What comes to mind when you think of Texas? Big beef ribs and even bigger belt buckles? Accents and oil rigs? Chances are it’s not cresting waves and California-style cool. But even though it’s 200 miles to the nearest ocean, Texas is now establishing itself as one of America’s sickest surf destinations. It’s all thanks to NLand, the country’s first artificial surf park. And it’s a great place to teach your kid to rip.
NLand sits down the road from a megachurch and a fireworks warehouse some 10 miles outside of Austin. An 11 million-galloon artificial lagoon surrounded by manmade beach, the waves are created by an enormous underwater blade that pushes water across the area. The mechanism can produce gentle bay waves for new surfers, wide inside waves for intermediates, and curling, 6-foot tall cresters for experts. You and the kids can rent boards and take lessons from seasoned pros on the baby waves; experienced rippers can practice their moves on the big ones.
The park’s goal, besides bringing coastal thrills to hill country, is to make surfing easier and more accessible to everyone. With surfing about to make its first Olympic appearance at the 2020 games in Tokyo, many lifelong boosters are hoping the sport finally makes the crossover into mainstream sports just as snowboarding did. But this won’t be possible without making gnarly waves way more accessible to the inland masses.
But NLand definitely brings the waves. In fact, its design improves upon the experience of ocean surfing in some key ways. Swells appear reliably and are always identical in shape. And the park’s waves stay strong across the whole lagoon, lasting an insane 35 seconds, and can be ridden by more than a dozen surfers at a time. That means you and the kids won’t spend hours bobbing up and down in the sea. Another plus? No need to worry about sharks.
NLand was founded by Doug Coors, an heir of the beer-making family and a surfing aficionado. He spent the last 20 years figuring out the best way to bring big breaks to the landlocked masses. Coors wasn’t the first to have the idea; American theme parks have been trying to create surfable waves for years, but they’ve have been stalled by engineering challenges and sky-high costs of replicating the ocean’s power. Meanwhile, surf parks have popped up around the world, from Wales to Dubai to Tokyo. To create NLand, Coors partnered with Wavegarden, a Spanish company behind some of the splashiest international projects. He’s so enthralled with the result that he already dreams of opening up a surf park in “every corner of every city.”
Equally impressive to NLand’s existence is its commitment to sustainability. All the water in the park comes from a unique rain catchment system and is naturally refined by algae and fish before moving into the lagoon’s purification system. The entire lagoon is self-sustaining and doesn’t draw a drop of water from public sources.
If the kids don’t want to surf (or are just tired of bailing) they can catch waves via body board. Body surfing – that is, sans board – is strictly prohibited. The facility’s manmade beach is an ideal place to hang post-water and there’s a restaurant, too. Yeah, they sell barbecue.
NLand is set to reopen soon for the 2017 season. Park passes go for $65, while group lessons start at $85 per person. The park is open for all ages. Children 3 or younger, however, must have a signed waiver. A chill ‘tude wouldn’t hurt either.