Surf on the Range

Bringing the perfect wave to a swath of Texas ranch land

Photo: Kenny Braun

A surfer rides a man-made wave at NLand outside Austin.

Around the end of last summer, Doug Coors realized that a dream he’d chased for decades had finally become a reality. The fifty-year-old great-great-grandson of Adolph Coors, of banquet beer fame, had caught the surfing bug in Hawaii in his early twenties. As a lifelong Coloradan, though, he couldn’t surf as often as he wanted. An engineer by trade, he had started sketching ideas for an inland surf park that would let him and other landlocked surfers ride waves year-round. His designs never proved viable, but he held on to the dream and kept looking for ways to make it happen.

Now, as he stood on a 160-acre piece of scrubby ranch land a few miles east of Austin, Coors looked out from a wide pier across a man-made lagoon the size of nine football fields, where seventy or eighty people on colorful boards were riding perfectly formed head-high waves that rolled across the water over and over again. Children were picking up new skills during weeklong surf camps in the gentler parts of the lagoon. There were guests who’d flown in from Florida and California, locals who’d become regulars—even one who, over the course of the season, had lost sixty pounds from his frequent surfing.

NLand surf park, which kicks off its 2018 season this spring, is North America’s first dedicated surf park and the largest in the world. Coors, with short-cropped gray hair and a mellow vibe, marvels at his creation in uncharacteristically ebullient terms: “It’s absolutely magical and crazy.” If he has his way, it will be the first of several in coming years.

The park first became a real possibility, Coors says, about six
years ago, when a Spanish com
pany called Wavegarden un-veiled a new system that creates waves by running a winglike device called a “foil” through the water under a central pier in a large pool. The bottom of the lagoon is contoured like an ocean floor, which influences the shape of the waves as they roll toward the shore. Coors knew immediately he had to bring the technology to the United States. “It took a while to get Wavegarden to listen to me,” he says, but by late 2013 he was scouring Austin for the right piece of property.

Despite what Coors says has been “tens of millions of dollars” of investment by his family, technical headaches have gotten in NLand’s way time and again. There was a lawsuit with the county over how to categorize the park, since nothing like it has existed before. After the park opened for the first time, in 2016, with much fanfare, it had to promptly shut down again after the liner under the lagoon tore. Then, last year, NLand quietly reopened in May and Coors held his breath for months, waiting to see what would go wrong next. Nothing did. He rolled out a juice bar and a gear shop and a healthyish restaurant (fish tacos, quinoa avocado bowls, a fine burger). And by September, as he finally allowed himself to exhale and enjoy the scene, he added a craft brewery on-site for après-surf drinks around the fire pits on the deck. (No, NLand doesn’t serve Coors.)

For all the beachy charm, nobody will mistake NLand for an actual beach—not least because of the cattle wandering the neighboring fields. Coors also doesn’t pretend it perfectly mimics ocean surfing. “Part of the adventure of surfing is the quest for a great wave,” he says. Instead, NLand offers a place to learn and work on skills in nearly ideal conditions. “Think of it like a climbing gym, as opposed to hiking four hours to the perfect rock wall.” He adds in his deadpan, “Plus, there are no sharks.”