You never know where you’ll end in this surfing life. Pembrokeshire pro Jo Dennison swapped chasing tour points for a nine to five with a difference.
What’s your official title?
Water Operations Manager.
How did you score the job?
I was visiting the prototype near San Sebastian in 2014 with my coach Martin Waltz who was running a project on the wave for his master’s degree. I found out that they had already started building one in North Wales and it instantly fuelled my interest. Could you imagine the first ever Wave Garden opening in your home country and being involved? I mean, it could have been done in any of the already famous surfing destinations of Australia or America but instead it was in the valleys of North Wales.
Were you nervous about moving from West Wales to the North?
I actually had been living a bit of a nomad life up until that point. After finishing university in Swansea I started chasing the summers for endless sunshine and waves. I spent eight months in France competing in any of the WQS events I could. And in the winter places like Australia, Morocco, Canary Islands, Sri Lanka surf training and travelling, living the dream some would say. Making another move wouldn’t be a problem, however moving nine miles inland for effectively an office job definitely made me nervous.
Is part of your job making sure Surf Snowdonia’s wave is surfable every morning?
Every morning starts with a risk assessment and surf check. It is very important to know the facilities are safe before letting the customers in … You may have noticed the staff surf sessions in the morning!
Would you agree in the world of the surf industry you are one of the few people in the world pretty much guaranteed waves every day?
I have had to change my mind set a little bit because I used to spend six to eight hours in the water a day. That’s 40 plus hours a week. I currently surf about four or five hours a week now, but actually the amount of waves I ride is higher. It is so reliable and consistent it actually feels like a gym session or a proper training session. Sometimes I get 37 waves an hour, really giving me the opportunity to ‘train’ manoeuvres. I would have to say I am one of the luckiest people in the surfing industry to have a Wave Garden as my office.
The whole operation seems to be running like a well-oiled machine, are you always worried something is going to break with the tech?
I think that everyone was really quick to judge when we first installed the machinery and ran into some unexpected problems. Due to the scale of the project and it being the first commercial Wave Garden in the world, it is natural that it takes some time to find systems that work both operationally and mechanically. The engineers do a really good job, doing daily checks/dives to finding any potential issues before they happen. It is literally like running a massive car: giving it regular MOT and checking your tyres but on a grand scale.
How is it going back in the ocean now, do you have to adjust?
When I go back in the ocean, it definitely takes time to adjust, over time I have turned into a wavepool surfer. My equipment is completely different, the rules are different and also the timings. It is more difficult to practice a specific move in the ocean, getting two or three waves in an hour is more likely than the 37 I am now used to!
Can you still remember how to duck dive?
I recently went to France, I forgot how much paddling and duckdiving is involved The energy output to just getting those few waves is incredible and remembering the unwritten rules of giving way to locals, etc. is such a game of chess. I’ve always struggled in crowds. However, I do enjoy the feeling of being free and the unpredictability of the ocean. It’s worth the duckdives for the more soulful surf and ultimately my happy place.
Just how did you break your favourite board? And have you broken any others in the Welsh hills?
Well, I had a very nice invitation, almost a golden ticket if you will, from O’Neill wetsuits. It was to participate in a night surf at Surf Snowdonia with Jordy Smith and wakeboarder Nico Von Lerchenfeld. O’Neill had booked out the waves for a few hours, set up different colour lights on the pier, as well as smoke machines. We all had an hour each to perform an expression session. It was so much fun and also the first ever night surf and first wakeboarder to ride in the lagoon and launch over the waves. It just so happened on one of my waves, riding into the dark I landed a chop hop, rotated into the flats and ran into the dingy. This impact ripped an entire fin out. My 5’4” Rob Vaughan broadsword was transformed into a twinny, I’m just happy it wasn’t a camera man!
Seems like a good crew of staff there, do you have a big staff party at the end of the season in your own bar?
Well all my staff have to pass my vigorous recruitment program so they aren’t a bad bunch. The team spirit is really nice actually but we all have surfing in common. As for a party that’s a question for managing director Andy Ainscough? Please?
What’s on for the winter break?
I spent the last two winters in Indonesia, one on a boat trip in the Mentawi with some of the WQS girls (Sarah Beardmore, Paige Hareb, Kim Mayer, Claudin Hagoncaves) which was the best trip of my life, as well as the best waves. Another winter in Sumbawa at Lakeys which is like a natural wave garden. I would like to stay closer to home in Europe this year, let me know if you’ve got a space on a trip!