How Michael Schwab, the Surf Ranch’s best customer, is making more pools
Michael Schwab is busy and everywhere in that unique way super-entrepreneurs are. Racing cars one day, surfing Lemoore the next, or energizing zoom meetings across the globe. He’s like Richard Branson, but with more human-looking teeth. The Surf Ranch’s biggest customer is currently working with several capital partner groups, a fusion energy company, and Travis Rice for the Natural Selection Tour, a new backcountry snowboarding league that will branch into other sports. Yes, like surfing.
Most Americans will recognize Michael B Schwab’s name, not for helping Kelly Slater realize his wave pool field of dreams but from his father’s pedestrian-accessible investment company. The Charles Schwab company employed the tag line “Talk to Chuck” and effectively moved the investment services industry from office tower to strip mall. Michael’s on a similar trip, but with wave pools.
He’s building Coral Mountain, California’s Slater-focused surf tub. We spoke with Michael to get a grip on what it is exactly he does and to find out where and when we can surf the world’s next Kelly Slater Wave Co facility.
Pretend I am a small, inattentive child, please explain what it is you do for a living?
I invest in early-stage technology companies and real estate that I believe will grow in value. After meeting Kelly Slater in 2009 and hearing his vision for the Kelly Slater Wave Company, I quickly expressed interest to invest. Years later, in 2013, he reached to me and provided that opportunity. The ethos of investing in what I am passionate about is derived from my father, and that’s when I started to focus on surfing. More recently, I have also followed my passion for snowboarding to invest alongside Travis Rice in his Natural Selection snowboarding tour. I want to change the game when it comes to action sports.
How did your relationship start with Kelly?
I met Kelly through some mutual friends back 2009 and then was invited to his week on Tavarua in around 2010, where I got to know him better.
To what extent are you involved in the KSWCO?
My investment in KSWCO was converted into shares of the WSL when the WSL acquired KSWCO. I still own those shares and receive updates on how the WSL is doing, but I am not involved in the operations of either. I believe I am Surf Ranch’s biggest customer and I am one of the first to license the KSWCO technology to build Coral Mountain in La Quinta, California.
And how is Coral Mountain coming along?
We continue to achieve significant milestones. The equity raise is complete and we have completed the extensive environmental studies necessary to approve the project. Our group of investors is primarily comprised of people who share our vision and are excited to build their own homes in the community. In addition to the surf basin, we are planning a full set of training, wellness, social, and sports amenities. And perhaps most importantly, the physical beauty of our 400-acre property is unparalleled.
Where else does Big Sky Wave Developments plan to go?
We have secured the license to also build a KSWCO wave in the southern Baja / Los Cabos area and we are actively exploring various sites. The larger vision is to extend the Coral Mountain ethos beyond inland basins and incorporate real-world surf and mountain destinations.
Will you be using any other technologies at future developments in addition to Kelly’s design?
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the KSWCO system? Some critics say the waves per hour limit its commercial application.
I believe the existing Wave Basin in Lemoore is successful as a private venue. Notwithstanding, there are two major distinctions for Coral Mountain. First, the Wave Basin will drive a premium for our real estate and hospitality offering. The Wave Basin is the star attraction at Coral Mountain but we are building multiple amenities focused on wellness, adventure sports, and dining. The bulk of our revenue is generated from real estate sales and lodging. Secondly, the Coral Mountain Wave Basin will feature extended end bays able to accommodate 12 or more surfers in each end bay. As currently designed, two surfers will share an open face wave (one going straight, one getting 3-4 turns) and then 10-12 people can surf on a mellow Waikiki style 10-second white water wave. This expanded capacity will allow us to accommodate more hotel guests and residents.
You have a lot of projects going on, TAE Technologies, Natural Selection Tour, Big Sky, what drives you to work so hard?
Again, I want to invest in ventures that I’m passionate about and have fun along the way. My true passion today is teaching people how to surf up at the Surf Ranch and helping them have the best day of their life. I also want my investments to be financially successful. The desire to work hard is something instilled in me from an early age by my father.
We often talk about how surfing opens up a person to something beyond mere gravity activities (we are riding energy!) do you believe surfing changes people?
1000%. I have been lucky enough to see it happen to a lot of people up at the Surf Ranch over the last 5 1/2 years. I also do love that surfing is about actively catching energy that started from wind, a few miles to a few thousand miles away! Fast-forward 10 years – what does the surfing landscape look like? I am guessing the average surfer will surf like John John and Kelly will probably still be on tour.