Summer bummer: Austin's big wave surf pool still closed 3 years after purchased by world's greatest surfer
Austin's surf park made a splash when it opened in 2016, astounding the city's land-locked surf-lovers with new artificial wave technology. Two years after a company led by the world's most famous surfer took over, an Austonia drone photo survey shows a desolate site where there once was a thriving attraction that brought surfers from both coasts, and beyond.
Surf pools drained and empty, wave generating equipment apparently dismantled, parking lots empty, surf shop and pub closed. Mud, weeds, and only the sound of prairie wind, where once big waves broke to the sounds of joy from excited surfers.
Formerly known as NLand Surf Park, the artificial wave pool sits east of the airport on U.S. Highway 71. Dreamed up by Coors beer heir Doug Coors, the park served fun from its opening until November 2018, when it closed its doors for the season and never reopened.
Artificial wave technology allowed people to surf in the pool. (NLand Surf Park/Facebook)
The 14-acre pool was divided into two sides: Experienced surfers shredded the bigger waves on one side, while kids and beginners rode the small ones on the other. Across the pool, a snow plow-like blade was dragged underwater, generating the realistic, ocean-like curls.
Coors sold the park in 2018 to Kelly Slater Wave Co., founded by renowned surfer Kelly Slater and partially owned by the World Surf League. After officially acquiring the property in January 2019, the new owners set forth plans to reopen as Surf Ranch Austin and outfit the facility with Slater's own wave technology.
The last known action toward bringing the park back to life was in August 2019, when engineering firm Carlson Brigance & Doering Inc. submitted a site plan to the City of Austin, calling for the demolition of the existing wave pool in favor of a new one, which was rejected for what appeared to be administrative issues in October that year.
Since then, nothing.
Surf Ranch on June 10, 2021. (Austonia)
Another clue could come from Waco, where a competing company, Barefoot Ski Ranch, runs a surf pool built on a different technology. BSR is facing a multi-year lawsuit from the family of a 29-year-old New Jersey surfer who died of a brain-eating amoeba after visiting the pool. The suit characterizes the pool as an alleged "pathogen soup" masked by blue-dyed water.
The Austin park's original opening was delayed in 2016 while Travis County and the surf park's owners battled over water quality issues, finally reaching a settlement rather than face dueling lawsuits, one in federal court. According to the Austin American-Statesman, the settlement required Nland to provide daily water quality reports, detailing chlorine, pH, sediment and E. coli levels.
Austonia made multiple inquiries to KSW and WSL and received no response on the site's current status and future plans, and whether water quality concerns have played a role in the park's apparent shutdown.
Austin's Surf Ranch isn't the only location to flop. According to Beach Grit, Slater's first U.S. location, a prototype Surf Ranch location in Lemoore, California, seemed closest to opening but remains closed to the public; it is running on a reservation basis. Another in the works by KSW is Surf Ranch Coolum in Queensland, Australia, a $1.2 billion development with plans to open in 2022.
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With major entertainment events slated for October, the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is gearing up for a busy month.
Artists and music lovers are set to pack into Zilker Park for The Austin City Limits Music Festival in the coming two weekends. Following that, Formula One will bring racing fans to the Circuit of the Americas.
For those two events, the airport is anticipating high passenger days with 30,000 or more people departing flights.
ABIA recommends arriving at least two and a half hours in advance for domestic flights on those days. For ACL, it's expected on both Sundays of the festival along with the Monday and Tuesday after. The F1-driven high passenger days are expected on Oct. 20-21 and Oct. 23-26.
\u201c#AustinCityLimits visitors, you\u2019re in for a weird and wild ride \ud83e\udd18\u262e\ufe0f \n\nFlying in or out of our airport? We got firm and fun tips for you: https://t.co/RawVRalOXN\u201d— Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) (@Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)) 1664894083
F1, especially, could draw in loads of travelers as the three-day event saw 400,000 attendees last year. ABIA warns that highways leading to the airport may see even higher traffic than usual around the event and that travelers should plan their route accordingly.
Bailey Grimmett, a spokesperson for ABIA, said travel numbers come in 24 hours in advance. So, it's hard to predict if the airport will see travel volumes at the same levels that have happened around previous F1 races or if it'll top ACL's flight traffic.
Still, she says historical knowledge points to a chance for it.
“We've had that Monday after F1 break the record for single busiest in airport history," Grimmett said. "So context clues I would say yes, but I can't confirm that. But the historical background points to that."
In anticipation of the high volume of flyers, the airport received additional TSA officers for security screening through the end of October. To prepare even further, the Department of Aviation and partners hosted a job showcase and hiring fair to address the continued labor shortage the airport has experienced.
Relief from hectic travel days is on the horizon with November likely to see a slowdown.
"I don't anticipate it will be as busy as October just because we don't have as many events going on," Grimmett said. "Thanksgiving is kind of our primary holiday that we see a lot of passengers coming in and out of the airport."