Is Austin the landlocked surf capital of the world? Some say yes

Austin’s surf scene — from surf park to music — rides popularity wave


Highlights

Austin’s surf scene is rooted in vibrant watersports community on area lakes.

Transplanted coastal surfers, along with warm water and active population, make Austin popular among surfers.

The opening of NLand Surf Park in 2016 pushed the surf scene to the next level.

A 2011 study concluded that the average U.S. surfer was 34, educated, employed and earned $75,000 annually.

A three-hour drive from the nearest ocean wave, Austin’s surf scene has arrived.

A few weeks ago, some of the country’s best surfers sliced down the face of a wave rolling across a 14-acre, manufactured lagoon east of Austin in an event designed to showcase a California surfboard company.

A surf band played. Spectators sipped pineapple and mango smoothies and nibbled raw fish salad called poke. And somewhere outside the fence, a bunch of cattle probably wondered what happened to their old grazing grounds.

RELATED: A look at 9 people in Austin’s surf scene

Local surfers say an influx of coastal transplants has fueled the trend, already rooted in a lake scene that started with water-skiing in the 1960s and ’70s, morphed into wakeboarding in the 1990s and evolved into wake surfing a decade ago. That lake culture spilled into related sports, from stand-up paddleboarding on Lady Bird Lake to jet surfing on Lake Travis and traditional surfing at NLand Surf Park. Local surf bands play a monthly show at the Nomad Bar, Austin artisans hand-shape surfboards, a fitness club called City Surf offers exercise classes on surfboards mounted on stability balls, and a social club hosts surfboard swaps, river cleanups and meetups where members discuss beach outings.

“When you combine weather, warm waters and an active population, it’s conducive to that surfing lifestyle,” says Mike Klein, a board member of the Austin Surf Club. “I can surf in the morning at NLand, then in the afternoon I can jet surf and wake surf. No other city has this level of variety of surfing available to them, and I think that’s what truly makes Austin the landlocked surfing capital of the world.”

Surfing’s a multibillion-dollar industry around the country. Surfers — and tourists who want to try surfing — spend money in the coastal towns of California, Florida and Hawaii. Studies show surfers don’t fit the stereotype of uneducated, pot-smoking slackers, either. A 2011 study by the Surfrider Foundation with Surf-First, titled “A Socioeconomic and Recreational Profile of Surfers in the United States,” concluded that the average American surfer was a 34-year-old, educated and employed male who earned $75,000 annually and hit the waves 108 times a year, spending at least $40 a visit.

That’s big money, and Central Texas surf industry types want a piece of that wave.

Colorado beer scion Doug Coors, who first dreamed about a landlocked surf park some 20 years ago, invested more than $20 million to build NLand Surf Park, which employs about 200 people and can accommodate up to 140 surfers in the water. The park opened in October 2016, after delays caused by flooding and a dispute with Travis County that was resolved when the park agreed to file daily water quality reports.

NLand Surf Park is the only park of its kind in North America, and the second in the world along with a similar park in Wales. Another is in the works — Barefoot Ski Ranch, which already operates a waterslide and cable park northeast of Waco, plans to open the world’s third surf park there next summer, just a two-hour drive from Austin.

RELATED: At NLand Surf Park, catch a perfect wave every time

At NLand, guests pay between $60 and $90 an hour to surf a wave that reaches heights of 6 feet in places. They paddle out to catch a wave created by a wedge-shaped hydrofoil that rolls across a lagoon the size of nine football fields every two minutes. The main advantage over the ocean? Predictability — and no stingrays, sharks or jellyfish, if you care about that sort of thing. Customers can hone their skills on a series of identical, perfectly shaped waves without waiting for Mother Nature to deliver. That makes it easy for novices to learn and improve.

“Austin has always been one of the best wake surf places in the United States,” says Coors, who is opening an on-site brewery at NLand and says before the end of the year he’ll announce plans to build additional parks in other landlocked cities. “We’ve just added one more dimension to that scene.”

His timing is good. Surfing is set to become an Olympic sport at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games, and the surf community expects to see a surge in the popularity of its favorite sport. You can bet Austin surfers will tune in.

Tom Haney, a longtime surfer and founder of TukTuk Boards, which handcrafts wake surfboards and traditional surfboards, says a lot of people in Central Texas head to the coast whenever conditions grow favorable for surfing. “In one way, we’re really just an exurb of the coast,” Haney says.

Nick Wiersema, head of the Central Texas chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, a national nonprofit organization that works for beach access, coastal protection and clean water, says the surf culture ties right in with the city’s hippie-centric past and high-tech future.

“The surf culture as a whole kind of always has been a beatnik culture that fits very well with Austin,” Wiersema says. “Two, as the tech industry grew here, so did the population of surfers. They come from California and lots of places. They travel to surf, they have the money.”

Klein, with the Austin Surf Club, agrees.

“The number of traditional surfers we have here for a landlocked city is truly amazing,” he says. “When you combine it all you have this rolling thunder of buzz that’s starting to build and build and build. I don’t think it’s that far off before people outside the state start to look at Austin as a global surf destination for surf of all types.”

MORE WATER SPORTS: Places to dip your paddle in Central Texas



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Lifestyle

Memorial Day events include Treaty Oak Rod Run, W Austin’s Soundwave
Memorial Day events include Treaty Oak Rod Run, W Austin’s Soundwave

Memorial Day events The Hell Yes Project Olympics at the ABGB. The Memorial Day party, a second annual event, will feature eight Austin nonprofits competing in field day-style activities for a $1,000 gold medal prize. The scheduled activities include a water balloon toss, speed cornhole, crowler can stacking and Simon Says. Points will be rewarded...
Head into summer with Steely Dan show, a salsa soirée and more
Head into summer with Steely Dan show, a salsa soirée and more

1. “An American in Paris” 8 p.m. May 30-June 2, 2 p.m. June 2, and 1 and 7 p.m. June 3. $30-$125. Bass Concert Hall, 2350 Robert Dedman Drive. texasperformingarts.org. Inspired by the Academy-Award winning film, this Tony Award-winning play is the idyllic story of an American soldier, a mysterious French girl and an indomitable European...
Today’s birthdays - Sunday, May 27
Today’s birthdays - Sunday, May 27

Today’s Birthdays: Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Herman Wouk is 103. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is 95. Former FBI Director William Sessions is 88. Author John Barth is 88. Actress Lee Meriwether is 83. Musician Ramsey Lewis is 83. Actor Louis Gossett Jr. is 82. Rhythm and blues singer Raymond Sanders (The Persuasions) is 79....
Kick off the summer with these family events in Austin, May 27-June 2
Kick off the summer with these family events in Austin, May 27-June 2

Events RED Arena Round-Up. Family fun and inclusive rodeo play day with a petting zoo, kid games and mini horses. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday. Free. Dripping Springs Ranch Park, 1042 Event Center Drive, Dripping Springs. redarena.org Ask a Vet. Bring your questions to hear from Thundering Paws veterinarian Lauren Cannon. 11:30 a.m. Saturday...
Dear Abby - Sunday, May 27

Dear Abby: I have the sweetest boyfriend I’ll call “Earl.” He’s 58. I’m a widow and have been with him for two years. Earl loves me, helps me and goes out with me wherever I want to go. One problem: He flirts with other women. It can be family, neighbors, clerks, waitresses, etc. He calls them “sweetheart,&rdquo...
More Stories