A California group now owns BSR Cable Park, an attraction off Old Mexia Road that developed a Jekyll-and-Hyde reputation as deaths and lawsuits arrived alongside good times and surfing contests.
The four business partners controlling what now is called Waco Surf have ties to San Diego, California, though David Taylor lives in Waco and worked with former owner Stuart Parsons. He recalls the “explosion in the surfer world,” when BSR invited enthusiasts to ride the new waves in Central Texas.
But he also remembers what BSR, now Waco Surf, became in the opinion of some. Taylor said BSR created the vibe of “loose, wild and a little bit reckless.” He said he would not have taken his pre-school daughter there under old management.
“That culture has changed,” Taylor said. “It takes time to weed out the old energy, the old vibe, but we see what it can become. The place is amazing, safe, fun, light and vibrant. It’s a special place to go, magical.”
But whimsy does not come cheap, as new ownership learned. The partners shelled out $2 million to install a new water filtration system as their interest in acquiring the venue from Parsons strengthened. Crews upgraded what they call Waco Beach, placing there Surfside Shack to serve tacos, salads, burgers, Pinewood Coffee products and cold drinks. The Dive Bar has something stronger.
“Before, they relied upon food trucks to keep people happy,” Taylor said.
Taylor said he and a management team worked with Parsons to install the filtration system, “which was a condition of the deal.”
Two VIP suites were added to Waco Surf Hotel, where 11 existing rooms received new paint, fixtures and furniture. Rooms with an “oceanfront” view rent for $279 a night, those garden-side fetch $259 nightly. Lodging became a priority as ownership sought to promote the park’s new Stay and Surf program that offers guests limited water access, Taylor said.
New to Waco Surf is the Recovery Pool, “for those needing to get some down time after a full day shredding waves,” a press release says.
Construction will start in July on something new, a simulated river wave between the cable park and the surf park. Water moving up a ridge will serve as a learning tool for people new to surfing, Taylor said.
“You can learn the sport before moving on to the wave pool,” he said.
“One of our biggest investments was in the (wave) pool,” Taylor said. “We poured a bunch of new concrete, pulled up the liner, and now the water is crystal clear, like you’re surfing in Fiji. We made improvements to infrastructure to support pool operations. We cleaned up the slide area, revamped the slides and the jumps in the cable park, which were not up to industry standards.”
Taylor said the water park officially reopens to the public May 7, the day before Mother’s Day. Surf sessions are now available by reservation, and the cable park will open April 2. Other attractions are the Lazy River and Waco Beach & Surf Center.
“Waco Surf is truly a unique attraction that will add to Waco’s statewide, national and even international appeal,” said Carla Pendergraft, who markets the Waco Convention Center, responding to new ownership.
Pendergraft said Waco Surf has the world’s longest lazy river, attracts serious professional surfers from all over the world, “and is becoming one of the attractions we use to differentiate Waco from other towns.”
Taylor said ownership hopes to add one new attraction each year, maybe two, and has another 300 acres available for expansion. He said the investors own the entire 500-acre site, and Parsons no longer is involved.
He said ideally the park will draw 3,000 people a day on weekends during the spring and summer. Early estimates suggest visitors will pay about $40 per day, per person, with the cable and surf parks priced separately, he said.
“We did approach Stuart about acquiring the park. It was time for him to pass this thing on,” Taylor said. “He created an incredible thing out there, but he didn’t have the operational skills, or didn’t really want to run it. But he did create something special, and we appreciate that.”
Taylor said partner Luke Schock, from San Diego, has more than 30 years in banking and serves the group as a financing resource.
“He was instrumental in helping us line up financing, and he’s in charge of capital growth projects,” Taylor said. “We’re a small group doing everything on our own. We’re not venture capital or private equity. We’ll grow out mindfully, one attraction or a couple of attractions at a time.”
Discussing demographics, Taylor said 60% to 70% of those visiting the park during the summer are from Texas. Conversely, about 70% of those here to take part in a “surfer component,” are from outside the state.
Brothers Jason and Matt Simmons, also from San Diego, “have an extensive background in land development and land entitlement. They were unbelievably helpful in getting water and electricity to the site, subdividing the property. They’re very hands on when it comes to development projects.”
The wave pool at the park opened in the spring of 2018 and was the first of its kind, allowing the speed, size and shape of each wave to be tailored. That fall, a New Jersey man who had surfed there died of an amoeba, known as the “brain-eating amoeba,” which health officials later found in one of the park’s water features. The man’s family later sued the park. A new filtration system was added by the next summer.
The park also was the site of two drownings. A 42-year-old man was found unresponsive in the wave pool the night of July 4, 2019, and a 12-year-old boy, who officials said at the time had wandered away from his family, drown in a swimming area in June 2014. Officials said the swimming area was marked “swim at your own risk” and the child was found under inflatable play equipment.
The former owner and two employees also were arrested on assault charges in May 2014, which were later dropped. Four guests involved in the incident sued the park. An attorney at the time described the incident as a “drunken brawl.”
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