095: Nick Hounsfield/The Man Behind The Wave

Nick Hounsfield, Bristol, September 2019. Photo: Hamish Duncan

“Having a real purpose that has an impact on the world means no one thinks it’s a crazy idea. Everybody immediately asks ‘how I can I help you?’, because everyone wants it”.

I’m back! After an unscheduled few weeks off. And I got right back into it with a visit to Bristol, where I was shown around the new Wave site by Nick Hounsfield, the man behind the entire project.

Like most British surfers I’ve been following the story of the Wave for a good few years now, and I’ve long been intrigued by Nick’s role in the whole escapade. Sure, it’s about building the facility itself. But on another level, it’s a classic ‘if you build it, they will come’ story of one man and his unlikely vision.

Rich territory for a podcast conversation indeed, so with the project close to completion and the first waves about to flow, I headed down to Bristol to meet Nick and dig into his whole story.

On site, September 2019. Photo: Hamish

The result is a conversation that covers a lot of diverse, emotional ground. Because the Wave is much more than a story about – well – a wave. There’s a deeper purpose at play, and a wider community vision for which surfing is the vehicle.

And there’s another level to this, too – the implications of such developments for surfing as a whole, and what it will mean for our oldest and most jealously protected sideways culture.

The Bore will no longer be Bristol’s only wave. Photo: Hamish

So yeah, a lovely weighty chat this, conducted on site a few weeks before UK surf culture changes for good. Hope you can forgive the background noise, and enjoy this unique insight into the man behind The Wave. Listen here:

Show Notes

  • Recording on the 75 acre site.
  • “We found a couple of Roman bodies and a whole load of silver coins”.
  • Formerly working in healthcare.
  • Bringing the community together.
  • Musings from life-related stress.
  • The original Wave Garden video. 
  • Driven by purpose.
  • When he thought The Wave wouldn’t happen.
  • Planning permission.
  • The 250m-wide shoreline and its different waves.
  • “It’s like taking a slice out of the ocean and dropping it in the middle of the field”.
  • The technology that works for both beginners and expert surfers.
  • When technology needs to match the vision.
  • His pointers from Eden Project’s Tim Smit.
  • Mentored by Chris Hines.
  • Let My People Go Surfing’ by Yvon Chouinard.
  • Our attitude towards money and profit.
  • Being a Wavemaker.
  • Developing the work culture from day one.
  • 25 million litres of water through a giant pipe.
  • Engineering challenges.
  • £4 million and 9 months spent to get the ground ready.
  • Making something built to last.
  • Finding the right partners and investors.
  • The future of surf parks.
  • The biggest opportunity when bringing new people to surfing.
  • “The fusion between artificial and nature’s classroom”.
  • Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch.
  • Local reactions.
  • “Don’t have a plan B to make sure plan A works”.
  • Where optimism takes you.
  • “I started the whole thing with £500 in the bank, a big mortgage and 3 kids”.
  • Building the A-Team.
  • Who will ride the first wave.
  • Predictably making unpredictability.
  • Expanding to London.
  • Knowing when it’s time to stop.
  • Dealing with mortality: “We’ve got one shot at this”.

People Mentioned

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