18.3 | Nico & the Wave Pool
Where’s the rope? Nico gettin’ stale (photo: Stoffers)
During the summer of 2015, my O’Neill Wetsuits team manager asked me to come to an area in Wales called Snowdonia. He wanted me to check out a spot he thought would be sick to wakeboard in: a wave pool.
Surf Snowdonia is the biggest publicly accessible wave pool to date. This one doesn’t hold rideable barrels like Kelly Slater’s version of a wave pool, but it does have clean and rippable shoulder-to-head-high faces peeling both left and right. It’s a dream come true for any surfer wanting to improve his technique, or just keen to have the absolute certainty of riding numerous waves without having to fight big crowds and without the ever-shifting conditions that can sometimes make it hard to even catch a wave.
I was shivering in excitement thinking about what could be possible hitting these waves on a wakeboard. Images of Parks Bonifay riding Teahupoo came to my head. Snowdonia would clearly be way less gnarly, but also a lot more playful. So many options. What if the pull came from here, could you do re-entries? What if you ride with the wave and jump over it from behind? How would riding along the wave feel? Could I wall ride that fence, which keeps the surfers away from the plow moving all this water to create wave after wave?
Not quite pitted, but Nico will take it (photo: MacKellar)
So fast forward to this year, I finally got the chance to give it a try. The flight from Germany to Manchester is only one-and-a-half hours, and from there it is another two-hour drive, also taking into account the delays due to various almost-crashes from driving on the wrong side of the road or nearly running the car into stone walls or hedges on these barely-two-car-fitting roads. When the street signs become very funny, that’s when you’ve made it to Wales. Really, their language looks like the Welsh are constantly mad at their keyboards.
It took over a year for this project to come to life. The “Bayerischer Rundfunk” jumped in, a public broadcaster from Germany also producing a YouTube format I was involved in. And along with them, Sesitec and Industry Wakeparks joined and put up a System 2.0. Yes, please! Finally, I held the handle and felt the cable pull tight. Luckily I was able to put in a few surf sessions before, otherwise this wave rolling towards me on my wakeboard would have been a little scary – after all, it is probably three or four times the size of a maxed out boat wake.
Walls were made to be ridden (photo: MacKellar)
I wanted to hit the wave in certain spots, for example for a turnaround in the face of the wave, but the timing turned out to be a big issue. In that first test session I also wanted to wall ride that fence to prepare for hitting it using the wave as a ramp. I ollied into it at the very end, just in case, and ate shit instantly. My nose bit one of the fence loops which turned out to be way softer than I had thought, and I cartwheeled into the last metal pole, head first. Luckily, I wore my helmet, which cracked upon the impact. I swear I will always wear it from now on. My girlfriend and newborn son were just aside on the shore when that happened. They were not happy…
The wound just needed a few stitches, but then things got worse on another side: Six out of our nine-person crew got sick from a stomach bug. Our son turned sick so quickly he had to get IV hydration in the hospital. My head was good enough to ride, but my stomach wasn’t. The whole project was on the rocks so we decided to cancel one day of filming.
Somehow we made it happen in the remaining few slots during the next couple of days. We didn’t have a lot of time in the wave and getting the clips was so much trickier than we thought. I was constantly driving back and forth from the location to my son in the hospital, sleeping in a chair next to him, still not able to eat a lot, and to top it off, I had to get a late night car fix as I bumped a curb. We were all wondering whether we would get enough shots for a good video clip, but slowly, shot after shot, we got there. Maybe it was because I had to give it all I had like I never have before that made the riding unbelievably pleasing. I will never forget that feeling from playing around in these waves on my wakeboard.
Thanks so much to everyone involved, and most importantly to my son Nalu for fighting through and to my girlfriend Nane for not only withstanding, but still pointing your camera at the action, too.
Nico Von Lerchenfeld
2.0 + Wave Pool = Happy Nico! (photo: MacKellar)