most), surfing a man made wave is comparatively expensive. But we know plenty of surfers (this writer included) who regularly spends £50 on fuel to get to a UK surf destination only to be confronted with below average conditions. Then you have to factor in a potential overnight stay and the costs soon spiral. 

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A surf at the The Wave in Bristol and Adventure Parc Snowdonia costs around £50 for an hour-long session, which generally doesn't include any form of equipment hire. Both locations offer beginner lessons with equipment hire for around the same price. This can change depending on the season and an increase in demand, such as school holidays. So yes, it is expensive, but then you are also receiving expert tuition and surfing in a safe and beginner friendly environment. 

A guide to inland surfing: is it warm?

Surfing is an all-weather sport and those who don't like getting cold can simply invest in the thickest wetsuit possible. Unfortunately, none of the surf lagoons we've mentioned here are heated, which would be lovely, but hugely expensive and costly to the environment.

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Instead, you'll be adopting the same approach as anyone surfing in the sea and that's to cover up in flexible neoprene. Caps, boots and gloves are commonplace in the frigid winter months, although it is perfectly possible to surf in board shorts if the UK is treated to a run of hot weather in the summer. Of course, the same doesn't apply if you're lucky enough to be surfing an artificial wave in southern Australia or Brazil, for example. They are toasty all year-round but we've heard flights can be a little expensive. 

Now get the gear

Wetsuits 

You'll need a wetsuit when surfing an artificial wave in the UK, purely because there are only a couple of months in the year where the sun shines long enough to warm a giant lake full of fresh water. The time of year will determine the thickness of the suit, with those frosty winter months requiring thicker rubber, gloves and boots to ward off the cold.

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C-Skins Legend 5/3mm Men's Back Zip - £159.95

A superbly warm and flexible suit from C-Skins that's easy to get into, yet features thick neoprene in all of the important places, such as the chest and back. Reinforced seams also means this suit is built to withstand some serious sessions before it gives up the ghost.

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O'Neill Epic 5/4mm Women's Chest Zip - £189.95

A chest zip entry improves the freedom of movement when in the water and thick 5mm rubber ensures you stay warm, even in the chilly winter months. The suit also features a Fluidflex Firewall, which acts as a thermal chest and back panel inside the suit that retains your body heat to keep out the shivers.

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Boards

Generally, beginner boards tend to be larger and with more volume (essentially allowing it to float better). They are also constructed from soft foam, rather than the tough epoxy or resin of the pro-spec numbers. If you're a more experienced rider, we suggest taking a board with more volume anyway, as the freshwater lagoons make boards more difficult to paddle. 

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Catch Surf x Tyler Stanaland 7ft Log - £449.95

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With loads of volume and a nice soft construction, this board from seasoned fun-makers Catch Surf is ideal for beginners and the more seasoned surfer. It has been designed and built by Californian surf fanatics, so works like a real board, is built to last and looks very cool. 

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Form Flow Stik 7ft 6 - £599

With plenty of float and a curvy outline, the Form Flow Stik is a brilliant board for getting into the type of waves served up by wave pools. It also works really well in small summer swell, meaning you'll catch more waves and have more fun than you would on a smaller performance board. It's also the brainchild of Alan Stokes, a pro surfer and seasoned inland surfer. Keep reading for some of his top tips. 

Tech

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Rip Curl Search Series 2 GPS Watch

Although the real-time surf conditions won't matter, thanks to you enjoying man made waves at a man made surf lagoon, the Rip Curl Search Series 2 keeps track of wave count, top speeds, distance travelled and session time, so you can get an accurate picture of your on-wave performance. Yeeeeew!

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GoPro Hero10 Black

You know how the old saying goes, if there's no video evidence, it didn’t happen. Capture the action by suckering the fastest GoPros to ever live on the front of your board. Impress everyone with 5.3K video and monster 23MP photos of your session. HyperSmooth 4.0 image stabilisation will also help remove some of those beginner wobbles. 

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Tips from the Pros

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Alan Stokes, professional British surfer, former winner of the UK Pro Surf Tour Championships and surfboard designer, shares his top tips for newcomers to inland surfing. He absolutely rips, so pay close attention:

"I always tell people who ask me about inland surfing to forget what they know about the ocean and treat this like a very different sport. The technology needs to move on a few more steps before we can truly replicate the sheer size, power and shape of the waves you'll find in the sea. That said, they are a great way of learning in a safe place with predictable and easy to read waves," he says.

  1. Take a board with more volume - you are far better off taking a board that's a bit larger or has more volume than you are used to. Not only are inland wave pools filled with freshwater (so there's less bouyancy), there's also a surprising amount of paddling that's required to get back out there for your next wave. Taking something larger and easier to paddle will mean you will get more waves and have more fun.
  2. Make sure you have the right wetsuit - check with the wave pool before you travel, as they constantly monitor the water temperature. These pools get really hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter, but can change quickly with the weather.
  3. Avoid back-to-back sessions at first - it might seem tempting to book a full day of surfing, but you'll be surprised at just how tired you'll be after a single hour in a wave pool. This is because there is very little rest period between waves and a lot more paddling back out than you'd expect. It's better to book a session, have an hour's break to refuel, and then head back in. 
  4. Get there early and watch others - don't just turn up and jump in the pool, because there are rules and systems in place to keep you safe and make sure you catch waves. Get there early, watch other groups and listen to instructors.
  5. The first wave of the set isn't the best - a pro top tip is to position yourself somewhere in the middle of the group and catch the waves in the middle of the sets. These are always a bit larger and if you're good enough, you can paddle back quickly and get another wave before the set ends, doubling your wave count in a session.
  6. Check your positioning - if you watch the pro surfers, they have a very particular point where they paddle for the wave and a defined "take-off" point. This is nearly always much closer to the wall (at The Wave, Bristol) or the mesh fence (Aventure Parc Snowdonia) as you'd think natural. Watch and learn, as this makes it so much easier to get into the wave early and set up your ride. 
Writing by Leon Poultney.