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Beach Grit

Meet: The Man Who Said No to Surf Ranch!

Derek Rielly

by Derek Rielly

"It was not a popular decision…"

Last September, Travis Ferré, the thirty-something co-founder of What Youth magazine, wrote an anti-Surf Ranch piece in response to the WSL barring surf media from its Future Classic event there.

“The way this whole wave-pool-WSL thing has been introduced to the world feels slimy. Elitist and weird. And while I can’t argue that riding it, watching it and the general excitement around the whole thing is noteworthy, I get the same quesy feeling I get around private golf courses and churches. Or when I hear the awkward clop of flip flops. I just don’t think I can buy into this cultish wave pool culture. I’m happy to stick to what I’ve got in the ocean.”

BeachGrit‘s Chas Smith was equally pained.

“I hate it and hate it honestly and truly and with everything in me. Seriously. Much of what I write here flips between semi and hyper ironic but that fucking wave pool. Ooooooh. I want, as I said on the Grit! podcast, for Kim Jong Un to sic his hydrogen bombs upon it.

Derek Rielly loves it. Loves it to the point of lusty tears. Loves it and would give up on most everything to be able to surf it everyday.

Who is right?

I am.”

Of course, virtue never tested is no virtue at all, as they say.

So when the WSL’s Dave Prodan started sending text messages inviting anyone with any sort of involvement in the surf media to surf the pool, most critics made a swift switcharoo.

Everyone except Travis.

Yesterday I asked Travis to reflect upon his decision.

BeachGrit: Were you, or were you not, invited to play in the Surf Ranch? 

Travis: I was invited! At the time, I didn’t know it was a full-blown media pool party, but I did get the invite from the wonderful people at WSL who didn’t want me to feel left out and offered an opportunity to scope it, despite my critical initial take. I was personally invited by Dave Prodan. And I fucking love Dave Prodan. He’s a dude who works for the WSL who still believes in the “magic” of surfing — be it marketing magic or surf magic or general surf lore magic. He understands it. And he’s a great guy to surf with and share a beer with. He understands his job and does it with passion but does not live with blinders on. He is the only person maybe who speaks my language at WSL I think but I’m not entirely sure. I thought it was very nice for him to reach out. My initial reaction certainly didn’t warrant any special invites. I actually did not know at the time, however, that I’d be joined by the wonderful guest list that included lots of friends in the media world, including you and Chas. Might have been worth the trip just to have a drink with you guys and converse with some pals in Lemoore, CA.

What was your response? 

I said that I wasn’t going to surf it — but maybe I’d consider checking it out or possibly send a proxy in my place, but I quickly forgot and just didn’t follow up. (A few of the crew at What Youth are psyched to check it out and I don’t wanna spoil their chances, so hopefully they can go do the surfin’ slip ‘n’ slide if the opportunity presents itself.) I have my opinions of it, and am obviously not as sold on it being the future of surfing or anything. But that doesn’t mean someone at What Youth isn’t psyched to tuck into one.

What was the WSL’s response to your response?

They offered me to send someone else, but like I said, I didn’t really follow up or think much about it after that.

Why did you dig your heels in? Weren’t you curious? Was the thought of being seen as hypocritical to much to bear? 

I actually really want to throw a party there. There is definitely fun to be had. I’m thinking bands and fireworks and rails and ridiculous elements that make the lunacy of a wave pool more bearable. My general curiosity has been quenched by watching people ride it those first few days. It’s impressive for a few waves, but once you’ve kind of seen most of the scenarios play out, it gets a little old. One of my favorite parts of surfing is the ceaseless wonder I get staring at the sea. Looking for peculiar instances or situations or moments or sections pop up and then the subsequent chase to find those things to stare at. Been doing it since day one. I’m a dumb romantic. Just the other day I spoke with Mason Ho and he said he loves rocks in the ocean because they present unique situations around them for rebounds or waves or opportunities. Things you can’t forecast. I like all the silly stuff that happens before and after surfing more than standing on a wave. The pursuit of new places or things. It all boils down to me hating that human nature feels we have to harness and contain everything. Surfing was pretty cool: a pursuit in nature that was spontaneous and weird and free and you could travel and search out. But you can also use it to dial in a certain location, learning moods and nuances that only that spot has. I hate the idea of mechanizing or harnessing it. Also, the pool has been pretty well surfed out by now in my opinion. Can you get deeper? I’m sure there will be some crazy tricks done in there. Will they get the same credit? I dunno. If you listen to surfers talk about it, all they wanna do now is “make it bigger” or “add sections” and you’re like, “Duh, that’s what makes being a surfer so interesting!” All the pursuits to find unique things to experience in the ocean! Now you have to ride a skim board or do an Al Knost layback in the pit to make it interesting. And we’ve only known it exists for a few months now. I find the fact that it already takes gimmicks to make it interesting should be noted. That once the initial shock and awe of a cool man-made wave wears off, what are we left with? I really hate gimmicky things.


While the rest of his surf media pals were being torn to emotional pieces by Surf Ranch, Trav was in South Carolina shooting guns and catching (little) man-eating sharks!

Do you really think surf pools are that bad?

No, they’re not bad. They just take out every layer of surfing that I love. The stuff you can’t explain. The magic. I categorize it the same as a water slide. They’re fun as hell, but it’s not something you base your life around. And surfing can be that. It has enough weird nuance and culture and magic in it that you can actually base a life around it. I’ve been around this planet we got and most of the opportunities presented themselves because back in my mind I was trying to surf somewhere. Wave pools remind me of indoor skydiving, hunting in a pen, fishing in a bucket or virtual porn or something. Maybe “fun” but it ain’t the real thing. I hate the human nature that encourages us to harness and control and contain the purest of pursuits. Wave pools play into that same condition. I don’t doubt the fun and the technology is amazing and I hope some people who maybe never would surf can get some element of the thrill. But there is no chance it replaces the daily struggle to wiggle at your homebreak or wander the globe or chuck a duck dive or feel a current or chop hop a rock and surf in new places in a new ocean or sea. That’s the jazz I love.

Did friends, work pals support your decision? 

No not at all. They were terrified it might jeopardize their chance by associating with me. It was not a popular decision.

What did you do on the day you were supposed to be there? 

I had to go back in my phone and see. But it appears it happened around November 2 which is around the time I was in South Carolina filming a piece on Cam Richards. Our most recent Fairly Normal vid. Quite a fun trip. Shot my first gun. Caught a shark. And dove into southern culture head on. One of the most fascinating trips I’ve ever been on.

Fairly Normal: Cam Richards from What Youth on Vimeo.

Three months on, reading about it everywhere, what’s your position now? 

Sounds like it was a blast. Like hearing about someone going to a fun wedding you didn’t attend. I won’t and didn’t lose any sleep honestly though. I literally live next door to Chris Cote and he showed me his very well-surfed backhand wave and barrel one morning and it was cool! I was stoked to see him shred it, but I didn’t feel any different. I love surfing shitty waves. I love surfing good waves. But it’s the in-between it all that I love most.