"Kelly’s wave is End of Days. It's heartbreaking."
With its historic location, farms and casinos sticky with margarita mix, Lemoore, California, was the oddest place to find the greatest collection of professional surfers, past and present, ever.
But Kelly and the WSL did it.
All because…everyone… you, me, Rabbit Bartholomew, Filipe and so on, was dying to see, maybe even ride, Kelly’s secretive pool. The sorta-event, called The Test at Surf Ranch, ran behind closed doors, the WSL providing a live-ish blog.
Now that the pool has revealed itself a little more, let’s pan back and examine the ramifications. Are they good, are they bad, what thrills and what don’t? I asked the custodian of surf history, Mr Matt Warshaw for his learned opinion.
BeachGrit: First, are you excited by the pool event?
Warshaw: Only in that we’re getting a broader, less-filtered look at the place. “Excited” isn’t the word, though. I’ve got a dread obsession with Kelly’s wave. I can’t look away. I’m turned on and despondent at the same time. Mostly despondent. For the surfer in me, Kelly’s wave is End of Days. We’ve traded magic for perfection, and it’s heartbreaking.
BeachGrit: Do you think this is Kelly’s coup de grâce? Now that world titles are out of reach, he redefines what surfing and pro surfing is?
Warshaw: Yes. Despite what I’ve said above, Kelly hasn’t done anything wrong, or evil. Mechanical surf was always in our future. Kelly was smart enough, and had enough juice, to get it there faster that it might have done otherwise. And yes, like you say, he gets to further reshape the sport way beyond whatever he’s done as a wave-riding innovator and champion.
BeachGrit: Let’s do a little role call. He’s got John John, Filipe, Gabriel, Carissa, Steph, alongside Hemmings, MR, Shaun, Rabbit, himself. Have you ever heard of such a gathering? And to do it in a shitty town peppered with crummy motels and an Indian casino four hours from LA. It’s a masterclass in PR.
Warshaw: There you go. Only Kelly could do that.
BeachGrit: Tell me, gut instinct. Non surfing UFC guy and new non-surfing-former-tennis-pro CEO Sophie Goldschmidt running the show. Good, bad?
Warshaw: Gut instinct is, it has to be good, for no other reason than they know that WSL thus far has mostly failed, and needs a massive restructuring. But I’ll hedge my bet. If we’re looking at small events, some jet-setting when necessary, if we’re into a Mentawai playoff scenario — fantastic. But if wavepools are the end game, pro surfing is well and truly fucked.
BeachGrit: Read this quote from today’s event and tell me what you think: “Put simply: this is a research and development exercise that allows all the stakeholders involved in any future event to understand the wide array of opportunities available. Everyone from competitors, organizers, judges, broadcasters, sponsors and even a delegation of the sport’s founders are on hand to witness the technology that will have a dramatic effect on the future of surfing’s evolution”
Warshaw: Oh. I hadn’t seen that. I guess we’re 25 degrees closer to well and truly fucked.
BeachGrit: After Steph, Filipe and John, I felt like I saw all that was going to happen. Did you have a similar experience?
Warshaw: Every wave is a 10. You’re just ticking down point fractions. That, and as a viewer, you’ve already ridden each wave in your mind before it starts.
BeachGrit: In your opinion, as custodian of the sport’s history, what’s next?
Warshaw: As custodian of the sport’s history, I’ll remind people that, before automated surf shot it out from beneath us, we were riding the unicorn of sports.