Have plans for Palm Springs surf park crested? Lack of recent activity at site, online leads to speculation
The project, dubbed Palm Springs Surf Club, attracted high-profile backers who have had little to say about it for years. It's one of four that could open in and around the Coachella Valley as the state faces an ongoing drought.-
While a proposed La Quinta surf park has been making headlines this week, the completion date of a similar project at a former Palm Springs water park site remains a bit of a mystery.
Developers of the project — Pono Partners LLC – purchased the 21-acre site of the former Wet ‘n’ Wild (previously Knott’s Soak City) off South Gene Autry Trail in January 2019, intending to open Palm Springs Surf Club (PSSC) in 2020.
Approvals for a $50 million renovation – designed to create a high-end surf park catering to professional and amateur surfers alike – soon followed at City Hall. The project was to move forward in three phases, including renovations to existing mechanical components, expansion of a wave pool, and renovation of the restaurant and spa areas.
Years after the project was approved, area residents and visitors, sweltering in the familiar but oppressive desert heat, wonder exactly when they might be able to cool off at the water park again, but fear it might be never.
Flinn Fagg, deputy city manager for the city who most recently served as director of Planning Services, said he last spoke with the developers in April. They told him they were planning to open the first phase of renovations sometime later this summer. But while signs of past construction activity are visible at the site, those who work and live nearby said there has been no indication that deadline will be met.
Ashley Metzger, director of public affairs and water planning for Desert Water Agency (DWA) — which has offices on the same street as the planned surf park — said Wednesday there has been no recent activity at the site and that, “…the last time we spoke with them was the day they were approved.”
Eric Munoz, chief development officer for PSSC, did not reply to emails from The Post seeking clarification on any of the project’s dates, including an opening. Phone calls to him went straight to voicemail that had not been set up.
Further adding to speculation that the project may be off track for opening this year, if at all, is the fact its website and social media accounts have little to no activity:
- Its website is just one page with a prompt to sign up for a mailing list for more information.
- The project’s Instagram account has never posted.
- Its Facebook account was created in May of this year and has only a few photos of waves and a preliminary logo.
- Jamo Willis, listed as the creative director of the PSSC, last posted on his Instagram account in November 2020, saying they hoped to open in “early 2022.”
High-profile backers of the project, including professional surfers Cheyne Magnusson and Kalani Robb, have also been silent about it for years:
- Magnusson’s last social media post about the surf park was in August 2020.
- Robb last posted about it in March of 2021.
- Surfloch, whose technology is behind the planned wave pool, last posted about it in April 2021, but does have images of a test wave in Palm Springs on its website.
Metzger said DWA, a key partner in the project, is eager to work with the developers to assure they have everything they need to move forward. Still, she said, just as with other proposed surf parks in the Coachella Valley, the timing appears less than ideal.
“The fact that it happens to be built during a drought, that’s obviously not going to be ideal, optics-wise,” Metzger said. “But if they’re going to have comparable use to what was there before, then that’s something we’ve already planned for.”
As initially proposed and approved, plans show a renovated lazy river and the construction of new buildings to be used for restaurants, a gym, a spa, and a surfboard shop.
If the surf park were to open, it would likely win an arms race of sorts as the first of four large surf parks planned for the Coachella Valley. Also in the works are the Thermal Beach Club, DSRT Surf in Palm Desert, and Coral Mountain surf park in La Quinta.
Earlier this week, the La Quinta City Council faced a dozen members of the public, all of whom were opposed to the construction of the surf park in their city. Many cited water concerns as well as traffic, noise, and light problems. The Council, which has yet to vote on the project, issued a continuance to the developer and plans to consider the proposal again in September.
The Palm Springs project has not faced the same level of public outcry, most likely because it is taking the place of a former water park. The project did not require extensive environmental studies, and the developer claims that because some slides would be demolished during construction, it would actually use less water than the Wet ‘n’ Wild.
The most activity seen recently at the site has been online in splashy videos featuring skateboarder Tony Hawk from 2019 and another video from June 2020 featuring one of the most popular YouTubers, Casey Neistat, along with professional surfers.
In that video, Neistat showed off the preliminary wave pool to his more than 12 million subscribers. Most of the professional surfers featured in the video are investors or are involved in the park.