Europe's First Artificial Surf Reef

British surfing is getting a makeover. Next month, just in time for the start of the surfing season, the English coast will see the opening of Europe's first artificial surf reef, and the world's fourth

Once open, the reef, located some 800 feet off the shoreline in Boscombe near Bournemouth, South England, will be one of only four in the world. Two are in Australia, in Queensland and Cables, and a fourth is in Mt. Maunganui, New Zealand.

The reef will only slightly increase the size of Boscombe's waves but is expected to cause them to break cleaner, making them more ridable and increasing the number of surfable days each season. This has excited surfers who are expecting the reef to create grade-5 waves on good days (Hawaii's famed Bonzi Pipeline is a grade-8).

The reef, which is due to be completed just in time for the start of the surfing season next month, was designed by Kerry Black, from the National Institute of Water and Atmosphere in New Zealand and Managing Director at ASR Ltd, the firm constructing the reef.

The design itself was commissioned by Bournemouth Borough Council as they faced the unusual challenge of an unpredictable wave climate. ASR Ltd took on the problem head-on and created blueprints for a particularly large reef that could make the most of the waves that Boscombe coast had to offer.

Costing $2.3 million and built from geo-textile bags that are filled with sand and weigh up to 2,500 tons each, the reef has taken over a year to construct. The first phase began in July 2008, and it had been hoped that work would be complete by the end of the year, but difficult weather conditions prolonged construction.

In a statement, Roger Brown, head of leisure services for Bournemouth Council, noted that "the area of Bournemouth and Poole already has an excellent reputation as a leading water sports destinations" but that the reef would "make surfing in the U.K. far most accessible."

The reef is expected to attract up to 10,000 surfers a year, though Bournemouth Council has warned that the reef locations so far off shore in deep water will not be suitable for surfing novices. Beginners wll be encouraged to first take advantage of one of the many surf schools in the area.

Emma Hedges of Bournemouth Surf School told ABC News that, though the instructors "can't teach people to surf on the reef, it has increased interest" and that tourists now "see Bournemouth as a surfing destination".

Not Just for Surfing

Surfers are not the only ones who will benefit from the beach's new reef. During July and August, the reef will create a lagoon between it and the shore, providing safe, flat conditions for families. Additionally, it will enhance the experiences of kite surfers, wind surfers, wake boarders and scuba divers, to name a few.

Excitement has surrounded the project for some time; the reef is only one part of an $18 million regeneration project in the Bournemouth area. Other new additions to the seafront include the reef-inspired Urban Reef bar and restaurant, and the award-winning Urban Beach Hotel.

Beyond the tourists, marine life is also expected to get a boost from the new reef as it develops into a busy habitat. Reef life creatures, including cuttlefish and spider crabs, are already beginning to organically move in -- no creatures have been artificially added.

Jo O'Connell from Bournemouth Council's surf reef team, explained that the council would be "working with Plymouth University to do 12 months performance monitoring."

With any luck the new reef will rejuvenate the previously-passed-over seaside town, its inhabitants and its new marine life.