Scroll through for the virtual glory. All photos: Quinn Matthews
We Took Three Of The World's Best Aerialists to Waco, Texas
Barron Mamiya, Albee Layer, and Ian Crane hit 200 perfect air sections in four hours.
Heading into the trip, Albee Layer was sceptical about the Waco wavepool when we pressed upon him the invitation.
“It looks sick," Albee admitted, the Hawaiian rubbing his belly, half-jokingly. "But are you sure it’s gonna be able to launch all 200 pounds of me?”
We assured Albee the pool’s air chamber technology created an deceptive amount of push, even causing the wave to suck up before breaking just like it would in the ocean.
And the air section, well... it certainly wasn’t small.
Perhaps due to his slim, athletic frame, or his generally easy-going nature, Ian Crane was more easily convinced.
“Air sections? BBQ? Drunken waterslides? I’m there boys!”
And Barron Mamiya?
Despite his surging profile and ongoing CT qualification run, when you get down to brass tacks, the Hawaiian is still an 18-year-old kid.
There’s nothing he’d rather be doing than punting airs off a trampoline ramp all weekend long.
So with The People’s Wavepool™ booked for the morning and our crew inbound from California, photographer Sam Moody and myself – who had been in Waco since Tuesday – went to bed dreaming of all the flips, spins, and general aerial buffoonery we’d see the following morning.
Instead, the crew struggled to adapt.
One wave down, one board lost. Barron Mamiya.
Barron went for an air on his first wave, tried to stomp it in flats, and blew the nose straight off his board.
Instantly regretting his three pre-surf waffles, Albee’s turns looked lethargic, his airs without pop.
Ian couldn’t seem to get a read on the wave, causing him to zig when zagging would have been more appropriate.
Recognizing the surfers’ hardships, Waco’s standout local and wavepool operator, Cheyne Magnusson, started throwing them righthand air sections to stop the bleeding.
It only got worse.
Barron went for a flip first try but lost his board in the wind. Ian nearly stuck a backside straighty but was knocked off by the whitewater. Albee seemed completely out of sorts, even forgetting the tricks he’d jotted on a notepad prior to entering the pool.
Nearly an hour had passed, and nobody had landed a single worthwhile maneuver. I was beginning to get nervous. Beyond the not-insignificant funding Stab provided to greenlight this operation, I felt a deep personal obligation for this project to succeed.
With the press of a button, you can have jetty-wedge perfection delivered to your doorstep.
Throughout the past week, I’ve been loudly singing BSR’s praises from the hilltops, even going so far as claiming the place may potentially be more important to the future of the sport than Slater’s Surf Ranch.
But after this initially poor showing, I was left to wonder: Is the wave not as immaculate as I believed it to be? Are our surfers mentally shackled by the surrealness of the pool; the wall?
Or are Albee Layer, Ian Crane, and Barron Mamiya just not that good?
Frankly, I’m not sure which of these potential truths would have hurt me the most.
Then, a miracle! After switching modes to the left air section, which due to the light south breeze could have been considered “side-offshore”, Ian Crane landed an air — a no-spin wheelie with a little slob grab, but an air nonetheless.
We cheered. The boys high-fived.
The floodgates... they opened wide.
After Ian's initial make Barron couldn't seem to fall, nailing Julian-esque reverses on almost every section.
Barron Mamiya stuck a massive backside full-rotation on the next wave, which would be his first of eight in the next 60 minutes. Albee hit the same rotation except with an Indy grab, and an audible sigh of relief escaped me.
For the next hour, Ian, Barron, and Albee landed roughly 50% of the airs they attempted, most of which were full-rotation or beyond.
They fed off each other.
They fed off the country music.
They fed off Cheyne, who every time somebody stuck an air, would play the brrr brrr brrr brrr brrrrrrrr sound from hip-hop FM stations.
But mostly they fed off the wave, which by producing the same trampoline-like ramp every 45 seconds, gave them the platform they’ve always wanted - nay, needed - to rapidly progress their aerial abilities.
Watching how quickly these surfers, and especially young Barron, figured out this pool out and started dialing in their maneuvers convinced me that BSR is our first look into surfing’s aerial future.
But it won’t remain revolutionary forever.
Yes, if you must know, Albee had a board especially made for wavepools (and nosegrabs). But did he pull the double-rotation in the pool?
“In the next three years, people will have landed everything that’s possible to land in this pool,” Albee said, referring to the wave’s solitary limitation—size.
“But it’s fucking insane. So much better than I’d imagined it would be. It’s almost perfect.”
Barron and Ian agreed. The air section, and the wave itself really, was much better than they believed a little pond in Waco, Texas could ever be.
After our two hour session, the boys were kicked out of the pool to accommodate the masses.
Saturday was the pool’s grand opening and the scene was verifiably wild. Kooks, bodyboarders, and Texas surf teams infiltrated the pool, trading waves (and sometimes not) in a conventionally unspectacular but highly entertaining fashion.
Around them, flocks of college students and otherwise inebriated folks basked in the Texan sun, sharing their time between the Lazy River (which offers beer cooler tubes) and the Royal Flush (a series of near-vertical waterslides that launch riders into a pool of drunkards and rednecks).
While kids are more than welcome at Barefoot Ski Ranch, the BYOB status makes it clear this place was designed as an adult theme park.
This is Texas.
After embracing the scene at BSR, Barron, Albee, and Ian spent the rest of the day watching their clips, mentally preparing for the next morning. Knowing you’ll get 40 perfect air sections come sunrise is a unique psychological burden to bear.
They didn’t sleep particularly well.
We arrived early the next morning, as the surfers were exponentially more excited than the first day thanks to their newfound appreciation for wavepool air sections. The south winds had come to a standstill, so Day 2 allowed Barron, Ian, and Albee to attack the right with increased confidence.
Albee was on his typical program of inventing new maneuvers, trying them over and over again to the detriment of his make ratio.
At one point he became fed up with falling and proclaimed he was going to start going for “standard maneuvers” so he could stack a few clips for our edit.
Then, in a moment of sincere introspection, Albee came to refute his own logic.
“Actually nah, fuck that! I came here to land shit I can’t do, not shit I know I can,” he said, deciding to continue on the progressive path.
Albee feels a true compulsion to push the sport of surfing, a feeling made even stronger by his belief that the world’s most talented surfers are progressively neutered by the WSL’s archaic competitive format. So he kept trying new shit, falling on most, but feeling good about the fact that at least he was sticking to his morals.
“Filipe’s still never landed a new trick,” he reminded our crew.
Meanwhile, Ian had already landed a number of impressive backside variations. “I’m just trying random stuff,” he laughed, mid-session. “Half the airs I’ve done, I’d never really thought about before coming here.”
One maneuver he had considered before visiting Waco was the lofty grabrail shuv-it, made famous by Dane Reynolds.
After a few near-makes, he stuck an absolute monster rotation, changing his board’s direction by hand while floating several feet above the manmade lip. Ian rode out switch, looked back to the crew and threw his arms up in disbelief.
Ian went at the section with the most variation of the three flyboys we solicited for this pool party.
This was just the inspiration Barron needed.
Despite being considerably younger than Albee and Ian, Barron, 18, made it clear from the get-go that his intention was to stomp the biggest air of the weekend. The Hawaiian is uber competitive, and not in the sense that he wants others to fail, but rather he wants them to succeed so he can rise above them with more impressive feats of his own.
Ian’s varial put him over the edge.
On the very next wave, his intentions painstakingly clear, Barron hit the section and yanked his head backwards, simultaneously grabbing the rails to stay connected with his board.
Within a split second Barron was back over top of his board, heading not for a fluffy landing a la Seth Moniz but instead for the wave’s flattened trough. Just before Barron hit the water, a bit of whitewash scooted under his board, giving him just enough cushion to absorb the weight of the flip and ride away cleanly.
Barron had a singular goal in mind and he achieved.
“I saw Seth’s flip and wanted to do one too,” Barron said of his countless attempts at the double-grab, cork rotation. “I grew up surfing with the Monizes, and whenever I see them do something sick, it makes me want to try something crazy too.”
While this pool provides the opportunity for the world’s best to perform backflips on command, it also offers "lesser" surfers the ability to dial in maneuvers that elude them in ocean surfing.
Barron’s manager, and ex-QS weapon, Shaun Ward surprised himself by landing a few legitimate frontside punts during his time in the tub. After sticking a clean, tail-high air reverse on the righthander, Shaun paddled back out with a watermelon grin.
“I can't even do frontside airs,” Shaun laughed. “I haven’t done anything like that in 10 years!”
Between the Pros and the Joes, it’s become abundantly clear after spending the week in Waco: This pool is going to change everything.
Stay tuned for the full edit from our trip, dropping in 48 hours.