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Another Roadside Attraction: When wave pools ruled the desert

One hundred and twenty miles east of Los Angeles and 120 miles northeast of San Diego lies the Coachella Valley, soon to become home to California’s newest surf spots. Once a prime weekend destination for Bob Hope-era Hollywood, the area hosts a unique desert culture including the annual Coachella music festival, thriving LGBT scene and of course giant roadside dinosaurs.

In a new twist on surf culture, Palm Desert is currently entertaining no less than four potential wave pools. Two are under construction while the other two are still permitting and planning. One indication of the area’s frothiness is Dave Hilts who is forming a surf club specifically to session and hang out at the area’s upcoming pools.

“We hope to get involved with all of the pool owners and work with them,” Hilts said in an email. “Our club is the direct result of the Coachella Valley getting three or more wave pools.”

So what are the projects on tap to transform the desert into a wave pool oasis? We examine four potential pools and report on where they are in their development.

palm springs wave pool

The Palm Springs Surf Club

Cheyne Magnusson, Kalani Robb, and company purchased the aging Wet’n’Wild Waterpark to transform its outdated wave pool into a surf-able destination. ( Fun Fact: The facility’s Riptide Reef attraction is the same pool used in the opening titles of the movie “The North Shore.”)

Cheyne said that the new wave-generating technology is top secret for now, and all he would offer is that it’s “different” and quite a complicated feat of engineering.

Their Palm Springs pool is similar in size to the BSR Surf Ranch if a bit smaller. Cheyne says this is not as big of a hurdle as one might think. He poses that bottom contour plays a huge role in producing quality artificially generated waves.

Cheyne honed his wave pool chops as surf director at BSR in Waco last year. He parted amicably with the park to pursue this opportunity. Should all go according to plan, the new park will open in 2020.

In an interview, his partner Robb stated that the pool will tap Palm Springs’ party atmosphere. How that will look when the doors open in 2020 is a big, wonderful mystery but a key piece in this wave pool’s business model.

While many new surf sites will be developed in combination with housing, shopping and a mall-like atmosphere to recoup investment, Robb’s will rely on the fun factor for profit.

“We want to make a Disneyland for surfing,” said Robb.

La Quinta

After purchasing 400 acres under CM Wave Development LLC, Meriwether Companies could be building a wave pool in La Quinta. The company is a big player in the desert area and owns the famous Ingleside Inn in Palm Springs. According to a recent Desert Sun article, the group is “weighing” whether to go forward or not.

Garrett Simon of Meriwether Companies told the Sun that they are considering a surf park on the land already approved for a golf course and homes. While water use has always been an issue in the desert, Simon enthusiastically stated that a wave pool would use less water than a golf course.

Should they go forward, the company will submit an application by the end of the year. We’ll keep you posted.

Sierra and Josh Kerr at Wavegarden Cove

DSRT Surf at Desert Willow Golf Resort in Palm Desert

DSRT Surf will be using Wavegarden’s Cove technology. The group behind the project, Desert Wave Ventures, will transform the local sand and scrub into a 5-acre surf center.

The surf center will be surrounded by an 18-acre master plan that includes a golf resort, hotels, restaurants and lux villas. The project will cost an estimated $200million with work beginning at the end of this year. Opening day will come in 2021.

“I’m very excited to announce the DSRT Surf project I’m a part of,” said Josh Kerr via Instagram. “This world-class surf pool resort will be nestled into the beautiful surroundings of Desert Willow Golf Resort in Palm Desert.”

“We have an amazing team that has spent countless hours in the last two years to make this dream a reality,” said Kerr. “We’re getting close to having it across the line and breaking ground! More than anything I’m excited to spend time out here with my family and friends!”

Project developer John Luff of Surf Park Central said the choice to use the Cove tech is based on Wavegarden’s understanding of waves-per-hour and how that translates into visitor satisfaction.

“Is it the best air wave?” Luff told Surfline. “No. But do they have the most well-rounded model? Yes. I think the Cove has proven, dollar-for-dollar, that it’s best on the return. And we will be open to the public, but the focus will be on a slightly more premium experience.”

Along with the usual hurdles wave pools face, one potential cog in the wheel is the new California legislation spawned by Kelly Slater Wave Company.

When the legislation launched it capped the number of surfers in the wave pool, or “wave basin” in this case, to 40. A full-size Cove can accommodate 80 surfers at once, which under the new legislation would push a packed DSRT Surf pool onto the wrong side of California law.

Honokea Surf Villages and Resorts

Working on a park in the desert for the last few years, Hawaii-based Honokea Surf Villages & Resorts in 2017 announced they were buying land in Indio as part of a $100million wave pool development using undisclosed artificial wave generation technology.

In older reports, the project was due to open in 2019. But obviously, that has come to pass.

A 2017 Desert Sun article wrote that Indio city spokesman PJ Gagajena said the Honokea developers hadn’t applied for entitlements but met with the city’s Design Review Committee in March 2018.

“While we have not had any recent interactions on entitlements, we heard recently they have an ongoing interest,” Gagajena told the Sun.

Honokea’s web site promotes the healthy lifestyle and healing down-time that comes with staying at their resorts. However the site doesn’t mention the Palm Desert project, so we are unsure if the company has anything in the works. Their last Instagram post was November 2018.

Honokea was instrumental in getting NLand started in the early days. However, the group parted ways with founder Doug Coors before NLand opened its gates.


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