Where’s a great place to train for Olympic surfing? Maybe Central Texas

What makes a better training ground for surfing’s Olympic debut — a wild and unpredictable ocean wave, or a manufactured, freshwater one generated at a pool in Central Texas?

Officials with USA Surfing are betting on the latter, for at least part of the time. A few weeks ago, they sent their 2018 World Junior Surf Championship Training Team to BSR Surf Resort outside of Waco, where, more than 200 miles from the nearest ocean, 16 young Olympic hopefuls caught air and got barreled in human-engineered waves dyed a peculiar shade of blue.

“An hour here is equal to a week in the ocean,” said 16-year-old team member Samantha Sibley of San Clemente after a dawn training session during which she practiced a move called an alley oop that involves launching herself into the air and slowly rotating. “Surfers coming out of these pools are going to be insanely good, and they’re going to get good fast.”

“This wave is so rippable, so fun,” said team member Taro Watanabe, 16, of Malibu, Calif. “You can do anything you want. It’s a weird feeling sitting in a pool, not the ocean, but it feels like a normal wave.”

FROM 2017: Trying the intermediate wave at NLand Surf Park

BSR Surf Resort opened in May. Since then, a steady stream of high-profile surfers, including Carissa Moore, Shane Dorian and Bethany Hamilton (yep, a shark bit her arm off in the real ocean), have taken a spin on the park’s waves.

“We can’t keep up with the demand from pros wanting to come here and train,” says former pro surfer and general manager Cheyne Magnusson.

Part of the appeal is that Magnusson can handcraft specific — and unique — waves by adjusting the settings of the wave-maker, which uses air pressure and gravity chambers to shoot out swells of water.
He can design “playlists” of waves for athletes training at the park — and members of the general public who come to experience the wave for $90 an hour — the way music aficionados create playlists on Spotify.

“Every wave in the ocean is different. Surfers by nature crave that variety,” Magnusson says. “We’ve done something here that a lot of people said couldn’t be done. We’ve created a surf trip experience. This is therapy for people — a stress reliever, medication. We need this. We’re addicts. We’ll do anything to get a wave.”

The park’s machinery creates punchy, fast and powerful waves that left the junior team whooping and hollering during its recent training sessions.

“This pool is amazing. The waves are similar to waves you’d find in an ocean,” Sibley said. “I came here not knowing how to do (aerial maneuvers). Within a day, I learned them. Being able to do them over and over — that repetition is so good for learning.”

DINING REVIEW: When two of Austin’s most prominent chefs collaborate, what happens?

Greg Cruse, chief executive officer of USA Surfing, the national governing body for surfing, started investigating the possibility of training at BSR Surf Resort after watching video clips of pros surfing there. When a member of USA Surfing’s junior team visited and landed a difficult aerial maneuver for the first time and another did a backflip and soared 10 feet above a wave, he paid even closer attention. He says the park’s waves closely mimic the waves Mother Nature is spitting out at Tsurigasaki Beach in Chiba, Japan, where surfing will debut at the 2020 Olympic Games. (Climbing and skateboarding also join the Olympic lineup then.)

The organization unveiled its 2018 World Junior Surf Championship Training Team in June, and named BSR Surf Resort the official wave pool for that team and declared it a training spot for surfers who will compete at those Olympics. Head coach Joey Buran says the facility offers optimal training conditions, even in the winter.
The park also includes a lazy river, a huge waterslide and a cable wake board circuit, and a 10-room hotel is going in, too, along with a restaurant and bar.

The new generation of wave pools replicates what surfers used to travel halfway around the world and spend thousands of dollars to ride, Cruse says. The Waco machine’s pneumatic system can turn out three waves per minute, giving the surfers dozens of opportunities to fine-tune their moves. And unlike other surf parks, officials can change the structure of the wave by adjusting the water pressure and firing sequence.

The wave pools even the playing field between athletes who grow up next to the ocean in California or Hawaii and those who, for example, live in Central Texas. “All this wave pool technology coming on line democratizes surfing,” Cruse says. “You don’t have to be elite or living on a coast to do it.”

FEEL GOOD STORY: Riders Against the Storm celebrate WWII vet Richard Overton

It all sounds a little like an updated version of the cheesy cult classic movie “North Shore,” about a kid who grew up surfing at a wave pool in Arizona, then won a trip to the North Shore in Hawaii, where the surf chewed him up and spit him out before a local surfboard shaper took him in.

“It takes a lifetime to learn how natural swells develop, how wind and tides and bottom affect waves, and here it’s the same every time. A surfer who learns in a pool environment may struggle at first in the natural environment, but I guarantee you the learning curve would be much less than if you just try to learn in the ocean,” Cruse says. “You could absolutely see a champion surfer come from one of these pools with very little ocean experience.”

So keep an eye out when the Olympics roll around.

A Texan might not medal in Japan in 2020, but with two surf parks — NLand Surf Park east of Austin and BSR Surf Resort near Waco — within an easy drive, we could be watching one of our own shred it on the Olympic stage in the not-so-distant future.

If you go

BSR Surf Resort is at 5347 Old Mexia Road outside of Waco. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Price ranges from $60 for a one-hour beginner session to $90 for a one-hour expert session. Book online at