The Year We've Had
A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor...
...or a great surfer! Jeepers. What a year….I think it’s fair to say that our first year at The Wave has not been an easy ride in so many ways. However, what doesn’t break you makes you stronger.
When we opened the doors to a world-first inland surfing destination it felt like the culmination of a 10 year journey for me. It should have felt complete, but it was a weird mix of emotions. I don’t think we ever had the chance to say “we did it” or even “thank you for believing in us” - suddenly we were propelled into delivering a totally new experience for everyone, with all the expectations that comes with being a world-first. Quickly we realised that it was just the beginning. We knew that we would learn a lot in our first year, but could not have foreseen the stormy seas we were going to have to navigate.
The reality of opening a world-first of anything is that you are testing things for the very first time and that you will make mistakes. But you learn from those mistakes… like surfing, we learn from falling over.
When the intermediate section of the wave didn’t offer the experience we hoped in our lake, we weren’t happy to continue with it. This created a massive challenge, but also a real opportunity to learn. It had a huge impact on everyone and we had a tough few weeks dealing with the fallout, but it was the right decision. We went back to the drawing board, learnt much more about our lake and were able to release a better intermediate setting in early 2020.
And then there were things outside of our control. The worst winter storms in years. Me suffering a massive stroke out of the blue at age 46. And not least, a global pandemic that shut us down days before the Easter Holidays for 5 months. As a brand new start-up business in the leisure sector, the impact of the Covid-19 epidemic was huge. We weren’t eligible for much of the Government’s support packages due to only having traded for 4 months, we had overheads to cover and no revenue coming in. At times it felt like it could be the final straw, but we managed to ride it out and open our doors again in August.
The end of any year feels like a time to reflect. This year, more than ever, it requires a new perspective.
Although the challenges have been immense, it's also really important to remember the brilliant moments. I’ve been looking back over my 10 year journey to making The Wave a reality, but also particularly thinking about the last year. What I've realised is that within a very short time, and under difficult circumstances, we have already achieved so much of my original vision.
My stand-out moments from the last 12 months…
Our First Riders
We opened The Wave with 20 ‘First Riders’ taking to the waves. The pictures were picked up by national and international media and they sent out a clear message that we had created a place for everyone. Selected from over 350 nominations, our line-up included people from all walks of life - an 11 year old boy who lost all four limbs through meningitis, an Olympic medallist, environmental campaigners, ordinary people who have overcome adversity, charity founders, a brilliant inner-city school teacher and her pupils, equality champions and British surfing legends. It was a hugely proud moment for me.
The Wave Project
Way back in the early days of The Wave, when we were submitting the original planning application, Joe Taylor (Founder of The Wave Project) and I talked about how we could use the space to support the brilliant work that he was doing. This year we ran our first pilot with The Wave Project team, bringing surf therapy inland for the first time and offering the benefits to children in Bristol. It was a huge success and we look forward to running more in 2021. This feedback from the mum of one participant sums up the reason why...
“I saw him smiling in what felt like the first time in 2 years, standing on a board surfing towards me. I don’t think he’s felt pure joy in all that time. The world inside his head is a pretty dark place. This got him back.”
NHS Recovery Through Sport
Before we had even built The Wave we had a call from Jacob Kelly, who is project lead on an innovative NHS programme called Recovery Through Sport. The programme was using football as an intervention to help adults suffering with their mental health. He’d heard about us and thought that surfing could offer similar benefits. Fast forward two years and we ran a pilot with 6 patients which proved the concept! We can’t wait to progress this in 2021. One participant summed up his experience...
“Surfing is such a great exercise, also it's challenging, yet mindful, with such a feel good vibe. I managed to get to know some new people too, which is a fairly big thing for me and yet I was so nervous about it beforehand. This really has been such a positive influence for me and I know it could be for so many others, it has helped me to not just survive but thrive with a smile on my face while I'm doing it.”
Adaptive Surfing Open: The Realisation of a dream
From the very beginning, I knew that The Wave had to be truly accessible for all. We designed the place with adaptive surfing at the very core of what we want to deliver and made sure that people of all abilities would be able to share the many physical and mental health benefits of surfing. In October we hosted the 2020 English Adaptive Surfing Championships and it was literally a dream come true for me. We had a turnout of 21 of the world’s best adaptive surfers for this iconic event, which showcased fierce competition, friendly rivalry, and show-stopping surfing! Despite relentless wind and rain, that would have forced the event to be cancelled at a beach, it was one of the best days we have experienced since we opened.
Blue Health report
Everything we do is anchored in our belief in the benefits of getting into the blue. This is why we compiled our Blue Health report this year looking at the theories and research behind what many of us instinctively feel - that being in and around water lifts our mental health and wellbeing. We compiled an overview about how blue health developed as an idea, what’s been proved so far, how we and other surfers use it, and where it’s heading. I think it’s a brilliant piece of work and the next step for us is to build on it by supporting further research into blue health and surfing therapy.
From the very beginning I knew the only way to make my vision happen was to bring together a team with the passion and skill set to help me. The team started small, but once we started to build, and then when we were ready to open The Wave, it grew. I could not be prouder of these amazing people that have stood beside me and worked so hard to help deliver my dream. Our first year has been tough but everyone has dug in and given 110%. We call our team Wavemakers because they are the cogs that make The Wave happen. Thank you all so much.
We have delivered over 90,000 surf sessions to our customers and a further 50,000 non-surf visitors over the last year - and we were shut for almost 6 months because of the two national lockdowns. This is an amazing achievement! A wide range of surfers from total beginners, to world-class professionals like Jordy Smith and Justine Dupont, have come through our doors and had a brilliant time. We have spread the joy of surfing and created a lot of smiles. For me, this is what it’s all about.
So all in all 2020 has been a year of incredible highs, as well as some very hard lows. But we have achieved a lot and we are still here, still pushing waves, and still charging. Anyone who knows me would probably say I’m the eternal optimist (you don’t get The Wave built without that), but I know that next year will be full of amazing opportunities and I can’t wait to see what unfolds.