Five Minutes with Matt Bizer: Landlock Festival Founder Unites Surf and Inland Cultures in a Uniquely Texan Experience

by Martin Ramirez on March 11, 2024 in Entertainment,

The way the surfer stares out into the open ocean is how a Texan stares out into an open road or range. It’s a shared sense of adventure, freedom. 

It’s this unique overlap of coastal islander culture with Texas that Matt Bizer celebrates with Landlock Festival, a three-day experience featuring over 20 bands to include Midland and Young the Giant, battling pro-surfers, food, drinks, and a beach destination in none other than Waco, Texas.

From May 3 – 5, Landlock Festival’s inaugural event at Waco Surf will bring the experiences of surf and beach life to Central Texas through one of the largest inland surfing and water sports facilities in the country. Along with coastal themed villages and culinary specialties, beach camping, horseback riding, the longest lazy river and more, Landlock unites a beach destination with a ranch escape. Recently, TLM had the privilege to sit down with Landlock Founder Matt Bizer to discuss the inherent similarities that we Texans share with our coastal and island brethren and how these shared commonalities are developing a strong Texas inland surf culture.

A uniquely Texan experience of surf and inland American culture. Photo Kate Liddy

Can you tell us a little about yourself and how this festival concept came about?

For the last 12 years, I’ve been producing a festival called Luck Reunion at Willie Nelson’s Ranch. I actually came from the film industry and started that festival after meeting Willie in a really crazy roundabout way. But I ended up working with the family for a couple of years, and it became an ongoing event through the pandemic and through so many things over the last few years. It just became a staple for us here in the central Texas area. Outside of doing that, I’m an avid surfer, traveler, foodie. So, when Waco Surf opened, I started going, and every time I’d be surfing I’d ask, “Who owns this place? This place is insanely cool.”  

Out of all these years with Luck, I didn’t really think about starting a new festival until I saw Waco Surf. This place is incredible. It took me about two and a half years to finally get in touch with Mike and Amy, who run the facility, and we hit it off. I actually invited them out to Luck and we talked a little bit. I think they’re a little skeptical about the idea of someone wanting to come and do a festival there. And then they came out to Luck Reunion, and they were like, “Oh, you want to do this? You want to have an experience.” That was really where we bonded. We want to do something intimate and memorable and different and community building for this, Texas Gulf Coast, inland surfing community that’s been developing and becoming a whole new thing. We just really bonded over that. We bonded over the idea of music. It’s also rad that Mike, who’s one of the owners of Waco Surf, is the drummer in the band the Ink Caps who’s playing the festival.

Matt and friends dub this Texas-meets-coastal mentality as the “Aloha Y’all” spirit, a synergy of the Texas-surfer-traveler community. Photo Jessi Womble.

Your website says the festival is celebrating the intersection of surf and inland American cultures with music and unique experiences in a way that’s uniquely Texan. Do you think this community, this culture, has always been here as a subculture in Texas?

I think there’s this island-life-sort-of-beach-life mentality that exists in a lot of Texans. This idea is a shared thing. The search for something is what surf is to so many surfers, and I think that’s what Texas is to so many Texans. There’s a shared welcomeness, an openness. There’s just this amazing synergy in the communities between Texas culture and coastal culture. These surf parks bring this unique opportunity to unite these people together around that idea. You couldn’t really bring those two worlds together before places like this existed.

The Aloha spirit, Matt describes, is like Texas southern hospitality. It’s very welcoming. Photo Kate Liddy.

I think it’s the idea of communities around water. And Texas has a lot of that in our lake life and our river life culture. It’s that laid back, barefoot lifestyle. I grew up in New Braunfels, and it’s a barefoot city. I didn’t wear shoes until I had to go to kindergarten. And then I grew up surfing the Gulf Coast. I’ve seen these intersections a lot in my life, and it’s just been so rad to meet people who also see that. – like Colony House, who’s playing the festival, literally has a song called “Landlocked Surf Rock.” And now we’re having a festival called Landlock and it’s so rad to see this inland surf culture that has existed here for a long time.

Groups from Hawaii and other coastal states come to Waco Surf to train and learn new tricks without the risk of fickle waves or turbulent weather. Photo courtesy Waco Surf.

What was the reaction from the surf community? Were they kind of surprised to be surfing in a competition in inland Texas?

The core surf community knew about Waco Surf. Like it sells out all the time. If you go to Waco Surf on a given weekend in the summertime, half the crowd is from Southern California, Florida, or the East Coast. Even Hawaii. What I found more interesting is that Texans didn’t know about it. Even right now, as we’re marketing it, all the questions are from Texans asking, “What is this?” And so that’s the story we’re really interested in right now. We’re telling the rest of Texas what Waco Surf is: an accessible place to learn to surf, which is not like the coast. It can be fickle with the waves and the wind and overwhelming for a lot of people trying to surf for the first time. But here, there’s a pool that’s controlled and you can learn to surf in it. We’re really leaning into a lot of that, and we want to communicate to everyone that this is surf culture in your backyard. There’s a beach destination in Waco, Texas.

Waco Surf is a just-down-the-road destination where you can learn to surf or chill in a lazy river. Photo Jessi Womble.

It’s been fun to kind of hear people’s reactions as they learn about it. And even more so when you take someone out there for the first time, they see it. It’s just so hard to put into words what a football stadium sized lake with a wave breaking in it and a beach looks like in the middle of Texas.

A wave breaking in a manmade, football field-sized lake. Photo courtesy Waco Surf.

One thing that’s really exciting is the culinary element to the festival. Can you tell us a little more about it?

The food side is one of the cool things that we’re having fun with. Instead of your classic festival with a food court and vendors, we have five villages celebrating surf communities: a Pacific Village, which is all about tiki drinks, surf rock, and Pacific Asian Island food; Central Village, based on Central America, with taco trucks and Costa Rican cuisine; and Gulf Village, which is Texas. This is the biggest village because it’s a celebration of all things Texas. It’s been fun planning that one with brands and partners in Texas. Then we have the East Village and the West Village, which are both like the East Coast and West Coast. In each of those villages it’s themed around those culinary communities

Landlock Festival will have a large portion dedicated to Texas pitmasters. Photo Jessi Womble.

In the East Village, we’re doing a collaboration with Solo Stove. They’re going to be bringing in pizza chefs to create a special pizza program. And we’re going to be doing lobster rolls and East Coast style food. In the West Coast side, you’re getting your health and wellness approach with salads, green juice, and acai bowls. We’re handpicking all these people that have been influencing what’s already happening in Texas.

And then on top of that, each day we’re going to have a different culinary experience dinner where we have a different chef do a takeover at this awesome glass house that overlooks the cable lake. And the idea is that each night you’ll have a different experience celebrating coastal cuisine. It’s kind of like how we do the Potluck at Luck Reunion, where we really like lean into heavy hitter chefs to bring in their take on the experience.

Matt also promises a skate aspect for those more inland thrill seekers. Photo Kate Liddy.

How hard was that to fit all this into the festival?

That’s the hardest part, figuring out what you don’t include because you want to include everybody. It’s really about the people who are really stoked on it and who want to be a part of the community as a whole. Who’s really invested in coming and being an ambassador to the idea of this coming forward in the future. It’s been fun, even with the brand partners we’re working with. We’re trying to find people who know each other already and work well together. We actually did a technical walk-through with Turtlebox, Howler Brothers, and Cowboy Pools—all these quintessential Texas brands who already know each other—and they were like, “Well, why do we have to be in a 10 by 10 space? Why don’t we all just work together and set up our own setup together.” That’s what we’re really excited about.

You can camp by a lake during sunset in the woods and then go and sit by the beach and watch people surf in the afternoon. Photo Kate Liddy.

And I don’t think it’s going to feel like a festival like when you go to Austin City Limits or a large festival. It’s less than 4,000 people in a much more expansive space, 500 plus acres, and then we have these experiences scattered throughout it. So you’re kind of wandering around throughout your day exploring. You can go on a horseback ride in the woods and then you can sit in the lazy river for an hour. Go get drinks with your friends and then go watch a band on stage. And you’re not missing anything. You don’t have that FOMO experience of “I’ve gotta be at another stage.” It’s much more laid back. That’s what we’re trying to give. The feeling of a beach vacation, but also the feeling of a Texas ranch escape.

What was the music selection process like? I’m sure there’s a story there.

Surf Waco offers different ways to enjoy the festival. Photo Jessi Womble.

It’s just been really fun to sort of figure out what is landlock surf music. For me, it was looking into these crossovers of what the evolution of surf rock is along with world music and island music. Luck Reunion is a very specific thing. It’s a celebration of the culture of Willie and his community. So I wanted to really approach this as we’re celebrating the surf community of Texas but also the influences of coastal surf rock and indie rock. Curating was really fun. Booking Midland and Young The Giant as headliners is like two very different worlds. What they all share in common is it feels like the beach. It feels like the coast, and that’s what we really wanted to have. I actually surfed Waco Surf a few years ago with Mark from Midland and some of the partners we’re working with right now. If you look at the playlist of the surfer, you’d expect to hear something like some surf rock. But Midland is there, too. It’s an interesting mesh.

The festival will bring music and surf enthusiasts alike for world-class performances from over 20 artists across three stages. Photo Jessi Womble.

And you can literally stand in the water on the beach and watch a band on stage, which is just such a unique experience. Or you could be floating on the lazy river past the stage. That’s kind of how it’s laid out, everything is interwoven into the facility and you’re not standing in a field watching a band. You’re sitting in a pool drinking a Mai Tai, watching a band, and that’s what really separates it from other experiences.

What does this festival look like in the next year or two? How much more do you want to expand or bring in?

You can begin your day with yoga before heading over to West Village for a juice and then a live band at noon. Photo Jessi Womble.

I think for us it’s really about expanding and celebrating the community. Our goal is to instill it as another quintessential Texas thing. There’s a surf community being born out of Texas, which is not something anybody expected. We really want to establish that footprint in Texas. So curating musical experiences and dinners, hanging out backstage, eating BBQ with surfers and musicians is not something that happens a lot. We want to really lean into that community. And then from there, I’m not going to tell the whole story of maybe where it goes, but they’re building surf parks all over the world right now.


Cover Photo Jessi Womble

Martin Ramirez is a brisket-eating, Shiner-loving, road-tripping enthusiast of all things Texas. This Dallas-born writer / adventurer is ready to take his ‘78 El Camino to find the best in food, fun, and fitness throughout the Lone Star State.