Opening/Closing

Big Surf Waterpark in Tempe Is Up for Sale, Auctioning Off Assets

The entrance to Big Surf Waterpark in Tempe.
The entrance to Big Surf Waterpark in Tempe. Benjamin Leatherman
If you ever wanted to own a piece of Big Surf Waterpark in Tempe — or even the sprawling, 20-acre property itself — the iconic and historic local attraction and its various possessions are up for sale.

Phoenix New Times has learned the water park, which hasn’t operated the past two summers, has been on the market since last fall. Big Surf’s owners are also currently selling all the assets. They range from signage, merchandise and office equipment to the water slide components and a colorful tiki totem as part of an online liquidation auction that’s been taking place the last several days.

In other words, there's a good chance Big Surf, which debuted in 1969 and featured the first wave pool in the U.S., may never reopen again. At least not as the Big Surf you knew.

Rusty Dees, a spokesperson for Big Surf who handles its publicity and media relations, confirmed to New Times the property is up for sale but declined to provide further details.

Big Surf Waterpark, which has been a summertime destination for locals for five decades, was last open to the public in 2019. In March 2020, its owners, Texas-based LLC Inland Oceans, shut down the park after the COVID-19 pandemic reached Arizona.

Numerous other local water parks, including Six Flags Hurricane Harbor in Glendale and Mesa’s Golfland Sunsplash, have since reopened, while Big Surf remained closed and its wave pool and water slides stayed dry.
click to enlarge An aerial view of Big Surf in Tempe when it was open and operating. - BIG SURF'S FACEBOOK
An aerial view of Big Surf in Tempe when it was open and operating.
Save for a pair of concerts in May 2021 (the Punk in the Park and Back to the Beach festivals) in Big Surf’s wave pool and various pop-up drive-in movies and flea markets in the parking lot, the property has been a relative ghost town the past two years.

“Obviously, the COVID debacle closed down the [water park] and then we put it up for sale recently and we're working on selling it right now,” Dees says.

Dees declined to specify why Inland Oceans never reopened the business and is instead selling the property and liquidating its assets. He referred all questions to Big Surf general manager Bob Pena, who did not return New Times’ email for comment as of Tuesday evening.

An upcoming concert, the Punk in Drublic touring music festival, was originally announced to be taking place at Big Surf in March but was moved to Scarizona Scaregrounds in Mesa earlier this month.

click to enlarge BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Benjamin Leatherman
Surplus Asset Management, a company based in Phoenix and California, is overseeing the liquidation auction of Big Surf’s assets. Chuck Lines, a general manager with SAM, says the auction, which started on February 4, was commissioned by Marvin Rosenbaum, a member of the family behind Inland Oceans.

Items being auctioned include bike racks, picnic tables, canvas shade structures, boogie boards, lounge chairs and a variety of construction equipment. The contents of its business offices and concession stands are also being sold, as are various construction equipment and parts of water slides.

According to Lines, the auction has been doing brisk business. Lines says more than 250 people have placed bids on items. The auction will conclude this evening.

Despite the fact that Big Surf’s property is on the market and there’s essentially a fire sale for the water park’s assets in progress, Dees says it’s not necessarily bad news for Big Surf’s future.

“I wouldn't say it's permanently closed because you never know what's going to happen,” he says.
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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.