Remember This: Sunbathers and thrill-seekers soaked up fun at Surf Cincinnati

Waterpark development had mini-golf, banquet halls
Posted at 6:55 AM, Aug 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-16 06:55:43-04

FOREST PARK, Ohio — Remember when Cincinnati kids could get amped, hang loose and go on their own Surfin' Safari?

It was the early 1990s, the time of Surf Cincinnati, the waterpark that competed with Coney Island, The Beach and Kings Island. Located off Interstate 275 at the end of a cul-de-sac in Forest Park, the site included two banquet halls, mini-golf and go-kart tracks. Nearly a decade later, the park was also famous for Caddies, a popular nightclub.

Awesome, right?

"The waterpark part of Surf Cincinnati included a wave pool, two racing speed slides, 3 racing enclosed slides, kiddy pools, adults-only pools, an in-ground slide, and one big blue slide that sat high on top of a hill," reports the Abandoned But Not Forgotten website. "The banquet halls were supposed to be renovated and have a new wedding chapel built."

How does that sound - a possible wedding party in Speedos? Alas, the fun times could only last so long - and Surf Cincinnati was about to go the way of Jan and Dean.

"In 1999 it was bought by new owners for nearly two million dollars," the website reported. "In 2001 the park filed for bankruptcy and closed its doors at the end of the 2002 season."

Ronny Salerno has documented the site of the former Surf Cincinnati for his blog Queen City Discovery. (Photo provided by Ronny Salerno)

And the public found out because of a rival.

"The news came through The Beach Waterpark in Mason, which said it will honor 2002 season passes for Surf Cincinnati and sell discounted passes for the upcoming season to the other park's 2001 pass holders," reported the Cincinnati Enquirer.

“If they're a member of Surf Cincinnati for 2001, they can renew with us at the same rate as we charge our members, and get a season parking pass at a 50 percent discount,” Tara Nahrup, manager of media and public relations for The Beach, told the newspaper.

“The water park has always had to make its way in a very competitive environment,” Paul Brehm, then-economic development director for Forest Park, told the Enquirer. “It was Cincinnati's original water park, but had difficulties when the competition increased for that customer dollar.”

By the summer of 2003, the Cincinnati Business Courier had the details.

"In a move to pay off creditors, the owners of the former Surf Cincinnati water park on Sebring Drive in Forest Park will put the 20-acre site on the auction block," the Courier reported. "Albert Frank Realty LLC in December was ordered by the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas to auction the property. The company in February filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Auctioneer Mark Euton told the publication that the Surf Cincinnati property would be divided into six parcels and sold to the highest bidder.

Later, a parking lot opened, as well as a church or two. But the story doesn't quite end there. Ronny Salerno, a photographer and writer, penned this in 2016, on his online Queen City Discovery blog:

"Fueled by nostalgia, the story of Surf Cincinnati continues."

"I never worked at Surf Cincinnati, but I went there a lot," he wrote. "I have a ton of memories of it as a kid, spending afternoons in the lazy river and wave pool. Then it was abandoned and it's where I cut my teeth in urban exploration photography." 

"To be quite frank, I don't even know if (my blog) would exist if it weren't for Surf Cincinnati," Salerno wrote. "When a friend and I ventured down its overgrown paths ten years ago, I was hooked. Surf spawned a series of adventures, questions of history, and interest in sharing those experiences. At the suggestion of my friend Ben, I started a website to share all of that. That website became Queen City Discovery."

Salerno began coming back to the abandoned site in 2006.

"'Surf' had two identities for me," he wrote. "It was the memory for a kid who grew up in the 90s as well as a the starting spot for a photographer fixated on documenting abandoned structures. Surf had been an escape in both of its iterations and one I could appreciate both as a former patron and aspiring artist."

Others have felt the same, taking to the internet to explore the photographs that represent their youths.

So that once more, even if for just one day, they can remember a time that was truly radical.