Review: beginner surf lesson at Adventure Parc Snowdonia
What’s it like to learn to surf at an inland lagoon? I found out on a recent trip to Adventure Parc Snowdonia in North Wales, where I took part in a beginner lesson.
My first ever surf lesson, in Playa Maderas, Nicaragua, was a disaster. A truly awful experience. I should have known it would be that way, when two days earlier I’d cried just trying to get out of the Pacific’s powerful waves after a simple paddle. I kept getting dragged back into the deep. Perhaps it was a rip current, maybe I’m just a wuss – either way that water was no joke.
But a lesson would allay my fears, I thought. I’m evidently not the most confident in water, but I’m partial to a paddleboard, and learning to scuba dive as a nervous first timer was a breeze thanks to my lovely teacher – surely it would be the same with surfing? I have a tendency to do things that scare me, so why change now?
After a briefing on dry land, I was faced with the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean yet again – this time holding a 6ft surfboard. There was just one problem: my surfer dude instructor hadn’t explained how to get into the water while holding the board.
Approximately 60 seconds later I was barrelling backwards, limbs flailing as the surf dragged me underwater towards the shore, where I eventually surfaced and started to choke on my own blood. My board had been bulldozed by a massive wave and hit me square in the face before I’d even had a chance to get my bearings. My nose was nearly (but not quite) broken, I was dizzy, crying (again) and bleeding all over the beach. Lesson over.
Three years later, I was ready to try again – in a more controlled environment. Sure, the weather wouldn’t quite live up to Central America standards, but I was more concerned with safety than sunshine. So I booked a beginner surf lesson at Adventure Parc Snowdonia in Wales (formerly known as Surf Snowdonia), just a few hour’s drive from my home in Cardiff. Here’s how it went.
The lovely Ayla taught our beginner lesson. She was positive and engaging from the get go, and instantly put us all at ease. Crucially, she asked how we were feeling, which gave me an opportunity to mention the Nicaragua disaster and my (justifiable) nerves.
After our introductions and a rundown of the basics on dry land, it was time to get in the water. Ayla stayed in the lagoon with us for around half of the session, giving us big thumbs ups and lots of encouragement, as well as tips on technique to try out for the next wave. If you were struggling, it was easy to get her attention and ask for help – having told her I was nervous, I certainly felt comfortable that she was keeping a close eye and checking in to make sure I was OK.
Once we got the hang of it (ish), Ayla got out of the water to watch us from the shore, miming furiously whenever we needed to paddle, which was entertaining enough to distract me from the ominous rumbling of the approaching wave. You can’t just pause the lagoon for a lengthy tutorial, and there are only a matter of minutes between each wave – quite challenging conditions in which to teach. But Ayla was fantastic and put me right at ease.
She also happens to be a yoga teacher – check out Ayla’s Instagram.
Regular, predictable wave
Surfing in the sea can be a real challenge as a beginner. Paddling back and forth, battling against seemingly giant waves and clambering onto the board over and over again can be totally exhausting. The lagoon at Adventure Parc Snowdonia saves you from most of that exertion, by churning out identical waves at intervals long enough to allow you to gently paddle back to your starting point. Waves are created every 90 seconds, but change direction each time, meaning beginners get the chance to surf every 3 minutes. Initially that gap feels very generous, but as you get more and more tired, you’ll be grateful for the break.
From the large car park (anyone else get parking-in-a-new-place anxiety?) to the lovely cafe with views of the lagoon, the facilities at Adventure Parc Snowdonia still feel shiny and new. The showers were out of use during my visit due to Covid-19, but the changing rooms and loos were lovely, with plenty of clear signage and sanitising stations. If you’re bringing spectators, they’ll have plenty of space to watch comfortably from the building or water’s edge.
Great customer service
The staff at the parc are super friendly, from the reception and wetsuit desk through to the instructors and lifeguards. Absolutely no complaints there.
Until 30 September 2022, Adventure Parc Snowdonia has a ‘quibble-free’ refund policy, meaning you can cancel or postpone, for any reason. We had to postpone our initial booking due to Covid-19 and even as the pandemic was only just beginning to impact travel plans, leaving many companies in chaos, all communications from the parc were professional, clear and kind.
Safety briefing protocol
Luckily I was a good girl and watched the online safety briefing before visiting Adventure Parc Snowdonia. The video was playing on a loop as we waited, and while I heard a few words of encouragement from staff to watch it, I expected someone to ensure the whole group gave it their full attention – but that didn’t happen.
Of course, the in-person briefing with our instructor covered most of the essentials, but for nervous Nellies (like me) and overly-confident wannabe surfer dudes, it helps to hear the rules a few times.
The group lesson lottery
As I soon discovered, your experience hugely depends on the group you’re learning with. If you’ve come with five friends, happy days! You can learn together and communicate quickly without worrying about wiping out a stranger (like I did a few times…) or being overly polite. No wonder these surf lessons are a popular stag and hen do activity.
As lovely as my group were, I found that a few people had a tendency to veer into my eyeline just as the wave came along, resulting in blind panic on my part and a shunt up the rear for them. Admittedly it was hard to stay spaced out in the water – you do naturally bob about a bit and I’m sure I wasn’t perfect – so placing yourself on the end of the row can help alleviate some of that stress.
Artificial waves don’t suit everybody
I’m very much a novice, having tried surfing just twice before (in San Diego, USA and the aforementioned Nicaragua incident) but even I noticed that while the regularity of the lagoon waves was helpful, the time spent enjoying each wave was cut short – it felt like only a second or two before you reached the shore. This offers plenty of opportunity to practise catching a wave, but very little time to enjoy the feeling of surfing, as a beginner.
As one YouTube reviewer put it, the wave at Adventure Parc Snowdonia is ‘like the gym’ – it’s not the ultimate way to experience surfing, but it’s a pretty cool place to prepare for the real thing. And during Covid-19 times, when the likes of Hawaii, Bali and Australia are pretty much off limits (for Brits at least), it’s a fun alternative.
If you’re planning a trip to North Wales, save time for a surf lesson at Adventure Parc Snowdonia. Whether you’re a complete newbie or a seasoned pro, there’s a wave here for you.
Need to know
Cost: £60 for anyone aged 13 or over, for a beginner lesson
Duration:1.5 hours – 30 minutes on dry land, and about 55 minutes in the water (but it flies!)
Group size: maximum of 6
Equipment: board and rash vest included. Wetsuit and booties are essential and you can hire them for an extra £8
You’ll need to turn up 45 minutes before your lesson is due to start, to allow for check in and changing.
When I visited in May 2021 the changing room showers were not in use due to Covid-19 restrictions. So don’t expect to look your best afterwards!
Make it happen
Ready to go? Book online at adventureparcsnowdonia.com.
How to get to Adventure Parc Snowdonia
It’s possible to travel by train to Llandudno Junction, Conwy or Dolgarrog, and hop in a taxi to the parc. But if you want to see as much of North Wales as you can, I’d recommend driving.
Where to stay near Adventure Parc Snowdonia
There are some wooden glamping pods on site, plus a swanky new Hilton Garden Inn right next to the wave (I was pleased to see that the latter doesn’t completely spoil the skyline). We stayed at the lovely Groes Inn, which is a 10-minute drive away.
What to pack for a surf lesson at the lagoon
Swimming costume (to wear underneath)
Suncream (the weather might surprise you)
Warm layers to put on afterwards
Toiletries (for when showers are open!)
Wetsuit and booties if you have your own