Stab Interview: How Cheyne Magnusson Became ‘That Wavepool Guy’
20-year Pro surfer transitions to world’s most highly-regarded wave DJ — first in Texas, now in CA.
An integral player in the development of the first full-sized American Wave Machines’ (AWM) pool in Waco, Texas; now a major partner in the soon-to-be-opened Lochtech pool at Palm Springs Surf Club — you probably know Cheyne Magnusson as “that wavepool guy”.
This isn’t necessarily the title Cheyne aspired to achieve — but sometimes, life gives you opportunities. Sometimes you grab a hold of those opportunities, they snowball out of control, and you decide to uproot your life and chase the latest trend in the rapidly evolving adventure economy. Sometimes, even if by accident, you become a maverick in that niche and earn the title “that wavepool guy”.
In this Stab Interview, we’ll learn how a Maui-bred, Swedish-blooded former pro surfer landed where he is today — running the show at California’s soon-to-be most popular new attraction and holding the keys to the nuclear codes that will launch the future of artificial wave design.
Frankly, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
A brief anecdote.
On the final day of the comp, a video was released by the now defunct @barefootskiresort page, featuring a never-before-seen artificial wave deep in the heart of Texas.
“It was Jamie [O’Brien]’s idea to drop the video that day” Cheyne admits. “Everyone was like, ‘We can’t do it, the American Wave Machine said we can’t go live yet.’ But we were like ‘Screw that, we have to do it’ [laughs].”
The Waco pool stood in stark contrast to the singular perfection of Surf Ranch — its setup was short, punchy, and offered multiple waves in a set. What really set the AWM wave apart was its ability to properly close-out, resulting in an air section that launched surfers to incredible heights before depositing them safely into a bed of pillows.
“We made that ramp in one day,” says Cheyne. “At first, we just told them to send a right wave into a left wave. It launched us like crazy, but there was no landing at all. Super sketchy. We would run back to the control room to make some changes, then Jamie [O’Brien] and I would go test the new versions of the wave. We ended up getting it dialed really quickly.”
While Cheyne and Jamie configured the settings, it was Seth Moniz who introduced Waco’s ramp to the public with a lofty and seamless flip. Much like Slater’s first wave at KSWC, Seth’s air is a vision that will forever be seared in our collective consciousness. It also kicked Stab’s fledgling editorial team into gear.
Two days after BSR’s grand reveal, then-Stab-filmer Sam Moody and I were on a flight to Dallas, where we’d collect our bags and travel one hour south to the Barefoot Ski Resort (BSR) in Waco, Texas. Despite showing up uninvited and unannounced, Cheyne welcomed us with open arms.
“After we released that video, I went from having 12 unread messages to more than a hundred overnight,” he recalls. “But you guys were the only ones who actually showed up in Texas. I thought that was fucking rad.”
For the next four days, Cheyne and BSR owner Stuart Parsons treated us to countless sessions in the pool, not to mention tours around the expansive BSR grounds and local Waco scene. Thanks to their generosity (and some quick-thinking from Sam McIntosh), we were able to fly in Barron Mamiya, Albee Layer and Ian Crane to shoot the first proper short film on their newly minted ramp.
Three months later, Noa Deane defeated Eli Hanneman to win the first-ever Stab High at Waco’s Barefoot Ski Resort. Cheyne was on the controls, sending surfers the same ramps that he had meticulously curated that day with JOB.
And thus begins the legend of “that wavepool guy”.
Stab: Before we get into the wavepool stuff, let’s go back a little. Where are you from, and how did you get into surfing?
Cheyne Magnusson: Well, I grew up in Lahaina Maui…RIP Lahaina. It was actually my grandmother who got me into surfing. She loved surfing, and my mom was actually a good surfer too. My dad was a pro skater, but he hated surfing [laughs].
You had a pretty lengthy pro career. How did that play out?
I got sponsored by Quiksilver as a kid and was with them for like 11 years. I had a pretty good amateur career, winning some contests and whatever, but at the time air shows were a pretty big thing, so my team manager pushed me to go that route and do more freesurfing stuff than ASP events.
I was having a lot of fun, but then two years later we had a new TM, and he wanted to throw me back on the QS. I cracked the top 100 a few times but never made the tour — I felt like my competitive edge had been dulled from the freesurfing years. You get a taste cruising around, going on trips to Bali, partying, just living that life — it’s hard to get thrown back in with guys who were building up their seed or whatever. I couldn’t hack it, man.
I had no idea the 2000s QS surfers were all practicing semen retention. I thought that was kind of a new thing. Anyway, you were in a reality show too, right?
Oh god, I knew you were gonna bring this up [laughs]. It’s a tough one because you think it gets forgotten, but it never does.
I was in Living Lahaina. I was 22 at the time, and I fell for every producer trick in the book. It wasn’t real reality, it was ‘scripted reality’, so they kinda made me do a bunch of stupid antagonizing shit. If I came across me back then, I probably would have punched myself in the face — and I did get punched in the face after the fact, a few different times. I mean it’s Hawaii, dude, look at me [laughs].
Nothing quite brings you back to earth like a fist to the face. Anyway, you eventually landed with Body Glove, right?
Yeah, I actually had a few different deals on the table from ..Lost and Quik, but after meeting Greg Browning, who was running the Body Glove team at the time, I was like, ‘Dude, I want to be with these guys.’ So I made the decision to go with Body Glove and then rode for them for about 10 years. Then when I hit my 30s, I asked them if I could come work behind the scenes. I’ve always wanted to understand the other side of the surf industry, and that probably has a lot to do with who my dad is and what he did in his career*.
OK, so you transition to the business side of BG. How does that lead you to wavepools?
One of the coolest things about Body Glove was that they were a really tight family company. When I was there, I think they were on the second generation of Meistrell ownership with the third generation working behind the scenes. One of them, Robbie Meistrell, always had these renderings of wave parks in his office — he was one of those guys who was all in on pools before they were even really a thing.
Through this fascination, Robbie had a connection with American Wave Machines, and I ended up getting connected with them through him. First it was just some promotional stuff through Body Glove, but eventually we went and checked out their offices and saw the tabletop model of Perfect Swell. I was just blown away, like, ‘Whoa, you push this and it does that…well what if we do it this way?’ We ended up playing with it for a while and I was totally sold.
Skip ahead a year or so, and Body Glove got sold to a venture capital firm. Things were getting kind of weird there, so I left, but I was still doing that promo stuff for AWM. Then one day they invited me to a meeting with a potential buyer of their Perfect Swell tech, who happened to be Stuart Parsons.
Who’s Stuart Parsons?
Oh man, who is Stuart? [laughs] Stuart is the former owner of the Barefoot Ski Ranch in Waco, Texas. I think it’s called Waco Surf now. But he was totally different from every other business dude in a button-down suit that American Wave Machines had met with before. He came in with his son Royal, and I don’t even think they’d slept, because they went out in Encinitas the night before.
So we go into the meeting, and Stuart is actually a really smart guy. He understood that surfing is a subculture and that pros really move the needle and can bring in more people. Stuart had been a pro barefoot skier, so he really got that and honed in on me because I had been a pro surfer. We had a really good chat, but at the end I remember thinking, ‘This is hilarious. But there’s no way these guys are gonna put a wavepool in the middle of Texas.’
Then two or three weeks later, they called me up and were like, ‘Hey, we signed the contract.’”
And then Stuart hired you to run the thing?
He was literally like, “You’re the only surfer I know. I have no idea how to do any of this. Will you come help us out?”
I basically told him, “You don’t need to convince me, you need to convince my wife.” So he flew us out there, gave us the red carpet treatment, and just like that we decided to relocate to Waco. It was a wild ride [laughs], but we had a great time.
So eventually you decided to leave BSR (now Waco Surf) and move back to California — how did you end up working with wavepool legend Tom Lochtefeld on the Palm Springs Surf Club?
When we left Waco, I started getting a lot of calls from people who wanted to build wavepools around the world. I guess they saw the success of BSR and thought, ‘Well this guy knows how to run a wavepool’, even though that was pretty far from the truth — I was only out in Waco for a few years and still had so much to learn.
Anyway, one of the people who reached out was Tom Lochtefeld, who is the owner of a different wavepool tech called Surfloch. He sent me some videos of his software and it looked pretty cool, so we went down and met with Tom and played with his scale model. I saw some of the wave patterns that they already had, and I was like, ‘Hey, it’s pretty almondy. Let me see if we can make it thinner or thicker by changing these settings. How do I input the delays?’
These wavepool systems are all pretty different — it’s like if you grew up with a Nintendo 64 and you were accustomed to that controller, then you went over to your friend’s house and he had a PlayStation. It’s confusing at first, but after a short amount of time, I was able to use the Surfloch tech to make tubes more hollow, create some whitewater off the wall — whatever I wanted really. So I told Tom, ‘Yeah, this will work.’
Then my old buddy Kalani Robb went out and talked to James Dunlop, who ended up providing our seed money and helped gather a group of guys to finance this thing. And Tom mentioned he had a connection with the Wet n Wild park out in Palm Springs…
Why did you guys make the small version of the pool first?
It’s obviously expensive and time-consuming, but with these new wavepool techs, you need to validate them using three different models. If all three models line up, you can take one out of the equation. So you do a computer model, a small-scale model, and then you go full-scale. And if they all match, you can drop one. The one you drop is the small-scale model, because it costs money to build, it’s a physical thing, etc. If you can trust the computer model, then you can build more full-scale projects based on the computer model alone.
So the small pool was a necessary investment for the future of Surfloch. That’s the downside to pioneering a new tech.
But it worked, right? That pool was ready in early 2020 if I’m not mistaken.
That’s right. We had everything in place, but then boom, covid hits and the world takes a shit. A lot of our investors pulled out because people didn’t know what was going to happen. We had all these guys lined up to come see it, to help raise the money. But then lockdowns went into effect the night before our first investor visit, and they all canceled. So everything took a lot longer than expected.
Four years and $80 million(!) in development costs later, you guys finally got it done. The full-size pool is ready, you’ve got all your permits, and you can finally open to the public on January 1. How does that feel?
Man, it’s hard to say. But just those moments when guys like Chippa and Eithan and Bobby come through (full video dropping Monday on Stab Premium!), and you see them actually ripping and pushing hard on turns — it recharges the stoke batteries and reminds me of why I got into this in the first place.
Personally, I get a better feeling from guys coming out and performing on a wave that I created than I do surfing the waves myself. It’s almost like being a dad and seeing your kid succeed. So yeah, I feel very sentimental about the waves [laughs].
What’s your favorite wave in the PSSC pool?
Oh man. It’s gotta be the slab. The slab is so sick.
I’ve never been there, but the waves in Palm Springs look way less perfect than other pools…in a good way. It feels like there are actual sections and weird lips popping up that you can actually push against.
Absolutely. When I’m designing waves, I don’t care if they look like a drawing in a notebook. I’m trying to recreate that feeling of an epic sandbar, where the tide’s pulling out and there’s a little rip bowl that lets you bash the hell out of it. I value that over the aesthetic of a “perfect wave.”
And what about the air wave? That was obviously what launched Waco to instant fame. How’s this one coming along?
…Not great [laughs]. I’m having challenges with it, that’s for sure.
In my mind, the air section was always going to be at the end of the wave where we have a closeout section. But after getting some feedback from the guys, I think we need to put it on one of those bowlier waves, more in the center of the pool, so you can land back in the transition of the wave rather than the fluff.
I personally suck at those kinds of airs, so this could be partially on me and the generation I’m from, where we were always running to the end of the wave to do an air. But the new guys are so gnarly — they’re going out of the bowl, into the flats, and landing in the explosion. So I need to change my mentality and get to work on something new.
It sounds a lot like Lakey Peak. To me, the air section is at the end of the right. To all the guys (and Ladybirds) in Stab High, it was straight out of the bowl on that first steep section. You think you can make that same kind of magic in this pool?
I hope so! There’s a lot of weight on these shoulders. But I’m going to be focusing a lot of time on this soon — I already have a lot of ideas about how I’m going to improve it.
Anything else before we go?
Yeah. To anyone who’s a core surfer, I would just say: pay attention to how all these wavepools operate. Take note of how many guys they’re putting in each session. Take note of what the wave quality is and the product they’re offering.
What I’m seeing in this industry is a lot of people pushing for quantity over quality. And I think as surfers, we know that what we’re really after is the perfect wave. That’s why we’ll fly to places like Ireland and cover ourselves in rubber and paddle out in fucking cold water just to get pounded on the rocks. If we’re all going to pay for these experiences where we get repetitive training tools, make sure the pools you’re visiting are aware of that. That’s what we should all be striving for in the wavepool industry.
Book your slot at PSSC, here. (Update: already sold out through Jan! Feb times coming soon).
*Tony ‘T-Mag Magnusson was an iconic Swedish pro skater who invented several tricks and later went into the business side of skating, most notably becoming a cofounder of shoe brand Osiris.
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