I Tried NLand Surf Park in Austin, Texas

A Kook’s Report on the Inside Wave

First off, I’m a 41 year old who learned to surf about two years ago, so this is not a pro’s report about the Reef Wave. I’m not actually a total kook, I’ve surfed some of the world’s best longboard waves in Indonesia and Mexico, so I opted for the “Inside Wave” of the three choices available to me at NLand. This is a report for those of us who are amateur longboarders, and wanna-be awesome surfers. This is a report for those of us who manage 2 surf trips in a good year. This is a report for those of us who will spend the rest of our lives trying to be better at carving into a wave. If this sounds like you, you’ll love it at NLand.

NLand Demo Boards
The quiver of demo boards available if you’re surfing the reef wave.

The Check-In:

At NLand you book a wave for a period of one hour, on the hour. Prices range from $75 for the “inside” wave, to $90/hour for the “reef wave.” Soft-boards are included, if you’d like to rent a high-performance demo board it’s an additional $25. Of course, you can bring your own. Note – you can ONLY use your own board, or a high performance board on the reef wave.

One nice aspect of NLand is that you can see on the website how many spots are booked or still available for any given hour. So if you’re looking to avoid the crowds, you have a good shot at judging which time slots are less crowded. It seems as if even on a weekend, you can login the same morning and you’ll be fine. I did not make advance reservations, I just showed up, and got lucky with only 4 surfers in my group at 1pm on a Thursday.

Arrive early if it’s your first time, there’s a time-consuming waiver process, safety video, and the park is large so it takes a while to walk from locker room to surf, etc. If you bring your own boards, they’ll likely pick you up in a golf cart to make your transportation a little easier.

Do I think it’s too expensive? YES. The park is new, it was nowhere near full. I’m a little surprised they aren’t offering better weekday specials, or a lower first-year price, or even a monthly membership. But will I pay their prices anyway for an occasional Austin surf? Of course, because surfing is awesome.

Soft Board Quiver at NLand
Here’s the soft board quiver, red is 9′, blue is 8′ and the yellow board is a thinner 6′.

The Boards:

Since I booked the “inside” wave, renting a real surfboard was not an option for me. The gal at check-in reluctantly explained this was for safety reasons, since it’s assumed that those on the inside wave are beginners. And yes, if those in your session are not skilled surfers, there’s a lot of coming together/crashing since you’re all on the same wave.

The soft boards are stand-up paddle board wide. I mean, not exactly, but they are super wide. I surf a 9′ in the real world, but the 9′ at NLand is basically a SUP board, so I opted for the 8′ to get a little more maneuverability. When I go back, I plan to down in size again, or upgrade to the Reef Wave. They do offer a thinner 6′ soft board. Because the boards are so wide, there’s a little finger hold in the center to help you carry it. A couple times when I popped up, my toes went into the handle, so…FYI that’s just something to deal with.

They seem to be mostly catering to folks who have never surfed before, (the largest market) so I get it with the board width, but I do wish that since they require soft boards on the inside wave, that they had some better options for true “intermediate” surfers.

NLand Surf Park Pool
Water will be blue again after the August cleaning. It’s a shallow pool, so no diving dismounts!

The Wave:

Here’s where I was, at first, the most confused. All the material I read before attending mentioned three separate waves. The Bay Wave for beginners, the Inside Wave for intermediate surfers, and the Reef Wave for advanced surfers. But here’s the thing: IT’S ALL ONE WAVE.

The Bay Wave is just white water. On the inside wave, you take off in the white water, but you have the chance to turn into a beach-breaky style reform spot that behaves like a real wave. The Reef Wave is where the actual peak (or shoulder) of the wave is, and offers a shoulder-high, steep, fast, short board wave.

The waves alternate between rolling through from one side of the park, to the other side of the park, so regardless of which side of the pool you book, you’ll alternate between going right and going left on each wave.

If you really want to dial it in, keep in mind that one direction is going to be better shaped than the other depending on the wind conditions at that time of day. Unless, of course, there’s no wind, which is why the morning time slots fill up faster.

Here you can see the Reef Wave peak/shoulder to the far right closest to the pier. You can also see the Inside Wave begin to form a nice little curl in the middle section. The Bay Wave is the white water to the far left.

Here, the wave is coming from the opposite direction. You can see the Reef Wave closest to the pier, but due to wind conditions in this direction, the Inside Wave never really gets formed into a curl, and it’s mostly white water for you if you’ve booked the inside.

How It Works:

The wave does not perform exactly like a wave in the ocean, and as soon as I got comfortable with this idea, I had a great time. If I could give just ONE piece of advice, it would be this – let go of the expectation that this is somehow a simulated real-world environment. The wave at NLand is it’s own thing, and it’s fun!

Your group lines up in a straight line, parallel to the pier. When the wave rolls through, avoid the tendency to paddle forward! You want to pick up the wave from your line-up spot, so allow it to come to you. Once you’re up, you turn towards the pier to stay in the pocket and, ideally, surf parallel to everyone else on the wave who is doing the same thing. When the wave pitters out, you have about 90 seconds (more than enough time) to paddle back to your “line up” spot, then do it again facing the opposite direction.

Here’s another way in which it’s not like the real world: It’s the job of the better surfer not to hit the person who is kooking out.  Kooks have the right of way. So if you’re up and surfing towards the pier, in the pocket and having a nice ride, when the person in front of you is unable to turn in the proper direction and stay ahead of you, you have to back off while they ride the white water towards shore. This frequently happens on the inside wave, since it’s much easier for beginners to ride the white water away from the peer, than to turn and get in to the curl of the actual wave.

Therefore: The spot at the front of the line-up closest to the end of the pool is a very good spot because there’s no one ahead of you – unfortunately it’s also the shortest ride.

Because I did not surf the Reef Wave, I have no idea how the line-up works in that section, my guess is there MUST be a process of rotation. On the reef wave, only one person can surf at a time, and you’re much less likely to get the chance to stand up if the person lined up behind you is good and catching each wave. Explain this to us in the comments if you’ve been in the Reef Wave line-up! 🙂 

If you catch every wave, you have the opportunity to pop up 30 times in one hour. No matter what, this has got to make you a better surfer. It’s like being on a treadmill of surf.

We were given the “last 2” call about 10 minutes before the top of the hour, and asked to clear out 5 minutes before. I assume this is to give everyone time to paddle back to shore, get the coaches switched out and the next group in. We EASILY could have surfed two more waves. Just sayin.’

Oh, and the time slot after hours was empty, confirming that there’s a very low probability of anyone throwing in any freebies around here.

Soft Boards at NLand Surf Park
This blue soft board is the 8′ board.

Odds and Ends:

The pricing kills me. Give me a weekday discount, give me a discount for deciding to stay and do a second surf an hour later. Give me a monthly membership. Please. I could come here three times, or save that same amount of money and buy a ticket to the best longboard wave in the world at my Baja Surf Casa.

Give me some SHADE and a nice place to hang out if I get there early or hang out after. There are a few picnic benches lining the pool, but no shade anywhere, so be prepared for the full Texas sun.

There’a a very strict “no toes in the water” policy for those on the $5 guest pass. I understand that this is for safety reasons, but it needs to be improved upon somehow. There is a little pseudo-beach area where kids can play in the sand. Why not build up the berm at the end of the pool and make this a safe place for someone to take a quick dip?

This is a park for short boards. Ultimately, you want to be on the Reef Wave on a real surf board. And the Reef Wave is a steep, fast wave for short boarders.

The bottom line? Surfing is always fun. You’re surfing in Austin, Texas! You could surf up to 30 waves in an hour! You’re surfing! The pricing is going to prevent me from making this a frequent activity, but I had an absolute blast, it’s ALWAYS awesome to surf, and I would certainly go back.

IMG_2898

 

Learn to surf with us! Join Baja Surf Yoga for a Women’s Surf & Yoga retreat in Todos Santos, BCS Mexico. We’ll begin every day with meditation and yoga, then walk to the beach for a private surf lesson with our coaches. Great food, good people, beautiful location.  January 25-30, 2018

Sara-Mai Conway is an amateur surfer, yoga and meditation instructor. She’s grateful to NLand Surf Park for allowing her to work on her pop-up in landlocked, Austin, Texas, and cannot wait to go back. 

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