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NLand Surf Park, Texas
Location: 10 minutes from Austin International airport; 20 minutes from downtown Austin
The Setup: The creation of engineer, surfer, and beer scion Doug Coors, NLand is a “wave lagoon,” the size of nine football fields, making it the largest in the world. It is also currently the only modern technical artificial wave fully open to the public here in the United States.
The Technology: NLand is a rainwater-fed self-sustaining lagoon that uses the Spain-based Wave Garden mechanics to create its swell. As with the other Wave Garden park in Snowdonia, Wales, a “wave foil” — essentially a snowplow on a fast-moving and powerful chairlift cable — runs down the center of the entire lagoon, creating a right and left on either side.
The Wave: NLand boasts three different styles of wave: a steeper and more technical “reef” break, with a ride that lasts up to 35 seconds, end-to-end; a mellower “inside” break that can be ridden by a few people at a time; and a “bay” whitewater roller for learning.
Surf It: NLand charges between $60 and $90 for an hour in the lagoon, and lessons and coaching are also available. Nlandsurfpark.com
Surf Ranch, California
Location: Lemoore, California, about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from either San Francisco or Los Angeles
The Setup: Surf Ranch is Kelly Slater’s private facility in central California, built in a defunct man-made waterskiing lake. Despite being the most well-known man-made wave in the world right now, the 2,100-foot long lake is not open to the public and shrouded in secrecy. However, having been purchased by the World Surf League late last year, we can expect, at a minimum, a competition event in the near future, likely followed by a rollout of public facilities. A recent post on Slater’s Instagram read: “We took [the wave pool] apart and made it even better — more waves, more sections, and goofy footers might be pretty excited, too.”
The Technology: Similar to NLand’s wave foil, Slater is believed to also use a hydrofoil of some sort — it’s been described as an underwater airplane wing — that creates a very specific wave shape because of a carefully designed lake floor.
The Wave: That specific shape we refer to above has been described as nothing less than the perfect barrel. Slater is said to have been obsessed with a heavy and hollow technical wave, and that’s exactly what they built. If — or when — Slater’s wave is made available to the public, it would likely be most suitable for more experienced surfers.
Surf It: The only way you’ll get to ride this wave — for now — is to either make friends with the man himself or win a visit through his next Golden Ticket contest. Kswaveco.com
BSR Cable Park Surf Ranch, Texas
Location: Waco, Texas, about 1 hour and 30 minutes from either Dallas or Austin
The Setup: Barefoot Ski Ranch in Waco is a wakeboarding water park in which powerful cables pull you across the lake instead of boats. But currently under construction beside the wakeboard lagoon is the Surf Ranch, a huge beach-style wave pool built by American Wave Machines. With strong endorsements — and design input — from top pros Jamie O’Brien and Cheyne Magnusson, it’s slated to open to the public in late fall of 2017.
The Technology: American Wave Machines calls its technology “Perfect Swell” and it claims it emulates the same circular particle motion that real waves do. The model is certainly convincing, as air chambers pump out swell toward a beach in all directions, with no sidewalls. This will be the first American Wave Machines pool in America and the biggest yet.
The Wave: Based on the models, this is the only wave that seems to pump out a central swell that breaks both directions, and with very little refraction. AWM claims it can modify height of the wave, frequency, and direction with an iPad, and the wave can be everything from a hollow barrel to a mushy roller.
Surf It: TBD; bsrcablepark.com
Big Surf Waterpark, Arizona
Location: Tempe, Arizona
The Setup: Big Surf calls its “Waikiki Beach Wave Pool” the “original.” And it’s old, alright — constructed way back in 1969 by a guy named Phil Dexter, it was probably the first surfable man-made wave in the world. Of course, the pool itself has since been eclipsed by insane waterslides, lazy rivers, and screaming kids, and surfing has become a bit of an afterthought here.
The Technology: Like Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon, Waikiki Beach uses the old “water drop” technology to pump a column of water into the lagoon, creating a bump that ripples to shore.
The Wave: Like its namesake, the wave here is a mellow peak that breaks just enough to hang ten, and often has up to a half dozen surfers on it at once.
Surf It: Only problem is, these days Waikiki Beach is only open to surfers for one hour each day, between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Big Surf is open from May to September; admission is $16 (after 3 p.m.) and it’s an additional $17 to surf.
Typhoon Lagoon, Disney World, Florida
Location: Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, Florida
The Setup: As you’d expect, Disney’s relatively small wave pool is surrounded by Pirates of the Caribbean-style paraphernalia, filled with screaming — and peeing — kids, and not an exclusive surfing facility. However, the 80-degree lagoon hosts early morning two-and-half-hour group surf lessons and can be rented out to private groups in the evenings. It could be just what you need to take the edge off a family Disney vacation.
The Technology: Wave pool experts call this old-school technology “water drop,” in which a single pulse of H2O creates a wall of water. While not cutting-edge at all, it is one of the better original wave pools around, and one of the few that allows surfing.
The Wave: Typhoon Lagoon has lefts, rights, and waves up to 5 feet high every 90 seconds. But, while great for beginners, the mushy tidal-bore-like swell never quite breaks for a fast technical ride.
Surf It: Group lessons are $165 per person; the entire lagoon can be rented for up to 25 people after hours, for $1,200. disneyworld.disney.go.com
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