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We tried it: The first inland surf park in North America

Alyssa Roenigk tests out the inner break at NLand Surf Park. Ryan Magsino

Since my mid-20s when I first learned to surf, I've had a fickle relationship with surfing. I hold it in reverence as the hardest sport in the world to learn, respect the enormous number of hours it requires to become even passingly proficient and want more than anything to be good at it. Yet for many reasons -- cold water, wetsuits, a distaste for surfing by myself, rarely being near the ocean when waves are breaking, wetsuits -- I have never put in the time. "I should do this more often," is the most common sentence I utter each time I suit up to go surfing with friends.

So when I heard that after what seemed like a decade of rumors, NLand Surf Park had opened in Austin, Texas, it seemed like the perfect place to put in some work.

What it is

NLand Surf Park is the first inland surf park in North America, and it's the closest thing to surfing you'll find 200 miles from the ocean, without all the pesky pitfalls of being in the ocean. Much of what makes surfing so damn impossible to learn -- knowledge of the ocean and reading waves, skill at understanding where to sit in the lineup, when to paddle, how to duck dive, fear, the unknown, I could go on forever -- are mitigated by surfing in a controlled 4- to 8-foot-deep pool with consistent waves.

Fees and gear

An hour in the park costs between $50 (for the boogie board wave, which I never saw anyone use) to $90 for the biggest wave, called "the reef." Group coaching is $85 an hour, and private coaching is available. Surfers on the inside waves are required to use one of the park's foam-top boards, which are included with the hour session, but surfers on the reef wave may rent a fiberglass board for $25 or bring their own to use.

Currently, the park does not offer memberships or multiple-day discounts, but they're coming, as is a brewery with après surf specials.

The experience

I spent my session surfing the inside wave, which NLand's website describes, quite accurately, as "knee- to waist-high waves" with "challenging, open-face sections." My friends and I called it the Waikiki wave. The mechanism creating the wave moves north to south, and then south to north, creating a left-hand and right-hand wave every 2 minutes, 10 seconds. Watching from the beach, that felt like an endlessly long lull between waves. But in the water, they come fast, especially if you catch a wave and ride it to the end of the pool and have to paddle back into position before the next wave fires. That becomes tricky when the pool is packed, so my advice is to steer clear of midday weekend visits and start with a midweek session.

The reef wave was booked up, so I can't say I've tried it myself, although several of my friends spent their hour figuring it out. The consensus: Once you master the unnatural drop-that's-not-a-drop-but-more-of-a-super-fast-sideways-takeoff, which generally takes one to two sessions, the 35-second ride is worth the effort. Just like scoring one great wave after two hours of paddling in the ocean or launching a perfect tee shot on the 18th hole, that one wave is enough to make you come back for more.

Was it worth it?

NLand is perfect for new surfers or anyone with fears of learning in the ocean. It's also great for experienced surfers who want to work on turns or maneuvers that require reps. In one one-hour session at NLand, I surfed about 20 waves, which allowed me to make mistakes, fix those mistakes, work on my technique, and challenge the heck out of my paddling muscles. The experience did not feel like ocean surfing, but it made me even more excited to get back into the Pacific with the belief that I'll be a little better when I do. If you find yourself in Austin, catching endless party waves is a great way to spend an afternoon with friends -- especially once the brewery opens.