The Surfersvillage Interview
Jo dishes on wavepool tides, trying to find the perfect wavepool board and the emerging pool culture
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 15 September, 2017 - Imagine surfing without getting scared. The randomness of the ocean's rhythm removed from the equation means no sneaker sets, rip currents, sharks or hidden pieces of reef.
When Surf Snowdonia openend up the first public wave pool with Wavegarden technology, Welsh champion Jo Dennison took the position as resident pro. Technically "Water Operations Manager" (but doesn't 'resident pro' sound cooler?) it means she overseas everything that goes down in the Surf Snowdonia pool from surf instructer break times and live-saving diligence to ejecting kids for peeing. She's quite busy.
Along with the rest of the world we're curious about all things related to wavepools. One of the easiest ways we could figure out to wrap our heads around this phenomenal leap in surfing is to get the story straight from Jo. So here goes....
What is your title at Surf Snowdonia and what does your job entail?
I’m Water Operations Manager here at Surf Snowdonia so day to day I spend a lot of time in the office staring at two computers. I’m in charge of all water activities… the fun stuff but it does take some planning. I have designed all the surfing products and programs. I’m a trainer assessor for Surf Lifesaving Great Britain (SLSGB ) so train staff and qualify staff on site. I have a team of 40 Surf Instructors and Lifeguards working in the Surf Academy currently. I also get to do quite a lot of the media; interviews, National TV shows such as ‘Blue peter’ ‘the one show’ and social media content. Basically the ‘to do’ list is never empty.
You're a champion in the ocean as well. Tell us about that
I’m Five Times Welsh National Champion and former British Champion. I felt like I learned all I could competing in the UK, so I moved to France to compete on the WQS to push my surfing. I surfed with some of the best female surfers in the World and although I didn’t gain any real results, I learned so much travelling with professional surfers. In the end, I figured that only having started surfing at 18 and missing the whole Junior circuit, I didn’t really have the heat experience to progress any further competitively. That’s when I decided to move home and be apart of the first commercial Wavegarden in the world.
Share with us some of the best things about surfing in a wave pool
Wave ridding time- I know I am going to catch a minimum of 12 waves an hour, sometimes I’m lucky enough to surf on my own so that’s a super session all 37 waves. The amount of time you spend actually surfing the waves is so much higher in the wave pool environment than in the ocean. This allows you to really hone in on your skills and practice new manovers. No Localism/sexism/paddle battles - Once you have bought your spot that wave is yours, no games or unwritten priority rules you have the guarantee that it is your wave to express yourself how you want.
Share with us something most people would never know about a wave pool
It still has a low tide and a high tide. There is natural water loss through evaporation and spillage, obviously there is a water level we keep between however, sometimes the water level is higher and sometimes lower. If you surf it enough you can tell by the way the waves break.
After an extended period of surfing inland North Wales, what do you miss about ocean waves?
Its crazy when I think about it, I used to surf 6-8 hours a day when I lived in France, I have without realising it, turned into a wave pool surfer. A real life ‘Rick Kane’. I did a surf trip to Lakey Peak in January and since then I have only been in the ocean 3 times….. 3 Times in 7 months!
I guess one of the things I miss the most is being scared on the bigger more challenging days, the feeling of being ‘surfed out’ from being in the water dawn till dusk and the unpredictability of what the wave will do when your stood on it.
Does your ocean equipment differ at all from your Snowdonia equipment?
My boards are so small I can’t even paddle them out in the ocean anymore. I have been surfing Rob Vaughan shaped surfboards for about 10 years. He makes all my boards and my favourite every day model is a 5’7 squash square tail. I now surf a 5’4 swallow tail. Wherever you surf you have to try and find a board that fits the wave shape, its been a really interesting process trying to find the perfect board for Surf Snowdonia. You don’t really need to paddle in the wave pool, so you can get away with smaller boards than you normally would in the ocean. The pocket of the wave is small but punchy, so you want something that fits in nicely other wise you just have too much rail. I’m still looking for further improvements and new designs. I think it will develop a completely new range of equipment to surf wave pools in the future.
Do you have locals at Snowdonia? I mean people who have learned to surf there and now frequent the line-up?
Yes, we have our regulars, apart from all the staff that get to have a surf most mornings before we open to public of course. Some people fall in love with the place just feeling safe, consistency of waves, guaranteed waves. We have some city surfers that are on a tight schedule and don’t have the time to drive around looking for waves, they will book in several times in a day. Some that started as complete beginners are now cruising on the advanced wave. We also have a surf club every Saturday for local kids. We are slowly creating a surf hub in the mountains of North Wales.
Theoretically, do you think it's possible for someone to learn to surf in a wave pool and then go on to win an-ocean based competition just like Rick Kane did in the 1980-something movie "The North Shore?"
I think that if you surf solely the wave pool it would be very difficult to win an ocean based surf competition. If you use a wave pool as a training tool, to supplement ocean surfing, I think you will become a secret weapon in a surf comp.
OK. If you weren't dominating the line up at Surf Snowdonia, what would you be doing for work?
Stunt woman, that would be so much fun!
P.S. Jo made us mention that she's sponsored by O’Neill wetsuits, FCS, Surfers and Rob Vaughan surfboards.