We Tested The World’s Most Coveted Air Section In Waco, Texas
Uninvited and with low expectations, Stab was gifted a solo-session in the American Wave Machines’ newly released pool. Welcome to Barefoot Ski Ranch!
During the WSL’s 2018 Founder Cup competition at Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch, a video released on American Wave Machines’ Instagram depicted Seth Moniz landing a backflip in a never-before-seen wavepool in Waco, Texas.
This was, quite clearly, the best artificial air section ever made.
Wanting to investigate further, Stab booked its resident wavepool reporter Michael Ciaramella a ticket to Dallas the very next day, with the objective of getting inside the Barefoot Ski Resort and reporting back his findings.
This is his story.
It worked for Lemoore, so why not Waco?
That was our logic when booking plane tickets, a rental car, and a hotel in the greater Dallas area yesterday morning. Brash as it may sound, we figured there was no harm in showing up to Waco’s Barefoot Ski Ranch and seeing what happened.
Worst case scenario, we get turned around at the door.
Best case scenario, well…
Stuart Parsons, a clean-shaven Texan, earned a fortune through his family-owned roofing company and reinvested it toward his true passion of barefoot skiing. After creating what he considers the “world’s best” barefoot track on a large plot of land in Waco, Parsons realized he could expand his Barefoot Ski Ranch by including facilities for other water sports. A few years later, Parsons became convinced that wakeboarding cable parks would be the next big thing, so he added one to his property and the wakeboarders flocked. Next came the Lazy River and Royal Flush (a mega-waterslide that launches users up to 20 feet in the air before dropping into the pool below), which on top of their inherent fun included a BYOB clause, and the local college students flocked.
Business was booming, but for Parsons, there was one piece missing from his 500-acre, all-encompassing waterpark: a wavepool.
Only problem was, Parsons didn’t know a damn thing about surfing.
Texas: where all food is barbecued or fried and white horses roam the open plains.
While discussing pool options with American Wave Machines, Parsons met Cheyne Magnusson, a professional surfer from Los Angeles who had been helping AWM to design waves using their Perfect Swell technology. Cheyne is no engineer, but after 30 years in the ocean he does understand the way water moves, and due to Perfect Swell’s unique wave-producing model, which uses a series of air chambers that intake and expel water in a specific series to create different types of waves, this a highly valuable asset.
Parson recognized Cheyne’s value, and after greasing the wheels with a healthy paycheck, free on-site accomodation, and several Louis XIII shots, Cheyne was convinced of the previously inconceivable: so long as his wife was game, the Magnusson family would tear up their roots in California and move to the heart of Texas, so that Cheyne could oversee Barefoot Ski Ranch’s newly acquired wavepool, which had yet to be built.
“I took the job six months ago, and there was a point where this thing was just a giant hole in the ground. I remember losing sleep at night like, ‘Holy shit, did I just make the biggest mistake of my life?’” Cheyne told Stab. “Let’s just say I’m relieved it worked out.”
And as anybody with an internet connection already knows, work out it did.
Cheyne Magnusson, 34, the best surfer in Texas.
The BSR Surf Ranch released its first clips of the wave this Saturday, May 5th, which not-so-coincidentally coincided with the Founders’ Cup event at Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch. And while those unmanned waves garnered attention around the surf industry, it wasn’t until Seth Moniz’s backflip that people started going haywire.
Seth’s clip went viral, and just like that BSR was on the map as legitimate wavepool site. Their wave system was obviously quite different to Slater’s plow-foil design, but due to its variability and wave consistency, the Perfect Swell tech could be more vital to the progression of the sport, some pundits speculated.
While Parsons has made wise economic decisions throughout his career as a waterpark tycoon, perhaps the best deal he’s made has been buying the Perfect Swell technology and taking Cheyne along with it.
During Jamie O’Brien’s recent visit to the park, he and Cheyne started plotting how they could use the speed gained from the pool’s pre-set wedge to perform a proper air. Thanks to decades of ocean surfing, the boys knew they wanted a steep end-section with a little cushion for the landing. From there Perfect Swell’s “infinite variability” design allowed them to fiddle with different air chamber sequences, and within a couple of hours Cheyne and the crew were able to build this dreamy punt section.
For years the Barefoot Ski Ranch has been a hot commodity in the Dallas-to-Austin region. But thanks to this wavepool, and specifically because of that Cobblestones-esque air section, BSR’s radius of intrigue just exploded into the stratosphere.
In fact, in a recent poll of over 3,000 Stab readers, 52% said they would prefer to surf at BSR over any of the current existing wavepools, including Slater’s Surf Ranch (which received 41% of votes).
Reasons for this may vary, but Stab commenter Lemoore GOAT Rodeo summed up the resounding logic quite nicely:
“Waco looks like fun Gums on a sandbar day that allows big turns, a short wedging tube and a great air section. Slater’s Ranch is a long point break with a long very tight tube section but doesn’t allow for a lot of innovation or big turns. A lot of fun slappers at $100 per day versus a few leg burners at $10k per day. For the average surfer, Waco offers a better ROI.”
So having found previous success when showing up to wavepools uninvited, and seeing how culturally impactful this Perfect Swell tech had proven itself to be, we figured: What the hell, we should go to Waco.
If nothing else, we could always lounge in the Lazy River.
By Tuesday afternoon, photographer Sam Moody and I were on our way to Dallas Fort Worth with no expectations and surfboards in tow. Having called Cheyne on the way to the airport, it seemed probable we’d be able to tour the facility, but due to a litany of reasons it was unlikely we’d be able to see the pool run, let alone surf it. Which was a hard pill to swallow, but at that point we were already committed.
Arriving at Waco’s Fairfield Inn & Suites late Tuesday night, the desk clerk found our presence, and perhaps our appearances, quite amusing.
“Ya’ll flew all the way here for BSR?” she laughed. “I mean I heard it’s fun, but really?”
Little does she know, there are about to be a whole lot of surfers coming through those doors in the next weeks, months, years.
Driving from our hotel to BSR the next morning, we were able to see Waco for the first time. Another cliche that’s true: everything’s bigger in Texas – like way, way BIGGER. Compared to California where coastal property is at a premium, there seems to be so much land here that they don’t know what to do with it all. Common retailers and fast food chains sit on large swaths of land, often with their own “front lawn” the same size as a Californian land plot. The highway is wide and not because of the traffic, but for the mere fact that they had the space to make it that way. Steakhouses are abundant. Everything is green. One thing’s for certain, this is not Lemoore.
Cheyne had told us to meet him at BSR’s back gate, which is located off a gorgeous service road with fields of tall grass and wildflowers wrapping either side. After being so mesmerized by the scene that I missed my turn, we circled back and found a metal gate with two feet and a pair of antlers forming the shape of a deer skull, with words inside it saying: Barefoot Ski Ranch.
Moments later, Cheyne rolled up in a four-seater ATV to let in the gates, and just like that we were in.
“Welcome to Texas, boys!” the gregarious ginger greeted us. “Let me give you the tour.”
One of the most hospitable gents we ever did meet, Cheyne has embraced Texas’ southern charm wholeheartedly.
After checking out Cheyne’s lakeside digs – technically Parsons’ guest house which is decorated primarily with animal carcasses – we hopped in the rover and headed out to BSR’s main facility.
If the 500 acres didn’t already strike you, let me reiterate: the place is huge. Passing by the expansive barefoot track, top-of-the line wakeboard cable park, Lazy River and that menacing Royal Flush slide, we felt overwhelmed by the scope of this facility. All of that went away though, the instant we saw the pool. As an obsessed surfer and newfound wavepool enthusiast, this was all that mattered.
As we sat on a dirt mound to the above the site, the ground crew worked busily to prepare for their Thursday launch. Looking at Cheyne, you could see the nervous excitement in his eyes. This was his domain. He helped create the wave, and now he was responsible for making sure everything ran smoothly at the site. That means working 11-7 almost every day, catering to season pass holders who probably aren’t the most talented surfers. But he doesn’t seem to mind at all; this is his baby.
“So you see those light colored panels on the wall?” Cheyne inquired? “The air chambers are right below that. When we want to make a wave, we blow these massive fans in the back that push the chambers open, which then take water in, causing the pool to drop. That water then gets pushed back into the pool, where it goes from 12 feet to three feet deep very quickly, causing the wave to suck up and break.”
The chambers fire in a different series depending on the wave type they want to create. At this point, the Perfect Swell tech has eight pre-set wave types (two for beginners, six for intermediate to expert surfers) which can be run as lefts or rights. Rights start at the far right end of the chambers and break across the rest, lefts do the opposite. Some waves break in sets of two or three (about eight seconds apart) while others are run as singles (every 45-60 seconds). The wave breaks over concrete but transitions into a smooth liner once the wave has somewhat dissipated.
As we were heading inside the chamber to see how it all worked, we ran into Stuart Parsons, owner of BSR and soon to be our new best friend.
“Stuart, this is Mike and Sam from Stab,” Cheyne introduced us. “These boys just booked a ticket and flew over here to check the place out – pretty cool, huh?”
“Hey boys, welcome to BSR! What do you think?” Parsons inquired.
“This place is amazing. I mean, I’m sure you’ve seen the response…”
“Yeah 51%, I saw that!” he replied, clearly happy about the results of our poll. “Honestly I don’t know much about surfing, I’m a barefoot guy, but it’s great to see how well our pool is being received.”
“Yeah, about that… as a non-surfer, what was it that sold you on buying a wavepool?”
“Well, I honestly felt like everything was telling me to do it. Despite all the voices in my head saying ‘No, this isn’t a good idea’, I just felt like all the obvious signs were pointing to it. Plus, knowing the little that I do about surfing culture, it seems like you guys really bleed it. You bleed surfing. I like that. In fact, Cheyne, why don’t you fire this bitch up for them?”
“…Really?” Cheyne replied, incredulously.
“Yeah! These boys are surfers, right? They must have come here to surf. Let’s show them what we’re all about at BSR.”
I think the conversation might have continued, but Sam and I were already running back to the rover, trying to gather our equipment as quickly as possible before he changed his mind. Thirty minutes later we were back at the pool, watching as Cheyne sent a perfect, empty right hander across the length of the chambers. We were giddy. Jumping around on the man-made beach and high fiving like children. Sam and I were about to get a solo session at BSR’s Surf Ranch, completely by accident. How was this happening?
After surfing the wavepool for a total of 1.5 hours on four of the different settings (and all of them rights), here’s what we learned:
It’s immediately more similar to ocean surfing than is Kelly’s pool.
As you take off next to the wall, the wave sucks you up and throws you down the line. You can also do a complete turn back toward the whitewater, so long as you pick the right section and come out of it with speed. You usually have space to do three full maneuvers per wave. Also, if you’re running one of the wave types that allows for three wave sets, each wave is slightly (but consistently) different, because water is being drawn off the bottom. Oh, and if you fall one of the first two waves, be prepared to wear your friend on the head. Those next waves are following close behind follow the same exact path you just slid down.
Speaking of reef, you can get smoked out here.
Cheyne has a cute little raspberry on his arm, Moody had to take a breather after getting smoked on the wedge, and on more than one occasion I felt myself inches from losing a few layers of skin on the pool’s sandpapery bottom.
Where the wave actually breaks is probably three feet deep, which due to the power this pool possesses is definitely not out of reach. Whether you bail on a big air or get caught under the lip, this thing will have you kissing concrete no problem.
Once you get onto the liner it’s fine, but the impact zone is semi-treacherous.
Turbulent waters mean shallow landings, but it’s nothing Cheyne hasn’t dealt with before.
You can’t get that barreled.
In terms of a barrel comparison to Slater’s pool, there is none. Lemoore blows BSR out of the park. But compared to your local beach break tue, the Waco pool is quite fun. The “point break” setting technically has a barrel, but it’s so small that even I could hardly fit in it. There’s an alteration they can make to the point break where a wedge is thrown toward the end, which makes the barrel a little bit bigger but ultimately still a novelty. Speaking of novelty, one of their waves is a bona fide wedging slab, which after a chip-in takeoff offers about 1.2 seconds of tube time before smashing you with a violent chandelier. In order to survive the ride, you have to put all the weight on your back foot and take a 45-degree turn out of the tube. According to Cheyne, they’re still working to make that ride a little more user-friendly, but I found it rather enjoyable as is.
The air section.
This is what you really cared about, right? Me too.
First things first, this is not your sister’s air section. It’s scary. Hairy. A big boy ramp.
Despite being only chest high, the section raises just before you hit it, causing a trampoline effect that’s difficult to manage if you’re not an expert aerialist. From my several mediocre attempts at hitting it, I learned that if you’re going to spin, full rotations are a full-gone conclusion and that landing in the flats is inevitable. Straight airs are much easier, as they pop you straight up and have you land in the pillowy whitewash.
As proven by Seth Moniz’s flip, this ramp will launch you as high as you’d want. All told, I can’t imagine a better training ground for progressive aerial maneuvers.
This is 100 percent the future.
Foam, meet flat.
Yes, Noa Deane, you can (theoretically) acid drop into the wave.
Cheyne has tried it a few time and claims it’s totally possible, but no one has landed it quite yet. From what I can tell you’d be dropping about 10 feet from the concrete structure above the pool, and assuming you time it correctly, the landing would be quite smooth.
After catching about 40 waves in an hour and a half, still riding the high of disbelief that this was even allowed to happen, Sam and I thanked Cheyne extensively and told him this was as fun, if not more so than we’d imagined.
“No worries boys, that’s why I got into this!” Cheyne declared. “I mean, I didn’t move all the way to Texas just for a little cash. I truly believe that this is going to grow the sport of surfing, and to me that’s really important. You know, the coastlines can’t really hold any more people, and the number of surfers in the world just keeps increasing, so the only solution is to bring surfing inland.”
And Cheyne has big ideas for the future.
“Once this thing is up and running, I want to go over to Baylor University (just a few miles from BSR) to set up a surf team and get them practicing in the pool. Then I can go to Texas A&M, set up another surf team, and have them compete against one another. Then eventually, some kid might end up getting a scholarship for surfing. That’s never happened. I know for myself and many of my friends, we had to choose between going to college and following professional surfing, but in the future you might not have to. How cool would that be?”
Very, very cool.
Moody and I will remain in Waco over the next few days to document some of the happenings around Waco, plus a potential aerial super-session over the weekend.
We’ll keep you updated on our progress.
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