The surfer with a dream who is about to put Ratho on the world map
Biggest single investment in Scottish tourism since V&A Dundee will create Europe's biggest surfing lake in Edinburgh
When Andy Hadden first climbed on to a surf board as a boy he never could have dreamed of what lay ahead.
Pursuing his passion on a lagoon 100 metres above sea level in Scotland. Riding on waves whose height and length he can control at the press of a button. It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but that will be the result of the work taking place in a former quarry on the edge of Edinburgh.
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There must have been many ‘pinch me’ moments in the ten years since the former Boroughmuir Rugby player Hadden first had the idea of creating an inland surfing lake in his home city.
Next September, in an extraordinary feat of turning grand vision into reality, he will open the world’s first inland surfing resort in a new 60-acre country park on the banks of the Union Canal at Ratho.
As he stands overlooking the emerging skeleton of the £55m resort in the old Craigpark Quarry which closed in the 1990s, what shines through in the October rain is his love for the project and the sport.
He must have had an iron grip on the numbers to persuade investment bankers Goldman Sachs among others to back his plan, but it is hard not to imagine his genuine enthusiasm helped rally support to his cause.
The Lost Shore Surf Resort is set to be a game-changer for surfing in Scotland, but its impact will be felt much more widely. It is the most significant single investment in a visitor attraction in Scotland since the V&A opened in Dundee in 2018, helping transform the city’s waterfront. Lost Shore will put this corner of Edinburgh on the international sporting and tourism map.
Catching the surf bug
Hadden initially caught the surfing bug as a child when his teacher father took part in a school exchange programme which saw the family move temporarily to Australia’s Gold Coast.
“I went to the little nippers surf club and apparently after that all I would ever ask was ‘how big are the waves? how big are the waves?’ I came back to Scotland, and didn't think any more about it, I didn't think we were a surfing nation.”
That changed at the age of 23 thanks to a chance conversation with a Boroughmuir Rugby Club teammate. Playing alongside him in the centres was a Kiwi, who told him that friends visiting from New Zealand were going surfing in Scotland.
“I thought ‘you’re joking!’ I went out and bought a wetsuit and went down to Pease Bay - and there were these magnificent waves, 20-30 minutes from Edinburgh.
“This was just before the time when wetsuits got really, really good. About four or five years later, they got much better, everyone started going more and more.
“I had been surfing on my own for about 10 years. It was always something that I did as a second sport (after rugby). It was good for my mental health, good for my physical health, and my own thing.
“It's just an absolute joy to see how far surfing has come, and I feel very privileged to have got the opportunity to deliver something like this.”
Hadden, who moved to North Berwick ten years ago, later setting up the Lighthouse business centres in the town, and Falkirk, established Tartan Leisure Ltd to deliver the Lost Shore project.
With a background in development and insolvency - “I learned a lot about how not to run a business,” he says with a wry smile - he has proved adept at securing investment. Besides Goldman Sachs, his investors include nearly 30 high net worth individuals, with £55 million committed to the project in total.
It is estimated that the resort will contribute £11 million to the city-region’s economy and create 130 jobs, in the latest example of tourism driving major investment in the Capital. Among those already appointed is the former operations director of the Eden Project in Cornwall, Ian Williams, who helped open and establish the world’s first Wavegarden surf park in Bristol.
Everything about Lost Shore is on a grand scale.
The wave pool itself is three times the size of the rugby pitch at Murrayfield. It will be the biggest in Europe - as well as the world’s first inland surf resort - with a 250 metre “beachfront”.
First the numbers. Capable of producing up to 1,000 customisable waves per hour - which can be adjusted in height anywhere between half-a-metre for beginners to two metres for Olympic hopefuls - it is driven by 52 software driven modules.
Surfers will be able to enjoy wave rides of up to 22 seconds, with a choice of more than 20 different varieties of wave.
Most importantly, surfers love them. The technology has been developed by a company called Wavegarden in Spain and it has been tried and tested in Bristol and Melbourne, Australia.
Talking to surfers and searching reviews from visitors to the two parks throws up almost nothing but praise for the quality and quantity of waves. They come with a regularity - allowing for constant practice - that no sea in the world can provide.
The only slight grumble from dedicated surfers seems to be that prices in Bristol - typically £55 for an adult and £45 for juniors for an hour in the pool - can make it too expensive for some to make regular visits. (The Edinburgh resort is offering a range of opening and multiple-visit discounts.)
The company’s next project is building a surf park in the centre of Madrid, next to the Atletico Madrid football ground.
There has been some scepticism about how the concept might translate to Scotland’s colder climate. The answer surfers swear by is good quality, insulated wetsuits.
Surfing is in fact one of the faster growing participation sports in the UK, with the numbers taking part doubling every two years since 2016. There are an estimated one million surfers in the UK with perhaps around 100,000 in Scotland.
A ‘future tourism’ attraction
The surf resort has a “bucket list” appeal for a new generation of tourists, says Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance. There is a growing appetite in the post-lockdown world, for both unique holiday experiences - the “thrill seekers” - and for ones that involve spending more time outdoors. Being in open space and close to nature just feels better for our mental and physical health, something which is increasingly important to us all.
“It's offering something different. Scotland has got its heritage, whisky and golf, and everything else, but this is a future experience and something that brings a points of difference,” he says.
“Scotland has an aspiration to be world leading in 21st century tourism. This is a 21st century tourism experience on the doorsteps of our capital city, so it creates variety. It will appeal to people globally who are looking for unique and memorable experiences, wanting to try something new.
“It's another message that we can take to the world. If Europe's on fire in the summer you can still get your fix of surfing here and at the same time hop down to the distillery or go to see the Tattoo, or even if you're local do something on your doorstep that you would never have been able to do before.”
Adventure on the doorstep
The surf pool on its own is an attraction, but what lies around it is just as important.
The country park in which the resort sits will be open to all, with luxury lodges and accommodation pods, a food court, spa and shopping area, which will host pop-up events such as Christmas fairs. There will even be a SurfLab, where scientists from Edinburgh Napier University, will take advantage of the controlled environment to further study the therapeutic benefits of surfing.
A pedestrian bridge will link the resort even more directly to the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena next door and to the Union Canal. If the high wall at the climbing centre isn’t enough for you, there are a number of golf courses nearby - including at the Dalmahoy Country Club which is about to undergo a major refurbishment as part of a £100 million investment by its new Warner Leisure owners - and Destination Hillend is a 15-minute drive away.
That means that within ten miles on the edge of Edinburgh you will soon find:
Europe’s biggest inland surf park;
the Continent’s biggest climbing wall;
Europe’s second biggest dry ski slope;
the UK’s fastest and highest zipline and longest Alpine coaster.
The Alpine coaster, which will carry bobsled-style cars on a 600-metre loop around the hillside, is due to open at Hillend in the Spring, while the snowsport centre’s zipline, which will carry people at up to 50km an hour, is due to open in 2025.
The hope is that the combination of surfing, golf and other adventure sports will tempt visitors from around the world, including sporting celebrities such as Kelly Slater. The legendary 11-times surfing world champion from the United States is a big fan of Scotland and golf, and a regular visitor to the Alfred Dunhill Links Championships at St Andrews and Carnoustie.
Unsurprisingly, the project already has enthusiastic fans within the sport. Scottish big wave professional surfing star Ben Larg is brimming with excitement. “As a pro surfer this is incredible. Lost Shore is going to push up the level of Scottish surfing, bring so many more people to the sport, and, who knows, maybe get some Scots in the Team GB squad for the Olympics.
“It can be really difficult to access surfing in Scotland sometimes, but this is going to deliver reliable waves all the time. If I had access to this sort of facility when I was young, I would be such a better surfer now. That’s why Lost Shore will be so good for the next generation.”
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