Why is Kelly’s wave pool in Austin not moving forward?

They were not the headlines we were hoping for. “Austin Surf Ranch ready to open” or “Kelly Slater Surf Ranch fills Austin wave tub.” These would kindle our stoke and quicken our pulse. But no. Instead, local platform Austonia picked up the comatose Kelly Slater Wave Co project at the abandoned NLand site and digital surf media pounced.

Stab and others covered the story. Beachgrit crafted a beautiful Chasian doom-and-destruction headline then simply copy/pasted the original article. Austonia did the heavy lifting with the timeliness of the piece anchored by some amazing drone images of the abandoned facility by Steven Joyner.

So what’s happening in Austin – how did we get here?

The WSL purchased Doug Coors’ NLand wave pool through their Tumbleweed Opco, a Delaware-registered LLC. In the middle is the Kelly Slater Wave Co who operates Tumbleweed. According to an article by ATX Real Estate, Delaware corporation records show that Tumbleweed Opco LLC was formed Dec. 11, just 12 days prior to the sale of NLand which occurred on Dec. 23.

In September of 2019 Engineering firm Carlson Brigance and Doering Inc. formally introduced their plans to the city of Austin. The plans called for the retrofitting and transformation of NLand into a facility like the Surf Ranch in Lemoore California. And that was the last we heard.

Kelly Slater Wave Co. tech at Coral Mountain. This design uses the wave pool as the centerpiece of a residential development, something for which the Austin location is not zoned.

So what happened? We spoke with an industry insider who gave us their take on what’s stalling the Austin wave pool transformation at the moment and possibly forever.

“I think KSWaveCo bought it under the previous business plan where they were going to be developers and technology providers,” said the source. “After Florida and Japan failed, Ziff did a reset with them and said their business model should only be as technology providers.”

Currently, KSWaveCo is the centerpiece to attract residents to new developments like Coral Mountain in the Coachella Valley. Developers Meriwether see the wave pool model replacing golf courses with residents happy to pay $1-$5million for luxury homes adjacent to one of the world’s best waves. That model might not work in Austin.

“But now KSWaveCo is left holding the bag on the facility – likely trying to get someone like Michael Schwab/Meriwether to come in,” adds our source. “But they need to prove the Coral Springs project first. Plus the Austin location isn’t zoned for residential or hotel construction and would be a big effort to rezone. I would think Meriwether would prefer lots of other locations over that one.”

The Surf Ranch in Lemoore has two narrow lagoons side by side (only one is used). While NLand (further down this page) has a shorter, wider surf lagoon. Image Google Earth

In addition to a rezoning labyrinth, other pitfalls sited include the massive cost to re-do the basin, almost building the whole thing from scratch.

But in the land of wave pool and surf park creation, developers eat challenges for breakfast. Right?

NLand overcame several obstacles inherent in being the first public wave pool in America. They boxed with county officials who wanted to strap the 14-acre lagoon with the same regulations as a public swimming pool. Construction also hit a snag when a tear in the liner flooded nearby neighbors, many of whom weren’t happy to see a wave pool in their neighborhood. In short, these are smart people who know how to navigate these scenarios.

When NLand opened many surfers loved the wave but felt it wasn’t challenging enough. Others espoused what a fun setup the whole enterprise is and a core following grew at the park.

GoogleEarth view of NLand in Austin Texas. Image Google Earth

Should the WSL abandoned the site, one scenario still points to Austin having a wave pool.

“Someone comes in and buys it for a dime on the dollar and then operates it “as-is” with some minor improvements for guest experience and some diversified activities,” adds our source. “Just run it like Snowdonia and generate some cash flow. It’s outdated tech but still could work well at the right price. This is the way a lot of golf and ski operations have gone. The first guys lose their shirts on a greenfield build and then the second owners come along and figure it out, buying if they get it at the right price.”

Editor’s Note: We’ve reached out to both the WSL and KSWaveCo and will present their side once we hear back.

Endless Surf 2023A