‘Big Sussex meets Bigger Texas’

Special to the Coastal Point • Lauren Herlihy: Colin Herlihy tests out the waves at NLand Surf Park in Austin, Texas, during his latest surf trip.Special to the Coastal Point • Lauren Herlihy: Colin Herlihy tests out the waves at NLand Surf Park in Austin, Texas, during his latest surf trip.They say that everything is bigger in Texas.

Recently, however, local pro wave-rider and everything-outdoorsman Colin Herlihy decided to find out for himself if the same was true about the surf.

Chances are you’ve spotted Herlihy around town at some point, whether it be helping the kids on Monday nights at the Bethany Surf Shop Skim Jam during the summer, dropping in on record surf along the Delmarva coast during hurricane season (Google “Hurricane Sandy surfer,” and he’ll be there), or the signature “Buck Board” logo from his Toobs’ pro-model under the arms of young skimmers and surfers just about anywhere there’s water. Maybe you’ve even not-spotted him camo’ed-out on a hunting trip somewhere deep in the Sussex County backwoods.

His world surf résumé includes everything from the now-renowned breaks that his father, Dan Herlihy, helped pioneer in Rincon, Puerto Rico, to all across Europe and then some. But before last month, the Lone Star State was one of the lone left off the list.

After returning home from his first trip to the NLand Surf Park in Austin last month, where he and his wife, Lauren, got the chance to introduce a little Big Sussex to the always bigger than it all (y’all), Texas, I got the chance to sit down with Colin to get the 411 on the 512.

Here’s what he had to say:

TC: So, what inspired the trip? Mostly surf? Mostly food? In-laws planning a visit or something?

CH: My wife and I love traveling. We’ve been to some amazing places, and Texas ended up being one of our favorites so far.

There’s always three things we look for in planning our destinations: Good food, unique culture and good surf. I’d seen clips of the wave park last fall, but there were some issues at the park which temporarily closed it down. When our vacation was coming up, it coincided with the re-opening of the park.

I was also watching a storm that was going to send surf to Mexico, but at the last minute we decided on Austin. We had a short window of vacation time, and Mexico would have taken two travels days off the trip due to the flight, layovers, connecting flights, the drive to the location.

TC: What was NLand like? Would you say that it was… “N-credible?”

CH: The employees were so accommodating and nice. They’d pick you up on a golf cart and take you to the paddle-out zone. There was a huge tent to sit in the shade and wait for your time to surf; there was a smoothie/juice bar, restaurant, and they were building a brewery onsite. There was a nice locker room with hot showers. The machine that generates the wave is under a pier, which is a perfect location for spectators and photographers. It was a five-star establishment.

TC: Four more stars than the Lone Star State then, eh?

CH: [no response]

TC: How does the “wave park” work exactly? Like anything you’ve experienced before or totally new?

CH: A wave is produced every two minutes, which creates a left on one side of the pier and a right on the other. The machine goes the length of the pool, and then the machine would go back the other way two minutes later. They allow five people on each side of the pier to surf the wave each hour. It’s a great priority system that allows everyone a fair chance to catch a wave, and if someone falls, there is someone in line to catch that wave.

There were multiple lifeguards in the water and on the beach, so it was a very safe environment for all. The wave is 3-4 feet and goes for 35 seconds. It took me about two waves or so to figure it out. In the ocean, you fade on the takeoff, but there it’s opposite — if you fade, you will get caught in the whitewater, which is pushing you away from the energy source. The key is to stay in the pocket and surf vertical.

TC: What’s the culture down in Austin like, surfing-wise? And how’d they treat you as a visitor? Also, is it “Keep Austin weird” or “Keep Portland weird”? I always get those two mixed up.

CH: The park had a lot of visitors from the Texas coast. I met a few people from New York and California, too. I also met a few families that grew up by an ocean, and all surfed but had been relocated to Austin for business, so they were really stoked to have a wave nearby to enjoy.

I think, with the park being there, the wave being fun and how nice the facility is, surfing and surf culture will continue to grow there. Everyone was really nice. One of my most memorable experiences from the park was the look on the lifeguards’ and other surfers’ faces when I stood up and surfed on my Boogie Board. You could tell that was the first time they had seen anyone do that.

TC: What else did you guys get to do down there? What’s the dish on the local go-to dishes? Good breakfast in Texas?

CH: We were on a quest for barbecue and we found it. Texas is known to have some of the best barbecue in the world, and they sure exceeded the expectations. Coopers in Texas hill-country was out of this world — one of the best culinary experiences I’ve ever had. The seating was all large picnic tables, so everyone sat next to each other, and the food had everyone was in very high spirits. We also checked out a cool vineyard, swam in Lake Travis, had some killer Tex-Mex and, of course, the downtown Austin nightlife.

TC: Would you recommend NLand to any other locals around here looking to switch things up from the usual surf spots? Rincon, OBX, etc.?

CH: I absolutely recommend it. It’s always been a dream of mine to surf a wave pool. It wasn’t the best wave I’ve ever surfed in my life, but it was the unique experience that made it what it was — definitely something to cross of the bucket list.

After soaking in some cowboy culture and crossing NLand off his own bucket list, Colin returned to Sussex County earlier this month, just in time for summer surf lessons and Skim Jams — where you can catch him on the beach in front of Garfield Parkway in Bethany on Monday nights from 6 to 7 p.m. throughout the summer.

With hurricane season just around the corner after that, he wasn’t sure where his next trip would be, but he said that he was keeping his eye on the Kelly Slater Wave Co., for when they launch a “surf ranch” of their own in Florida.

To check out footage of Colin’s trip to NLand SurfPark, check him out on Facebook at www.facebook.com/colin.herlihy.7 or Instagram at the handle @thebackwoodscrew. You can also visit his website at www.thebackwoodscrew.com. For more on the NLand Surf Park, check out www.nlandsurfpark.com.