It was the first commercial pool to take advantage of Wavegarden’s new foil-driven, lagoon technology. The International Surfing Association even used it as an example of what Olympic surfing could look like in its bid to get the sport included in the Games. It was coined as the first of a “second generation” of wave pools and was supposed to carry the torch into the future. Then on September 1 of this year, a surprising message appeared on Adventure Parc Snowdonia’s social media channels.
“It’s with a heavy heart that we announce the immediate closure of our Parc,” the statement began. “To all who’ve been part of this journey, we’re truly sorry.” Snowdonia closed shop just eight years after opening.
I couldn’t help but wonder: Is this the shelf life of a wave pool? A toppled domino that signals others will eventually fall Or, is it an anomaly? A victim of unfortunate circumstances and not representative of the wave pool industry as a whole? We’ve already seen a Wavegarden tech pool open and close here in the U.S. – NLand Surf Park near Austin Texas that was shuttered in 2019 and reportedly purchased by the World Surf League. We haven’t heard much about it since.
I spoke with two industry experts, Skip Taylor, a Partner of Surf Park Management, and Bryan Dickerson, founder of Wavepool Mag, to get their opinions. Long story short, despite these closures, they both believe that Snowdonia was a somewhat isolated incident and does not indicate what the future beholds.
Their reasoning, first and foremost, is how technology has advanced since Snowdonia’s opening.
“You definitely have to be very careful with the wave pool technology that you select,” said Taylor. “Unfortunately, Snowdonia’s timing was just ahead of the current generation of wave tech that is now creating a level of operational stabilization that justified long term investment. There are new ways of generating waves now, like electric generated motors using paddles, which Wavegarden uses. Those paddles are stable enough to produce tens of millions of waves.”
“Then you have pneumatics, like Surf Loch and Endless Surf, which have proved to be stable, and displacement like Surf Lakes,” Taylor added. “You are looking at a 20-30 year lifespan with these technologies.”
Bryan Dickerson tends to agree.
“I think Snowdonia and the first generation (Wavegarden) technology are the exception in the wave pool space,” said Dickerson. “I don’t think the basic wave generating technology in the next ten years will be that drastically different when compared to the evolution of the tech in the past ten years which has been evolving at a hyper pace. Like with any technology, the first few prototypes are not going to be as good as what comes later. You have to make mistakes. The surf park industry has made a fair share of mistakes and everyone is learning from this. But we seem to be hitting a nice plateau right now.”
Adventure Parc Snowdonia pegged their problems to the Wavegarden foil technology. Remember that NLand also used this technology and closed after two years of on-and-off operations. Adventure Parc Snowdonia stated that operating the machine “cost a fortune” with repairs and maintenance.
Adventure Parc Snowdonia did not respond to requests for comment.
Wavegarden, which also declined to comment on this story, distanced themselves from Adventure Parc Snowdonia in a statement on social media. “Despite our offer to provide essential ongoing machinery preventative maintenance services, a practice that is now standard across all our global facilities, the operators of Surf Snowdonia opted to carry out this work independently,” the statement reads.
The Director of Surf Parc Snowdonia, Andy Ainscough, rebutted Wavegarden in the comment section of the same Facebook post.
“Wavegarden, to say we didn’t follow your advise re: maintenance… It’s unfair and untrue,” Ainscouch wrote. “We persisted for many years to find solutions and worked alongside you to try and find a solution to the wheels and other issues. For the first four years your team were regularly in Wales carrying out interventions. We employed far more engineering resource than your initial advice suggested and scuba dived for maintenance checks up to three times a week at times to try and keep it running… all at significant expense. You moved onto a new tech with the Cove because the lagoon/foil wasn’t feasible or reliable (in Snowdonia or in Austin NLand) and that’s fair enough it’s business you found a better solution, but it’s not fair to say we had refused ‘any offer of essential preventative maintenance’. The reality was that unfortunately you had no solutions to the ongoing issues other than us taking out the lagoon and buying a Cove from you.”
As Ainscough points out, both of the pools that utilized Wavegarden’s foil technology went belly up. The large footprint of the pool and all the moving parts underwater apparently were too costly to upkeep. Wavegarden’s new technology, the Cove, appears to have addressed these issues.
However, there is another pool that everyone knows about using a similar foil technology: Kelly Slater Wave Co. (KSWC), which was unveiled to the world just a few months after Snowdonia’s opening.
“The KSWC system is more robust (than Wavegarden’s foil was),” explained Taylor. “Kelly’s has survived because it’s an extremely high-end, curated experience tied into his brand. The quality is way better.”
Still, KSWC’s technology has not gone without hiccups. Attempts to reproduce the pool failed in Florida, Texas, and Japan. The first replica of the technology is slated to open in Abu Dhabi next year.
While the second generation of wave pools have phased out, they did lay the foundation for the third generation, which are the pools that you see currently proliferating around the globe today. The experts both believe that this is reason to rejoice.
“Adventure Parc Snowdonia were the first to take the chance and do it,” said Dickerson. “Everyone could see that a wave pool surf park was tangible and doable. That is a fantastic achievement on both Snowdonia’s and Wavegarden’s part. At the end the technology wasn’t there to deliver. That’s not uncommon for first generation mechanisms. The strength of what they did and the accomplishment of opening the first surf park should be celebrated.”
While overall, the industry technology seems to have overcome the biggest obstacles, that doesn’t mean that any wave pool built in this era is safe.
“Snowdonia was an early moonshot and unfortunately the victims of being on the bleeding edge rather than leading edge,” concluded Taylor. “It’s bad (for the industry) because optically people don’t understand the technology has improved greatly.”
“There will be other surf parks that won’t be built with a sound business plan,” Taylor added. “Those ones may end up having to be repurposed and refinanced. But sometimes the second owners are the ones that do well. Overall, I don’t think the problem will be around technology as much as it is about the business plan and site location. That’s probably the bigger problem.”
No matter what analysis you make of this situation, no one can predict the future. We may look back on Snowdonia as an isolated incident. The experts lean toward this conclusion. Regardless, the technology is moving extremely fast. The existing pools, and future pools, need to be ready to adapt to compete and remain relevant as newer, cooler pools inevitably join the fray.