Red Bull Unleashed 2015 and the Future of UK Surf Competitions

This weekend I witnessed a part of surfing history. And no it wasn’t at Pipe, or Cloud Break, or J-Bay, but in the tiny village of Dolgarrog, north Wales.  It was here that crowd favourite Albee Layer stormed to a victory over 24 of the top free and completion surfers about, in the first ever stadium surf competition miles away from the ocean.

I’m of course talking about Red Bull Unleashed, where Surf Snowdonia, which is now the biggest man made surfable wave in the world, played host to a little over 2000 frothing fans.

With a 16 second ride surfers were pitted head to head, wave for wave, in a best of five duel. Judges looked on from above, scoring surfers out of 30 as opposed to the WSP format of 10; the pontoon that houses what can only be described as the giant snowplough, which creates the wave, providing a perfect observation gallery.

The view of the surfing really is phenomenal. You can walk the entire 360 degrees around the competition area mid heat to change your perspective. It’s possible to be a matter of feet from the surfer as they make a top turn. I don’t know anywhere else in the world you can do that without being in the water, and here you are stood over their heads!

The full on viewing gives an event at Surf Snowdonia an atmosphere all of its own. It was buzzing, tunes pumping through out the comp (songs were selected by the surfers for their own heats, a cool twist I thought), a few beers being consumed here and there, and the duel format of the competition meant every single wave counted. As Jordy Smith said to Stab Magazine, “You can’t afford to fall, so you have to walk the fine line between pushing it to the limit and pushing it too far.”. It felt that way too, it felt like the last few minutes of a WSP ½ hour heat, every wave.

One of the only niggles I have about the wave for competition use is that it is in theory exactly the same as all the waves which have gone before it and those that will come after it, which does mean that some key surfing skills, such as the riders ability to read the water, cannot be assessed.

I think the best way for me to get around this reservation is to accept that this style of competition is just different from that which we are used to. That doesn’t make it worse, or better even, its just different.

We all love to watch the WSP or go down to the UK’s biggest student competition in Newquay- BUCS, where surfers take on changing conditions and battle mother nature... But does that mean we shouldn’t feel the same way about an event at Surf Snowdonia because its not the sport we love in its purest form? I don’t reckon so.

It offers other advantages in that by creating a level playing field, the judges are able to score more fairly the technical ability of each surfer when performing their manoeuvres. And lets not forget, we love the sport primarily because it’s fun, and hell, its fun at Surf Snowdonia! I had a quick chat with Mitch Crews just before his epic semi-final with Albee Layer, when asked about the wave he said, “Its sick man! So fun, so so fun.”, an opinion echoed in conversations with both Ian Crane and Jordy Smith.

So do I think Surf Snowdonia should replace our current competition format, absolutely not. But in my mind it has to become part of our UK yearly timetable of competitions- especially for students.  The whole time I was there I couldn’t stop myself thinking, “How mad would it be if we could fill this place with students and have people screaming for their uni’s from the pontoon. That would be a competition and weekend to remember!”. Perhaps one day, BUCS Surf Championship could take place here.

So if reading this post has got you keen to grab your board and head up to Snowdonia, then talk to your club committee and tell them to get in touch with us. We’ll sort you out a booking to get up there and try it out for yourself. Also, if you are a committee and are interested in doing an inter-uni comp/ hosting your varsity there or like the sound of a multi-uni comp then also drop us a line as we would love to help you!