Trail of the unexpected: Surfers set for Dorset

Bournemouth's long-awaited artificial reef has opened for surfers. Ben Mondy tests the water

Looking out over the gunmetal waters of the English Channel, it is not hard to work out where the UK, Europe and indeed the northern hemisphere's first artificial surfing reef is located. About a mile east of Boscombe Pier, near Bournemouth, 10 coloured buoys bob up and down in the swells to mark out an area the size of a football field.

This week, after a gestation period that began a decade ago, the Boscombe surf reef officially opened for business. As a previous editor of Australian surfing magazines, and having spent the last 20 years travelling the globe surfing waves in Hawaii, Tahiti, Indonesia and South Africa, I'd thought I'd seen it all. But when a local council invests more than 3m to produce an artificial reef for surfers, I had to don my wetsuit, crank up my Australian accent and see just what the world's newest surf attraction had to offer.

First though as any hardcore surfer would I caught up with Beverley Dunlop, the Cabinet member for Leisure and Tourism at Bournemouth Borough Council. "To be honest, this whole area was pretty run down, disused and really grubby," said Beverley. "Obviously the seafront was an attraction, especially for surfers, but it wasn't a really pleasant place to be."

Looking out at the view, it was pretty hard to imagine. Painters were putting the final coats of colour on the Wayne Hemingway-designed retro-futuristic beach pods. These constitute a new take on the beach huts of old, and are now selling for about 64,000. Above us gleaming new apartments rose out of the cliffs, while a mix of young surfers, elderly tea drinkers and trendy couples paraded past the surf shops and cafs.

Beverley said it was all about shrewd property dealing. The council had sold a part of a seafront car park to Barratt Homes for 9.66m. That went towards completing the artificial reef, renovating Boscombe Pier and providing new toilets, better roads, landscaping, and a seasonal park-and-ride service.

"It's fantastic," said Thomas Campbell, a 67-year old who was watching the bobbing surfers on the reef. "I've been walking this stretch twice a day for 30 years and the difference in the last few years has been amazing."

However, as pleasant as the seafront now is, I was here to experience the reef and see whether this was a wave worth seeking out.

To do that, I first had to undertake a five-minute, 250-yard paddle, which indicates immediately that this wave is not for beginners. Although lifeguards patrol the reef you most certainly wouldn't want to get in any trouble that far from the safety of land.

As I paddled cautiously up to the group of surfers at the tip of the reef, I found that I was in the minority: the crowd consisted almost entirely of bodyboard surfers. My first engagement with one of these types didn't prove to be a positive experience. My friendly "G'day" and question about the conditions was met with a rudeness that bordered on outright hostility. It seemed I was a victim of the peculiar piece of surfing ridiculousness known as localism. Considering the Boscombe reef was officially less than 24 hours old, this had to be some form of world record.

I had more pressing concerns: catching a wave. "It's pretty tricky, isn't it?" said Guy, a friendlier surfer in his mid-forties. "It comes out of deep water and hits this reef and drains really hard."

Guy was right: while the waves were only 4ft high, they had tremendous power and were breaking on a shallow reef.

When I say reef, I should in fact say "series of large geo-textile bags pumped hard with sand".

"The bags are up to 60 metres long and weigh up to 2,500kg," said a spokesman for ASR, the designer and contractor of the Boscombe surf reef. "Try and imagine piecing together a load of different sized sausages on the seabed floor." This might be a simplification of a huge engineering feat that was first mooted in 1999, gained planning approval in 2005 and whose construction started in August last year, but now I was concerned about not hitting any part of my body on those very hard sausages.

I managed to do that and score some waves, although it was a challenge for a surfer of even my experience. This reef produces high-quality waves but at this stage you have to be pretty good to ride them.

"It's early days," said Brad Petrus, a surfer who works at the Sorted Surf Shop opposite the reef. "We haven't had any big winter storms roll over it yet and it will take time to bed down. Plymouth University is monitoring it and will give a report after six months. Using that feedback ASR might be able to tweak the bags to aid in the wave's quality."

As I nursed a cup of tea while watching the sun set over the white cliffs behind the Boscombe Pier, it was hard not to find positives in this project. In the decade of gestation, the project has been criticised for being late and over budget, and fishermen have objected to its potential effects on fish stocks. But from my perspective, a brave council has created a potentially quality wave and the overriding benefits for the community are plain to see. What's not to love?

More information:

Video credit:

Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Wakefield Deal...

    Guru Careers: .NET Developers / Software Developers

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: our .NET Developers / Software Dev...

    Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

    £25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?