Pools, Ponies, and Promises – California’s Olas Ranch shut down before it leaves the gate

Editor’s Note: Last week and out of the blue we heard about the Olas Ranch project for San Juan Capistrano. We interviewed the development team and got a dialed-in schematic as to how it would all work. Then, just as quickly, the city of San Juan Capistrano tanked the idea in favor of one of the seven other proposals – which one will get the green light, in the end, is uncertain. The developers were gracious in their loss, releasing a statement:

“Pacifico Development would like to thank the community for their support of the Olas Ranch project. Unfortunately, the City Council did not approve the project moving forward to the public hearing round. We respect the City Council’s decision and will look to work on other projects within the community.”

For a full dive into what was proposed on the site that would have marked coastal SoCal’s first wave pool, check the story below by writer Neil ‘Moonwalker’ Armstrong.

News broke this week of what could be Southern California’s first coastal wave pool, this one on public land in San Juan Capistrano. The hook? This project isn’t looking to attract condo buyers or retired surfers, developers say they want to improve the quality of life in their community.

On the shortlist for the development is an aquatic center, Olympic size pool for residents, an equestrian center, indigenous peoples spaces, and a Surfing USA high-performance training center.

The town sits smack-dab in the center of SoCal’s freeway sprawl, but San Juan Capistrano somehow still clings to a slice of Old California, mostly due to its Spanish mission and horse riding heritage. And the proposed site is zoned as general open space, designated for public use. As such, developers cannot build condos or a shopping mall on the site.

The project is called Olas Ranch and is the brainchild of Pacifico Energy, a sustainable energy company focusing on solar and wind power. Pacifico Energy will be funding the project through a subsidiary company called Pacifico Development. San Juan Capistrano (SJC to locals) is also where Harrison Taylor, VP of Development for Pacifico Energy, and his family live.

Harrison said Pacifico’s research and financial modeling point to Olas Ranch as being financially self-sustaining and serving the community over the years.

“We have about 36,000 residents and there’s no public swimming pool,” said Harrison. “So honestly, we (Pacifico Energy) started with trying to solve a problem. And through that, the team and I came up with the idea of building a wave pool that could fund the aquatic center.”

OLAS RANCH wave pool site plan
Olas Ranch site plan with the San Diego Freeway (one of the state’s busiest) in the lower right of frame.

SJC sits halfway between LA and San Diego. The proposed location for the project (complete with a 50-year lease) is alongside the San Diego freeway (the main traffic artery through Southern California).

Something unique to the area is its equestrian roots – so much so that Hollywood has used many local locations as backdrops for several Westerns over the years.

“We’re also proposing to have stables for 140 horses out there,” said Harrison, “So it’s going to be this surf-meets-western-equestrian world and aquatic world. So we feel like that’s actually what’s popular right now a Surf Western theme. Billabong has a partnership with Wrangler, there are the Howler Brothers out of Austin that are Surf and Western. So, it’s a moment in time where surf and Western are kind of colliding. And that’s what we’re trying to bring to San Juan.”

But how do you pitch the concept of a wave pool to a horse-mad town three miles from Doheny? It may seem an odd concept for many locals.

Harrison believes there are a lot of people in the community who think that the wave pool is an innovative concept and good use of the land. He’s hoping for community momentum to build which in turn will help the City Council see the value in the project. He reckons part of the problem is not enough people know about wave pools in general.

“People first need to learn about wave pools,” said Harrison, “And also that this is a unique opportunity for San Juan Capistrano to be a main player in the wave pool space.”

OLAS RANCH Wave Pool drone art
Another perspective of the Olas Ranch wave pool proposal.

USA Surfing has expressed interest in using the wave pool along with a performance training center – similar to the one Surfing Australia operates.

“I think that’s a unique opportunity for the public to have a U.S. national team and Olympians training on the site,” said Harrison.

The developers reached out to USA Surfing after seeing the success of the first Olympic team’s preparations using both Waco Surf and Japan Surf Stadium wave pools. USA Surfing said the pool would help the team’s training regimen.

“Both wave pool facilities played unique and important roles in preparation for Team USA’s Olympic debut,” said USA Surfing’s CEO Brandon Lowery.

South Orange County is deemed a prime location for a wave pool, according to Brandon, due to the premier surf breaks, a high number of talented professional surfers in the area, and proximity to the LA 2028 Olympic Games.

“There are so many opportunities for things like aerial clinics to give surfers ramps and reps with video replay to make and groove adjustments,” said Brandon. There are also professional development opportunities for judges to break down and clarify scoring criteria for airs.”

While facilities for training have yet to be confirmed, Brandon has his wish list ready.

“Recovery tools like infrared saunas, ice baths, compression, and physical therapy modalities, are key,” he said. “Recovery is such an important part of surf training – especially after some punishing wave pool sessions. Overall, we’re excited about the facility’s potential to elevate the performances of American surf talent.”

USA Surfing CEO Brandon Lowry is familiar with wave pools
USA Surfing CEO Brandon Lowry is familiar with wave pools and wants his team to train here.

While these plans sound good and grand, there’s a vital ingredient we’ve not touched on yet. Water. The City of San Juan recently sold its water department to the Santa Margarita Water District (SMWD). Harrison and his team spoke with their executives and came up with a few plans to address this issue.

“One plan is that SMWD needs a location to recharge our groundwater in San Juan Capistrano,” said Harrison. “So what I mean by recharge is they pump reclaimed water into our water table and it recharges our groundwater. Then they pump it back up downstream from the site.”

The project would pump out some reclaimed water for use, and refine it through a reverse osmosis machine housed in a barn, or shed about 20 feet wide and 40 feet long on the property.

“Our system would clean all the reclaimed water,” said Harrison. “And we would use that in our wave pool and our aquatic center, so the project would be self-sufficient on reclaimed water.”

The estimated price tag for this system comes in at around US$1.5 million. To be footed by the developers.

Time-wise, The developers are expecting about a year of planning and permitting, two years of building, and surfing by Halloween of 2025. This would give US surfers time to train at the pool before the 2028 LA Olympics.

As for the wave pool, it’s going to be roughly 480 feet long and have 48 chambers. The tech is undisclosed at the moment, though seeing at the artist impressions and aerial layouts of the park, it looks very much like it’ll be an Endless Surf pool. We’ll let you know as soon as things are confirmed.

Olas Ranch wave pool
Olas Ranch wave pool enlarged shows a heart-shaped surf tank with surrounding amenities.