AUSTIN (KXAN) — The first surf park in North America and the largest surf park in the world opened — again — at 9 a.m. Friday. NLand Surf Park, set on 160 acres in southeast Austin, is a for-profit company where patrons can surf in a man-made lagoon with features that make it feel like being in the ocean.
NLand’s site says it caters to everyone, from newcomers all the way up to expert level surfers.
The lagoon is a large pool over 10 acres filled with 11 million gallons of rainwater runoff, covering roughly the size of nine football fields. As a comparison, NLand says its pool is “approximately the length and width of the portion of Lady Bird Lake in Austin, Texas, that stretches from the Congress Avenue bridge to the South First Street Bridge. The lagoon is approximately 45 times larger than a standard Olympic size swimming pool.
Customers surf waves up to six created every minute in the lagoon. The pool is also billed to be self-sustaining. According to NLand’s site, “Rainwater is channeled to a wet pond and bio-filtered by algae and fish before it moves to a deep reservoir and through the filtration system for treatment.” The rainwater catchment can hold up to 35 million gallons of water.
NLand Surf Park opens for summer 2017 after a delayed, then canceled start in fall of 2016. The park’s opening was initially delayed over health concerns about how clean the business would keep its lagoon. Travis County sued Austin Park, LLC, the parent company of NLand, citing an inability to meet the minimum safety requirements of a public pool under state law.
NLand then sued the county in return, stating that its lagoon had “unique characteristics” that should not force it to have the same rules that public pools do, like filtering all of the water in the pool every six hours. According to the suit, NLand believes “some specific regulations, like the six-hour turnover requirement, would be impossible or nearly impossible to implement from an engineering, financial, and public safety perspective.”
The county’s suit against NLand has been effectively dropped. The Travis County Commissioners Court approved a temporary injunction that allows the park to operate as long as it maintains a safe water quality, as determined by the county. NLand was able to open in early October 2016, and all water tested at that time was deemed safe. Jon White, Division Director of Natural Resources and Environmental Quality for Travis County, says he is going to personally monitor weekly water tests from the park. The main focus will be on the levels of E. Coli, chlorine and microorganisms. The injunction will be in place for another year before it is reevaluated. White says, if all tests look normal, he expects the county to mandate less frequent tests after one year.
NLand’s suit against the county was dismissed in federal court in early October 2016.
Unfortunately, it was only open for about four weeks when a leak forced its closure. Damage under the lagoon made the company close the park for the rest of the season, and brought excess water to the homes of nearby neighbors.
Chris Jones with NLand assures homeowners that things have changed. “Emerging technologies present never before seen challenges, and our team has worked to develop a solution that will provide the best surf experience possible for our guests.”
He continued, “Last October, we discovered tears in the liner and damage under the lagoon. Over the winter, we worked on repairs and improvements, including some alterations to the shores to prevent the same issues from happening. The waves and the surfing experience will be the same as it was last year.”
Some homeowners in the vicinity, like Patricia Garcia, are concerned about the park’s reopening. She’s not assured that there won’t be another leak. After the park opened last year, she says she had water over her driveway and in her street that no one would clean up.
She complained to both the company and the county. With no answers, she got frustrated with the lack of responsibility, and took a tractor out into her own street to clear away debris. She says she knows NLand will probably maintain everything within the park, but she’s worried about what will happen in her neighborhood.
NLand Surf Park is located at 5836 East Highway 71 in Del Valle, about three miles away from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The owners of NLand originally broke ground on the park in April 2015.
Customers pay $50 to $90 for a session just under an hour in the lagoon. Coaching sessions and practice clinics are available at a higher rate. Softboards come free with every pass purchase. Food is available on-site.Tune in to KXAN News at 6 to hear how NLand plans to keep its neighbors safe and dry after more than six months of repairs.