Monday, August 2, 2010

Surf Cincinnati.

Once an iconic Cincinnati amusement park, the wave pool's been shut off and the lazy river is dried up.

The other day I was touring around a waterpark, sweating my pants and tie off in the sweltering mid-west heat. Why I was dressed like that and what I do for a conventional living is not important, what's important is what the smell of chlorine and sun screen reminded me of. I never really did finish the story of Surf Cincinnati. A story that began on Valentines Day 2006. Surf Cincinnati had been my "breakthrough" into urban exploring, the first place I went with the intention to truly explore, photograph and document a location. It was a place I had been numerous times as a kid when it was still open, a place that reminded you of the Malibu Sands episodes from "Saved By the Bell" and a place that would end as a catalyst and outlet for my photography and creativity.

- 2007 photograph of the same wave pool seen at the beginning of this writing.

Surf Cincinnati had been constructed in 1988. Tucked back between industrial centers and I-275, the water park sat right at the border of Hamilton and Butler counties. The park was the only of its kind on the west side, while similar attractions could be found to the northeast at places like Kings Island and The Beach. According to its website in 1997:

Soak up the sun or brave the water thrills and four foot waves at Surf Cincinnati's Super Surf, Cincinnati's largest wave pool! Broad, landscaped walkways lead to modern well-maintained attractions.. .spacious sun decks, splashed with colorful umbrellas.. .a backdrop of sighing pines and bright banners snapping in the breeze. This is truly a family park, run by people who like things pleasant and convenient.

Indeed, Surf Cincinnati was a great place and local summer hang out. One time my aunt and uncle took my cousin and I. My uncle ended up losing his sunglasses on one of the slides, I remember this being a big deal. I once received a black belt in Tae-Kwon-Do and got to participate in a demonstration at the park. Other times I can remember going there with my sisters and my mom, waiting for the black smoke to appear and bells to ring, signifying that the waves in the wave pool were starting.

- 2006 photograph of the arcade sign from the "Fun City" area of the park.

The park not only was a waterpark, but featured "Fun City," an additon of go-karts, bumper boats, arcade games and mini golf. The Harbour Club, a collection of banquet halls, also adjoined the property and still operates in some capacity to this day. The slides at Surf Cincinnati stood tall above the highway and the park became known for company picnics and party's hosted by local radio station Q102.

According to a 2003 article by the Cincinnati Business Courier; The Schneider Family operated the park throughout its existence. With the construction of Paul Brown Stadium in the late 1990's, "Caddy's" nightclub moved their facility to Surf Cincinnati's property in 1998. Despite the addition of Caddy's though, the 20 acre facility would eventually go bankrupt and close in 2002.

- Remnants on the "Caddy's" building.

The family operator's had owed thousands of dollars to various businesses and the Hamilton County Treasurer. The season passes sold to guests in anticipation for the 2003 season were non-refundable, but were accepted by The Beach Waterpark in Mason in an effort to pick up new business. The land was sold off in parcels, the pools left empty and the slides partially demolished. In 2006 my friend Jon and I hopped a fence into the abandoned waterpark and thus the first beginnings of Queen City Discovery were born. From then until the park's destruction, Surf Cincinnati would be one of my favorite abandoned places to photograph.

Above: A July 1999 photograph by Bill Ware shows what the children's water play area once looked like. 

Below: a 2007 photograph by Gordon Bombay of QC/D shows what the structure became:

I could go on for hours about the memories I, and probably so many other people, have of this place, but I'll let the pictures do most of the talking. The day we hopped that fence and discovered the still water, the pools that had been turned into skateboard obstacles and the remnants of a place that was once so full of life and color, was the day I began doing what I do.

- Jeffy rocking a boom box found amongst the rubble in 2007.

You could spend hours getting lost in the post-apocalyptic appearance of Surf Cincinnati. Slides, void of stairs, still stood on the park grounds. Tadpoles and plant life replaced people in the water of the pools.

- Remains of one of the park's slides.

From the memories I had of being a kid there, to my memories of exploring it, there was something special about Surf Cincinnati. While it had been abandoned by its owners and forgotten by its patrons, it still continued to entertain me.

- Former bumper boats lagoon.

- First Aid station.

- An advertisement for the Swatch Watch company that once stood atop the wave pool building.

- One of 18 mini golf holes.

One very distinct memory I have of the place was the go-karts. During one summer of my grade school years, I knew my mom was planning to take my friend Brett and I to the park. My mom would never give me money for arcade games, go karts, mini golf or bumper boats after she had initially paid for us to get in (adult reasoning I now understand), so I scrounged up the few dollars I had to my name and spent my "savings" on a single ride around the figure-8 track.

- Panoramic view of the go-kart track.

- Like a suburban amazon river of sorts, the parks lazy river over grown with vegetation.

As a kid who grew up in 1990's Suburban Cincinnati, places like this defined my summers and childhood. Those memories would fuel my interest in going back here time and time again once it was abandoned.

- One of the park's former alcoholic beverage areas.

- Wave pool exit.

- Employee lockers.

In the spring of 2008, just before the park was demolished, Jeffy and I hopped the fence with my "new" camera in tow. We came across something I had previously not seen, an employee area. While I had experienced the park as a young kid, like thousands of other guests, the place was once an employment opportunity for others. As someone who has spent many long, hot days working at an amusement park, it was interesting to think about the teenagers and people who had once called this place "work." A message scribbled in marker on a dry erase board near the lockers read:
"Bye everyone, have a great year! Miss you all! Love, Laura."
The time I spent working in rides at Kings Island yielded some great memories and some of the best friends I may ever know. Reading that message, I wondered if Surf Cincinnati had ever been as special of a workplace for some.

EDIT: October 18, 2017: A short time after this article posted, I received an email from someone who knew the "Laura" that had left the white board message. I sent a reply, but never heard back. If anyone knows more about "Laura," please send me an email

When I was in a creative rut and needed something to photograph, Surf Cincinnati was there. It was the first place I took my 35mm film camera for the high school photography club, the place I took my first digital cameras and the place where I first delved into urban exploration photography. Despite the frustration that studying photography as a career in college sometimes brought, I knew I could always go back to "Surf" when I needed something to shoot. After driving 2.5 hours back from Ohio University in Athens my freshman year, the park was the first place I stopped. Straight out of the car, back over the fence, like I had done countless times before.

- Remains of the group picnic areas.

- Standing water in one of the pools.

- The sun setting on Surf Cincinnati, Fall 2007.

- The Surf Cincinnati sign still remained behind the real estate "for sale" banner until everything was torn down in 2008.

"All good things must come to an end." Whether I believed that or not, "Surf" did eventually meet its end. Last summer, I knew the land had been sold and work was going on there. The owners of the nearby banquet hall were often doing work on the adjoining property, but never seemed to care (or maybe they never noticed) my friends and I with our cameras inside the park. I pulled up in the lot to find that while I had been gone at school, the whole park had been demolished. In it's place, a church and large parking lot. Very little indication of the park's existence remains.

Special thanks to my "budday" Bill for the photos from 1999 and to Jeffy and Jon for exploring this place with me so many times.

View all of the Surf Cincinnati stories over the years.

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

Updates | Oct. 18, 2017:
  • Surf Cincinnati was eventually torn down for the most part. A few things remain here and there
  • In 2016, someone dug up some old commercials from the park and posted them. 
  • The aforementioned Beach Waterpark which honored Surf Cincinnati passes also eventually closed and was abandoned for a time. It was featured in a 2012 QC/D article. Shortly after its closure, the active Kings Island offered a similar deal when it honored Beach passes for a sharp discount towards the purchase of a season pass. However, as of this update, The Beach has reopened. 
  • A short time after this article posted, I received an email from someone who knew the "Laura" that had left the white board message. I sent a reply, but never heard back. If anyone knows more about "Laura," please send me an email


  1. Dude, this is it. This is THE article. I've been reading your posts for a while now, but THIS one resonates. Grew up in Greenhills, and work now in Fo Park. Man, so many memories with this place. And, of course, one vannot mention Surf Cincinnati w/o mentioning 'The Beach'. Awesomesauce :D

  2. I went in there a few years ago when the church had first bough the land. They graciously let us go beyond the fence and the only request was "don't get hurt". Every time I drive past on the highway I keep wanting to go up and see how it looks now.

  3. Another great article!

    Check out this one too:

  4. Hey, I think you go the opening year wrong because I went to this place while I was in high school (before I could drive) and I graduated in 1988. So it had to be open in like 1985 or so.

    1. It opened in 1984! A really cold summer after a terribly hot 1983!

  5. Shelzy, yeah I got it wrong. I still can't find an exact date, but from what everyone says I think it was 1984.

  6. Gordon, This was a great post created by you. It brought alot of good memories of this place out. Mt. Healthy class of 1986 had our Senior Picnic here.

  7. Do a Facebook Search for Surf Cincinnati, and you will find that past employees enjoyed working there much like you did Kings Island.

  8. Manny, thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    Aaron, I'll have to try that, thanks for the tip!

  9. Hi, just a fyi. I used to go to the park all the time when I was a kid. We moved out of Cincinnatti in 84 so the park had to be open at least a couple years before that. Its funny that I remember some of these things in the pictures!!

  10. ^Anon, thanks for commenting. I realize that I have the opening date year wrong. I need to fix it when I get back to a real computer. Thanks for letting me know!

  11. Thanks for posting this. I hadn't been back in Cincinnati in years, and a few weeks ago drove by where it used to be and wondered what happened. I had some great memories there, and now I know the story.

  12. I worked at Surf Cincinnati from 1986 to 1990. It was a great summer job! Thanks for bringing back some nice memories!

  13. There is a church built there now.
    Next to that church stands another church, however behind that church you can find remnants of an old lazy river. I'm guessing a kids one. Kinda cool to see it's still there. Sad to see it's rotting. Same fate soon awaits the Beach Waterpark. Sad.


    1. There was too much competition around with the beach, ki, and local pools. I just dont think it could keep up in any way.

  15. Where is this located exactly?

  16. I really wanted to check this place out, but no one would return my calls, until I finally spoke to someone and told me it was too late, that it was now a church?!?!? I hate to think The Beach will become a church... I know 3 movie theaters that are now churches?!?!?!?

  17. get there to see whatever is left take 275 west (away from i75) and exit winton road. Then take a left on winton and go for about2 miles or so. Eventually you will see a beautiful white company on the right with a bell steeple, turn right. This road winds around a lot. As you follow always try to stay right. You will weave through a neighborhood and end up in some industrial park crapiness. Look for the Huge church. It's behind the church. Wear clothes you can dips of and bring a change of clothes. You will have a long swampy walk. It's quite creepy, be ready and don't go alone. It's really cool but Very scary. It's also clear that people go there when they want to use! Yikes!

  18. You can easily get to the race track still. I knew many of the owners. When the latest one said he wanted to put sand in, I told him it was a big mistake unless everything was designed to take it. The wave pool kept breaking down and sticky puddles and stains in the sand. I always had to leave at 4:00 PM because all the locals would flood in with their after four passes. Had a bunch of stuff stolen and got kicked a bunch in the pool by them. The previous owners never should have started the after 4 pass. I miss that park so much. I hooked up dozens of times there. Almost brings a tear to my eye to think about it.

  19. Thank you for the trip down memory lane. Sad really.

  20. Alishia StillwellJuly 26, 2012 at 3:38 AM

    i was always wondering to what have happened to this great place. when they opened splash dance, was the best memories i have spending with my friends. i remember when my older brothers got stuck babysitting me and they would take me to splash with them and their friends. even though my older brother has passed now. it was the best memory that i will always cherish. to see what was left of the park before it was torn down is so heart breaking to see. thankyou for sharing this with so many of us that has wondered.

  21. I used to go there back in '93! I loved it! It was so freakin' awesome!

  22. Back in those days the Blue Bullet is what separated the Boys from the Men.

  23. I still have my pass from 1993 in a photo album. I also spent 80 bucks one day at sebring raceway. I loved surf

  24. i remeber going there had a blast.. the good old memories wish someone else bought it

  25. At least these photos and article remain. Thanks for sharing!

  26. Enjoy all of your writings, keepit up. Hope you expand out from ohio if you run out of derelict places.

  27. In 1987 and 1988 MTV shot commercials for Surf Cincinnati. There were 10 winners each year and the commercials were played on MTV for the summer. Does anyone have these videos to post.

  28. Nice post, and great photos. I was one of those teen lifeguards at Surf back in the late 90s. It was a great place to work. First kissed a girl back there in the guard shack, as it was known. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.


    1. Dave, thanks for sharing your memories. I'd love to talk to you in more detail about your time at Surf. Any chance you could shoot me an email? queencitydisco[at]

  29. I can't believe that this place is closed down because when I was a child in my 13th I went there all the time when I seen these pictures tonight it made me cry I thought they were still in business