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Drone shot of a desolate Surf Park taken June 10. (Steven Joyner/Austonia)

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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