At the end of last month the much-discussed Wavegarden Scotland project received planning consent from the City of Edinburgh Council, delighting surfers from Coldingham to Thurso. The idea of a perfect surfing wave breaking in a former quarry in Ratho sounds so far-fetched, however, that when I catch up with 36-year-old Andy Hadden, co-founder of Tartan Leisure Ltd, the company which is developing the site, I still feel I have to ask him: is this really happening?
“Yeah,” he says, “It’s been happening in my head for the past five-and-a-half years. I’m the most cynical person in this project and I’m aware of how it sounds in the pub on first hearing so we’ve tried to play our cards close to our chest until we’re satisfied it’s going to happen – and we are now, so yeah, we’re super excited.”
Occupying the former Craigpark Quarry next-door to the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena (EICA), the new, state-of-the-art wave pool will be able to serve up waves in a wide range of shapes and sizes at the rate of 1,000 waves per hour, making it ideal for experts and beginners alike. It’s estimated that it will create 130 jobs and generate up to £11 million for the local economy each year, and it will also provide Scotland’s competitive surfers with a world class training facility. Mark Boyd, captain of the Scottish Surfing Team, has said it will give elite competitors “a huge edge when it comes to future competitions” and it’s not hard to see why: in the ocean every wave is different, but imagine how much more quickly it would be possible to perfect a tricky new manoeuvre if you could surf the same wave again and again until you got it right.
“We plan to be open in 2020,” says Hadden, “which coincides nicely with surfing becoming an Olympic sport for the first time.”
But before we leap too far into the future, let’s travel back in time to 2012, when Hadden was sitting at a desk in Birmingham, working for the property company Colliers International.
“I was working in insolvency,” he says, “so helping businesses out of liquidation and administration and then dealing with their assets. It was really at the blunt end of the recession, but while it was very grim it was also a great learning experience in business.”
One day, an internal memo appeared about a surf park in Wales. Seán Young, the head of Colliers destination consulting department in London, was doing the first feasibility study for what eventually became Surf Snowdonia. To most of the people at Colliers who received it, that email would have been little more than a curiosity, but for Hadden – a keen east coast surfer, originally from Edinburgh, who was at that time making regular car-camping missions to Cornwall to satisfy his wave-cravings – it was a life-changing moment.
“I got straight on the phone to Seán in London and said ‘come on now, are you having a laugh?’” he remembers, “But here was this very credible guy who had done feasibility studies for all sorts of international destinations, and he said ‘Andy, this is a business, this is a standalone surf park and it’s legitimate.’”
Initially, Hadden looked into developing a wave pool near Dunbar, but after six months of feasibility work in 2013, concluded the site would be too far from major population centres. As part of his research, however, he had spoken to various outdoor sports centres in the area including the EICA in Ratho.
“I was about to knock it on the head,” he says, “but the guys at the climbing arena said to me ‘have you ever checked out the landowners next door? It’s the Brewsters.’
“‘I said ‘Scott Brewster?’ They said ‘Yeah,’ and I said, “I played rugby with him! I’ve been on a lads’ holiday with him!’ So I phoned him up and said, ‘Scott, just give me a minute here, I’ve got an idea...’”
With their planning application approved, the two co-founders of Tartan Leisure Ltd are now within touching distance of achieving their dream, but Hadden is keen for people to understand that this is a passion project, not simply a money-making exercise. As a surfer on Scotland’s fickle east coast for many years, he considers he’s done “all the hard yards that everyone else does” and therefore understands what a facility like this will mean to an average Scottish surfer.
“We’re not some big bad developer,” he says, “absolutely not. I’m just a surfer who wanted one of these for Christmas.”