Sunday, February 14, 2010

How Things Came to Be - Part 1: Valentines Day 2006, Surf Cincinnati

Part 1 in QC/D's urban exploration origin story.

It was February 14, 2006, Valentines Day. Most people were talking about the flowers they had received in homeroom that morning from significant others or friends, but Jon and I had other priorities. We were scouring the internet looking for any information or pictures on "Surf Cincinnati," a waterpark that had closed down a few years earlier. As people reveled in the excitement of the holiday during our first period journalism class, one of my best friends and I were planning what would be our first urban exploration. Information on the internet was scarce, it seemed no one had yet gone to photograph and explore Surf Cincinnati much less remembered it. We decided we would go immediately after school that day. Had it not been for Mr. Allen and his journalism class I might not have ever started writing about and photographing abandoned buildings. Nor would I have ever gotten to be good friends with Jon. Until Jon and I sat together in that class our junior year of high school, where we wrote for the Badin High School "Ramble," I found him to be incredibly annoying and didn't know him that well. The first time I met Jon he told me that "CKY [my favorite band] sucks!" Yet here we were, two years later, two friends sneaking into an abandoned waterpark.

This is part 1 of a 2 part story on how Queen City Discovery came to be and how certain people around me have come to shape who I am as a photographer and as a person today.

In the future I'll have a more detailed article with the full history and better photographs of this place, but in short, here's what happened: Surf Cincinnati opened in the late 80's, thrived in the mid 90's and eventually closed, reopened and closed again for good in 2003.

Jon and I had both taken an interest in abandoned buildings while browsing the website Forgotten Ohio in our journalism class. For Jon it was just the thrill of seeing these places. For me, I didn't just want to see them, I wanted to document them. After weeks of talking about it, we were finally exploring something. These photographs are the originals from that day, untouched and unedited, hence why they're a little rough. Not to mention, I didn't know much about photography then and we were both pretty nervous as we ran through the abandoned waterpark and up a hill to make sure no one had seen us. At the top of the hill we found the remains of one of the parks water slides which emptied into a small pool (first picture, above).

- A "No Diving" sign left behind in one of the park's pools.

Although it was apparent on the internet that not many people had remembered this place and no one had yet posted pictures of its abandoned state, we were definitely not the first people to come here after it had been closed. Someone had filled the splash pool with new cement and a broken skateboard lay nearby. It was apparent that some folks had come up here and attempted to renovate the pool into a bowl for skating (see the first picture). They also had tagged up the place with graffiti.

- Graffiti sprayed on the parks decorative rocks. A humorous attempt at a primitive cave painting?

Once we were sure that no one had seen us climb over the fence, we began to relax. Our nerves settled and the childhood memories came flooding back. Both Jon and I had come here often as kids, each of us having grown up in nearby neighborhoods. I can remember coming here a lot. My uncle had taken my cousin and I once and he lost his glasses on one of the water slides. I thought that was absolutely hilarious when I seven. I remember eating popcorn chicken, which tasted terrible, from the concession stand with my mom. The most distinct memory though is of the wave pool. I can remember sitting in the calm water then hearing the bell go off. Black smoke rose from behind the pool building and everyone would scream and run into the water as the waves started. As a kid I always wondered where the black smoke had come from and what was behind the wave pool. Now Jon and I were going to find out as we made our way through the park.

- A locked, rusted door which kept unwanted visitors out of the Wave Pool buidling.

We rounded the corner of the wave pool building. Rusted pumps and pipes which presumably held the chemicals for the pool's water still remained.

The back of the building explained the reason for the black smoke that I had always wondered about as a kid. It seems that they had used propane to power the machines that made the waves for the pool. The smoke from the machinery over the years had stained the back of the structure.

We took a brief look into the inside of the building which had no lights and was pitch black. Nowadays we come armed with powerful flashlights and have no qualms about climbing rickety structures or going into dark, underground places. Four years ago though, we didn't want to enter the spooky wave pool building. We passed on the opportunity and went around to explore more of the park.

We found a maintenance shed that contained a clip board still hanging on the wall. It listed the instructions for turning on the water and chlorine pumps before the park opened in the mornings. It even still had the names of the park's attractions listed.

- Maintenance list instructing how to turn on the water pumps for "Bubble Beach," "Squirt City," "The Blue Bullet" and the parks other rides.

One of the most iconic structures of the park had been its two racing slides. The two tallest slides in the park could be seen from both directions of the nearby highway, I-275. However, once the park closed, they had been torn down and sold. All that remained of the racing slides was their wooden supports where riders would splash into a pool on the ground.

- What remained of the parks two racing slides.

A big component of Surf Cincinnati's operation was Group Sales. The park offered two locations for group gatherings, one of them being the "Emerald Isle," which was a picnic shelter and sand volleyball court surrounded by a "lazy river."

- A wooden bridge over the lazy river which lead to the "Emerald Isle." Apparently "Delta [airlines?]" was the last group to have it's company picnic here.

Since the parks closing, the Lazy River had become more of a stagnant pond. Rainwater had filled up between the concrete walls and reeds began to grow from the stagnant, aquatic structure.

- The park's Lazy River. When it was open, park guests would rest on tubes as the flow of the water guided them around the concrete path.

In an effort to give the park a more tropical/beach feel, the owners had surrounded the area adjacent to the wave pool with real sand. I always remembered this being a hassle when my parents would take us here as little kids, the sand got into everything. After three years of neglect, weeds and other plants had begun growing out of the sand. We approached a wooden structure that had once been a bar and dining area. I can remember radio promotions that ran on Q102 in the mid 90's for parties and events that they had sponsored at the park. They would often have DJ's playing music from this area. The architecture of the bar combined with the sand really did help the atmosphere of the place, a contrast to it's industrial and suburban surroundings.

- The park's bar. The original sign for Surf Cincinnati can be seen on the right, covered up by the realty advertisement.

The bar area wasn't the only "adult" area. I seem to remember there being a pool that was strictly just for adults or maybe it was for parents with young children. Regardless, this was it:

We came around to the front of the wave pool which had also been partially filled with rainwater. This had been the park's signature attraction.

- The wave pool. For some reason I edited this photo into black and white in 2006 and could never find the original.

The kids area, like much of the rest of the park, had been partially dismantled. I guess they didn't want to keep most of the slides up in case people would sneak in and try to ride them. Not that, that would be fun or anything.

- The children's water play structure and pools.

We had basically done a full loop around the waterpark section. There was only one more building to check out. It had been the admissions/guest services/first aid/locker room building when it was open and it mirrored the same architecture as the park's other structures.

- The park's main office building where admissions, guest services, first aid and locker rentals had been housed.

We stepped inside and immediately felt uneasy. A pair of shoes, utensils and old food was scattered around a mattress on the floor. The wind from the outside was causing the front door to creak back and forth. We both had a very uneasy feeling as it seemed someone had been living here. We started to feel that we were not alone.

- Inside the main office building.

We started entering into another room when all of the sudden... "WHACK!" We heard a loud noise from the other end of the building. Jon and I looked at each other and without saying a word took off running for the way we came in. Was it a homeless person living there who had made the noise to scare us off? Was it the wind slamming a door? Had some animal knocked something over? Both Jon and I agreed that ghosts weren't real, but as we caught our breath we argued over the explanation. Jon still to this day swears he thinks it was another person who made the noise. I think it was just the wind or an animal. We crept back toward the building, hiding in the bushes and didn't see anyone, but decided it was time to go anyways. I chalk it all up to rookie paranoia.

On our way out we passed what remained of the other group picnic areas and "Fun City."

- A former above ground picnic area.

The group picnic areas still had barbeque pits beside them while plastic chairs and utensils were stored en masse beneath them. As we prepared to exit the park we passed through "Fun City." Fun City was another section of Surf Cincinnati which featured an arcade, go karts and miniature golf, three things that really sum up youth entertainment in the mid 90's.

- The now overgrown miniature golf course.

- The large wooden sign which had once adorned the outside of the "Fun City" arcade.

- The Figure-8 style go kart track.

We headed back to the fence which we had climbed over. It seemed our skateboarding friends had left us a gift. Haphazardly constructed wooden stairs made climbing over the fence from this side much easier as I noticed that I had torn my jeans right at the crotch on the way in. As we headed back to my car we were pumped up. It had been an adrenaline rush, a new experience. We were hooked. Despite the torn jeans, we knew this was the start of something.

- Our exit.

Since Valentines Day 2006, Jon and I would go on to explore plenty of more places. He is still to this day one of my best friends and is now serving in the Navy. Had it not been for Jon and Mr. Allen's first period journalism class, I may never have gotten into doing what I do now and for that I am eternally grateful.

Part 2 in the QC/D Origin Story. 

Over the years, several of QC/D's urban exploration stories have focused on abandoned amusement parks: View all of the stories

Updates | Oct. 16, 2017:
  • A more in depth article, specifically about the history of Surf Cincinnati, was published later on, here.
  • Most of the waterpark has been demolished. What little remains can be seen here.


  1. Really enjoy your website. Great photos and stories. Heard this program this weekend and thought as urban explorers you would enjoy it--it is about an abandoned house and the quest to find its history.

  2. Great post, I remember surf cincinnati well. So cool that you went back.

  3. Brendon, thanks for checking out the website. I'll definitely check out that link.

    Anonymous, thanks! Yeah Surf Cincinnati would become one of my favorite places to explore before it was torn down. More pictures and information on it in the future.