It shows you who and what you are but the worst possible version.
Surf Ranch that fucking Surf Ranch. That God forsaken lake in the middle of California and right near my ex-wife’s hometown Surf Ranch. With the Indian casino around the corner and a fence surrounding the environmentally friendly mulch and wood chip landscaping Surf Ranch. The parking lot that still had professional surfers’ name placards in front of the spaces Surf Ranch with one or maybe two Tesla power stations Surf Ranch.
Do you want to know where I parked? In Mick Fanning’s spot. Do you want to know what happened to me later in the day on wave number four? I dislocated my shoulder for the 25th-ish time in my life and am headed to major surgery in two weeks. Where the doctor saws part of my shoulder bone off, flips it upside down and screws it back in so the muscle runs across the ball joint and helps keep everything in place.
Mick Fanning that fucking Mick Fanning.
Longtom asked in the comments of the initial Surf Ranch post, “Couldn’t you fake fire and fury for the people?” Shame washed over me. Shame followed by exhaustion. I am exhausted of thinking about Surf Ranch and looking at Surf Ranch and hearing the damned words Surf Ranch but he is right. Exhaustion is not an excuse to perform surf journalism poorly and so here I am, mustering the bile that rotted in my throat as Derek and I drove south that evening.
Surf Ranch that fucking Surf Ranch is not a pornography, as previously described, nor is it a hooker. Those two are built purely to give you exactly what you want. To reflect back what you imagine yourself to be. Surf Ranch is exactly opposite. It shows you who and what you are but the worst possible version. A horrible, satanic mirror and allow me to explain. I never not once in my entire life imagined myself a “good” surfer.
I like to surf.
And that is all. I have also never cared. I love to write and some of the grandest writers of all time are failed bullfighters, boxers, baseball players, dancers. I am a failed surfer but Surf Ranch, oh Surf Ranch, it makes you more than a failure. It makes you a fraud.
Shall I describe? You paddle out with three other friends and line up along a fence. The man in front has priority. The man behind him second priority. Etc. The pool is calm and warm enough and you have one thought banging in your head.
DO NOT BLOW THE TAKE OFF.
You’ve taken off on thousands of waves in your life. Hundreds of thousands. So why are you even worried? But you are worried because this is not a wave this is Surf Ranch and then the countdown begins. A voice shouting across the water “One minute until wave!” One minute until wave? How often do you get a warning in the ocean like that? Never. Never especially if you are me.
That minute is eternal. You think DO NOT BLOW THE TAKEOFF. And you think DO NOT THINK DO NOT BLOW THE TAKE OFF. And you think DO NOT THINK DO NOT THINK DO NOT BLOW THE TAKEOFF. And then the plow whirs to life. It is not as loud as you would imagine. Not quite industrial but definitely mechanical and it whirs and the wave starts breaking on the shoal at the side of the pool very counter-intuitively. It is breaking over there and then the swell starts gurgling toward you and your heart is pounding DO NOT BLOW THE TAKEOFF as you paddle toward one of the flag poles at the distant end of the pool in the exact opposite way that you would normally paddle. Counter-intuitive.
The wave is there. You paddle. You stand. You did not blow the takeoff but now here it is racing before you. The famed Surf Ranch. The marvelous Surf Ranch and your legs move like they almost should and your arms move like they almost should but it is not right because you are not right. Everything is perfect as far as the wave is concerned but you are a halting, stuttering mess of conservatism and trepidation. You are you but you are the absolute worst possible version of you. The satanic version. The fraudulent version. And you surf the entire wave that way knowing you have five maybe six more chances to fix yourself.
But there is no fixing yourself. Fixing yourself takes years and years and years in heavy therapy. It does not happen in one hour at Surf Ranch.
Every single surf journalist was depressed afterward. Morbidly depressed. You could feel it in their energy. See it on their faces. Every single God forsaken surf journalist except Chris Cote (he surfed the wave better than Kelly Slater) and Vaughn Blakey (he created a new sort of tall man art form).
Every single other one though. Oh they all surfed well enough, Pete Taras and Todd Prodanovich stand out in my memory, but every one depressed and if they say no they are lying. I was there. I saw and felt with my arm dangling loose and dead Surf Ranch. Nick Carroll? You were depressed. Sean Doherty? You were depressed. You were all depressed except Chris Cote and Vaughn Blakey and maybe Pete Taras and Todd Prodanovich.
But would you like to know my proudest moment? I paddled for a left and did not blow the takeoff and was cruising down the line with my legs and arms moving almost like they should. Midway down the pool I got bored, thought “fuck this Surf Ranch” and kicked out. One of the very fine lifeguards, I think he is also a lifeguard for Maverick’s, pulled up to me on the ski and asked, “Is everything all right?”
I responded, “Yes.”
He said, “You had a lot more wave there.”
I told him, “Yeah, I got bored.”
He said, “You were the first person I have ever seen kick out.”
I smiled and then, one wave later, my arm was taken from its shoulder socket. Of course I was only bored because my lack of skill was fully exposed. My heart beating FRAUD FRAUD FRAUD not only to you but to me but to hell with it all. That’s what I think now, months removed.
To hell with it. It would all be kind of fun if you were a billionaire who could build your own or a millionaire who could rent one for the weekend with your four best friends but you are neither and so to hell with Surf Ranch.
May I confess a little something? I am horrible with numbers in any of their manifestations. Percentages, prices, simple equations each confound and confuse my feeble mind. I was passed through high school mathematics by the good graces of my teachers. I failed my one university math course and maybe shouldn’t actually have a degree because that one math course was a requirement. Since co-founding BeachGrit, though, numbers-based analytics have become a part of my every day.
The hard numbers matter. Who clicked what, where those clicks came from, how long those clicks stick around, where they go next matter and how the competition tries to game them is hilarious. Like, Venice-adjacent Stab magazine’s bounce rate is over 70%. That means that a vast vast majority of their “readers” don’t ever click on an article and disappear instantly. Even better, Venice-adjacent The Inertia gets its second most visitors from South Korea.
Whatever the case Zach Weisberg and co. should be very proud but also a little bit scared. One stray finger wiggle from neighboring North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and its second largest audience vanishes into the ether.
In other news, I am going to write a real honest piece about the Surf Ranch today. Stay tuned!
"The fact that you can now put those waves on a credit card fucks with everything I love about surfing."
Earlier today, the non-disclosure agreements Chas Smith, Matt Warshaw and I signed with the WSL as part of a deal to surf the Slater-Fincham pool in November expired. These NDAs, which were signed at various points around the lavishly outfitted Surf Ranch on Jackson Avenue, Lemoore, mine as I swam in the jacuzzi with a topless Sal Masakela, promised swift and stiff punishment.
I was thrilled by the notion of not writing and shelved, in the literal and not the drugged, late-night sense, my notepad and pencil.
But, here we are, three months later and no embargo.
What have we got to say for ourselves?
As is the norm in these situations, with no notes and only a few snap shots to revive a memory, a little round-table ensued with me and Chas, who surfed the pool in the first media session on November 3 and Matt Warshaw, who enjoyed the considerable facilities a few weeks later.
DR: Matt, Chas, how did you find out about the invite and what was your mindset?
Warshaw: Dave Prodan emailed me, and I gratefully accepted. I ran to the medicine cabinet to check our Ativan stash, then emailed my GP for a beta-blocker script. I was excited to a point of nausea. I’m such a fucking head case. I was going to lock in a 15-second tuberide. I was going to sit in the pool and barf into my lap and miss my wave. Both possibilities felt so real. Drugs, I figured, would put a floor beneath me. I kept the vial of beta-blockers on my desk for the next six weeks, and that was comforting. I didn’t surf once during that time. I bought a cheap skateboard from Amazon, and rode the schoolyard near my house on the days when it wasn’t raining.
Chas: I believe I was texting with Dave Prodan at the time and oh how I love him. If I recall I had just written something horrible about the Surf Ranch and my never ever ever wanting to surf it. He replied, “That will make the following offer a little awkward.” And I responded, “I thrive in the awkward!” I adore being proven wrong much more than being proven right. Who wants to be right? I was happy but mostly happy that Derek was invited too and hoping/dreaming/wishing Matt would be in our crew.
DR: I felt no such nerves, ironic considering what would follow. Weak two-foot rights are my bread and butter. My invitation came, first, via Chas, and then, as expected, in a text message from Dave Prodan. I remember walking outside and into a spring morning and feeling weak with joy. The next day I interviewed Matt Biolos on the subject of board design for wave pools with no other objective than to determine what surfboard to take. Now, tell me, first impressions of the joint.
Warshaw: The place was just about exactly how I pictured it. The huge wooden fence, the signage, the food spread, coffee urns, locker area, the whole medium-upscale country club feel. Part of me loved it. Zeroed right in on a locker, poured a coffee on top of my various sedatives. The first wave you see in person is shocking. Miraculous and surreal. The wave seems half-again bigger in person than it does on a computer screen, and it is of course every bit as perfect. But this is also where the experience gets complicated. You have no free agency. You can’t do shit at this point. You can’t jump in a pick off a couple of insiders. You can’t run down the beach and warm up at a different, lesser break. You just watch and wait your turn. The only goal I had was to not blow the takeoff—to not miss my wave, to not catch a rail dropping in. But the first ridden wave I saw, it was obvious that the takeoff is a chip shot, totally easy if you follow instructions—they tell you exactly where to sit, and when to paddle — so I just watched a couple more then went back in the lounge and zoned out. Not watching was better for my nerves.
DR: Talk to me about the size. The joint is bigger than anything I could’ve imagined. Seven hundred yards long! And that takeoff, that chip shot, I found overwhelmingly troublesome. The tense wait, the way the wave stands up and bulges like it’s going to throw and then backs off radically. Very…very…easy to miss. Gerry Lopez fell off on his first wave there. I’m not one for nerves, generally, but I felt like I’d blow a valve and, consequently, found it very hard to enjoy.
Warshaw: No, the size was about what I expected. Although I thought the left was located in a separate pool running alongside the right. It was strange when I realized they just send the locomotive back down the track going the other direction. So if it’s your turn, you go right, wait four minutes, then go left back the way you came and end up where you started. I didn’t understand that until we arrived and I saw it in action. The whole day we were there, I don’t think anybody missed a wave or shanked a takeoff. Almost nobody made one all the way through, maybe one in 10 rides. But somehow we all had the takeoff figured out.
Watch DR’s first wave here. Commentary by Grant Ellis and Vaughan Blakey.
As far it being hard to enjoy, yeah, I don’t know how many sessions you’d need, how many waves you’d have to ride, before it became enjoyable. For me, anyway. But surfing was rarely enjoyable back when I did it a lot. I loved the intensity, the obsession, the whole huge never-ending project of it all. But no way have I ever plugged into a new spot and felt anything like joy during my first half-dozen waves. Which is how many waves I caught at the Surf Ranch. In the afternoon, on my second and final right, I managed a tube section, the first time I’ve been tubed in years, and that felt great. Then I came out, drifted high, and got pitched, and was furious with myself. So maybe five second of enjoyment, just before and during that little tube. But the overwhelming feeling with regard to the pool, the takeaway, was just . . . I need more! Tons more. I would have opened a vein for another dozen waves.
Watch Matt Warshaw here!
DR: …open a vein for more. How much would you pay for a dozen waves?
Warshaw: We haven’t touched on deep-down existential crisis the Surf Ranch has thrown me into. In the surfing universe where I live, it is so profoundly wrong that you could buy waves of that caliber, at the date and time of your choosing. Perfect surf is something you dream about and aim for. You plot and steal and suffer, over years, decades, to get yourself in the of perfect surf. It should be more or less as difficult and rewarding as Buddhist enlightenment. Either that, or you get so lucky it’s like hitting the Lottery. Either way, we’re shaped and defined as surfers by the way we have or have not hit upon perfect waves. The fact that you can now put those waves on a credit card fucks with everything I love about surfing. But to answer your question . . . $1,350.00.
“Whereas surfing, real surfing, each wave is a conversation. Action and reaction. I love all the decision-making. How many choices for each ride? Beyond that, how many choices for each session? Where to surf, where to line up, who to surf with, sit inside, outside, down the beach, steal position from that guy, cold-shoulder the other guy, decide to get out after one more than change your mind. God I missed all that.” Matt Warshaw
Chas: First impression? Much more surreal than I thought it would be and also so well designed. The “Ranch” theme carried out very well from the lockers to the bathrooms to the picnic tables. I was stricken by the attention to detail around the pool itself. Size, it was massive. Much more impressive in person than in video but also quintessentially American. Like a goldfish filling out its tank. Also quintessentially American in that it was, and felt like, a modern marvel. The pool, train, etc. all pointing to the mid-century aesthetic that man can conquer all through since.
DR: Matt, let’s talk a little bit more about your existential crisis. Does it really fuck with everything you love about surfing? And where did you get the $1350 figure?
Warshaw: Yes. If for no other reason than we’re throwing the tuberide into the discount bin. Kooks will figure out how to ride the tube over the weekend. Ten-second barrels won’t even go into your scoreline at the Surf Ranch Open.
DR: And where did you get the $1350 figure?
Warshaw: Cause I want to ride a few more tubes before I die, and I’m too old and lazy to chase ‘em down in the wild.
DR: How about you, Chas?
Chas: I would pay 1200 for 12 waves. A hundred bucks a pop. Not necessarily because I love but because I think it is totally silly to imagine it is worth less. It was much more powerful than I expected. I thought it was going to be weak but that first wave I felt my fins were going to rip out of my board mid-face. Knowing what that damned wave is going to do, each and every time, was… rattling. I found myself pumping awkwardly down the line waiting for the barrel. That damned barrel.
DR: I was so overwhelmed by stress, and a terrible hangover, my mind wandered into some quite sinister places. Not the pools fault, I’ll add. You’ll like this story, Matt. I was suited up an hour before my session and thought a spell in the jacuzzi would cure my hot and cold flashes. I was seated next to Sal Masakela, a gorgeous man from a television show who was eating protein bar after protein bar. No wonder his physique was such. A few minutes before the sesh was about to start, as everyone lined up in the pool, my suit, which had been pulled around my waist, had somehow twisted itself into the neck gusset. The pool’s about to turn on and I can’t work out how to get my suit on! I’ve flown from Australia, I’ve drunk whiskey all night, I’m there, and I might miss my wave ‘cause of a wetsuit malfunction. Dave Prodan coolly pulled it up for me. Now. Question. How would you describe the wave and what wave in the ocean would you liken it to. I tell everyone it’s like three-foot Little Marley, at Rainbow.
Warshaw: The wave is smooth, fast, and incredibly easy to ride in that it doesn’t throw anything weird at you; no chops, no boils, no sections. For me, going left at the Surf Ranch was like small, speeded-up Macaronis. I rode my lefts all the way across, but way out in front of the lip, cause I can’t grab rail. The difference between the pool and Indonesia, in terms of how it feels — and this is pretty disconcerting — is that you only get maybe 15-yards-worth of information ahead of you. So you’re not reacting to the wave, you’re following a set of instructions in your head. “Don’t go high, don’t cut back, don’t tap the brakes.” There’s nothing instinctive or responsive about the ride. The whole thing in fact reminded me of skating pools when I was a kid. Pools are static. Each one is a puzzle that you figure out. Whereas surfing, real surfing, each wave is a conversation. Action and reaction. I love all the decision-making. How many choices for each ride? Beyond that, how many choices for each session? Where to surf, where to line up, who to surf with, sit inside, outside, down the beach, steal position from that guy, cold-shoulder the other guy, decide to get out after one more than change your mind. God I missed all that.
DR: How’s this park gonna make money? Did you do the mathematics in your head? …and…is it about making money? Or something else?
Warshaw: I never think about the business part as much as I probably should. My only thought is that 98% of the world’s surfers want to ride Kelly’s wave. That wasn’t the case with the other pools. If they can’t figure out how to turn a profit this year, they will next year or the year after. The demand is too high. Olympics and money, in that order.
“The pool workers, who were all exceptional, talked about how they created a happiness Factory a la Willy Wonka. They were right about the Willy Wonka part but none of us are Charlie. We’re all Mike TV and Augustus Gloop. Horrible horrible gluttons. I suppose I’m ok with that now. It’s fine and the same as any other very good wave, more or less.” Chas Smith
Chas: It only works as a loss leader. As part of some bigger shopping/living development. As a stand alone pool the cost would have to be over 1k per person per hour with a four person per hour cap and that would be running with no real profit. But what do I know? We’re looking for bar gigs!
DR: One thing I noticed at the pool was that everyone felt they were …expected… to scream, Best Day Ever and wave their arms in the air etc, but the undercurrent was, maybe a little sadness. It was like a pack of johns who went to a men’s club, fucked everything, the gorgeous gals, active transgender dolls, kinky as anything, everything in the erotic ball park, better than anything you’d be fed at home, but were left with an emptiness. Did you feel?
Warshaw: No, the analogy is off in two ways. At the Chicken Ranch you’d get everything you came for. Twice, maybe. Not true at the Surf Ranch, where I think you’d always be left wanting. Also, the day after whoring it up I’d be suicidal. Again not true for the pool. Afterwards I was just . . . deflated. The sport that made me is remaking itself at the most fundamental level. I accept that this is happening. Just as I would accept a return invitation to the Surf Ranch. But I’m nonetheless mourning the period—and surfing only has two periods, Before and After Kelly’s wave — where a 10-second barrel could change your life.
DR: Did you notice the lack of power at the base of the wave? That if you’re caught behind a section, even by half a foot, y’can’t get out in front?
Warshaw: Nah, I found other ways to mess up. But what you say, yeah, I heard other people saying the same.
DR: And why does paid-sex make you suicidal?
Warshaw: Everything good in life comes from my family. Including the plan ticket to Fresno to ride Surf Ranch.
DR: Happy y’went?
Warshaw: Very happy I went, yes. Apart from the nerves beforehand, the overriding thought was that surfing hadn’t throw me anything really totally new for years, maybe decades. The Surf Ranch was a huge rush just for being so completely different than anything else I’ve done in surfing. I’m really grateful I got a chance to try it!
DR: Chas, you wrote that wavepools were terrible things before going. Did you change your mind, perhaps overwhelmingly change your mind?
Chas: I said terrible: And now I am completely indifferent. I was massively depressed for a month after surfing it. The pool exposes your greed and weakness. The pool workers, who were all exceptional, talked about how they created a happiness Factory a la Willy Wonka. They were right about the Willy Wonka part but none of us are Charlie. We’re all Mike TV and Augustus Gloop. Horrible horrible gluttons. I suppose I’m ok with that now. It’s fine and the same as any other very good wave, more or less. But I’ll die happy never surfing one again. Fuck em.
And here’s Chas! (Shortly before dislocating his shoulder.)
Pierre and his family played a pivotal role in my life.
I was barely sixteen when I met the Australian pro surfer Bryce Ellis. He swept me away by the time I was seventeen. He showed me the World. The first place he brought me was south-west France. We arrived in Bordeaux and Pierre was there to pick us up. He was the French Quik team manager, having just graduated from the University of Pau with a degree in Philosophy. It must’ve been 1986 or 1987.
Pierre drove us back to his mother’s beautiful villa on the quais of Capbreton harbor. The home was classic, elegant and full of soul. His mother that we never called anything else other than Madame Agnes was the quintessential model of subdued French capability, knowledge, intelligence, feminism and chic. She was a nurse, Pierre’s father was a doctor, as are his two brothers.
She taught me to make confiture, magret de canard, ratatouille and daube de boeuf. She taught me to starch linen sheets, groom geraniums, make tisane from herbs in the garden and all those other things French women need to know, me grappling to understand directives in the most complicated language in the world that would ultimately become my first language because they made me want to be French, just like them. They taught me the art of French understatement and non-definition.
Working his way from the bottom to the top, first Hodge retired, and when Murietta finally got chucked out after wreaking Quik-havoc, Pierre ended up at the helm. I was shocked by the decision, but goddammit, Pierre had dedicated his life to the cause.
I will never forget Pierre’s silent cheek-puff, suffering side-mouth-exhale while twinkling blue eyes laughed silently and that meant to say everything all the while saying nothing at all. He taught me to hide my game… de cacher mon jeux. His girlfriend during this period was Arbela d’Arcangues. He introduced me to a woman who would become a lifelong best friend. I lived between his momma’s villa and her parents; chateau for years as a kid. A young, naive American, I felt so blessed to have crossed the paths of people so rooted, so classy and honorable.
Working his way from the bottom to the top, first Hodge retired, and when Murietta finally got chucked out after wreaking Quik-havoc, Pierre ended up at the helm.
I was shocked by the decision, but goddammit, Pierre had dedicated his life to the cause. Of course it would be him, he’d been there since the very beginning, knew the subject in all intimacy. He married the stunning Poppy and they founded a family.
The night I met her, she was wearing a polka-dot Marilyn-Monroe camisole dress at the Waterman’s Ball or some shit. It was her. They got married, founded a family and he took the weight of Quik upon his shoulders.
Of course he could.
That sustained ironic cheek-puff would keep him going.
The world is a more sorry place without it, and him.
Surfing's greatest singer/songwriter to make grand debut on world stage!
It was reported here just two days ago that the world’s greatest surfer would appear in the Super Bowl this coming Sunday. More people watch on television than anything else and so more people will see him paddling his surfboard to the horizon singing the song “I like beer.”
Now, the novice might find it amusing that Kelly Slater is paddling and singing but the surf enthusiast will know that our icon is as much a singer as he is a surfer and let us take a trip down memory lane beginning with The Surfers.
You, of course, recall the super band featuring Peter King, Rob Machado and Kelly Slater. Rolling Stone magazine described the second album thusly:
The Surfers’ best quality is their ability to present truly virtuosic rapping in ways that are commercially viable, and it would be ridiculous to suggest that Peter, Rob, and King Kelly’s talents have diminished since the debut release. But if that debut marked the very peak of The Surfers’ triumphal arc, buoyed by a swell of goodwill, the album Tubed is simply… here, arriving in the wake of a handful of solid but inessential singles that hardly compare to a zeitgeist-dominating force.
Even with rising success, The Surfers disbanded due tensions attributed to one of the member’s “extreme political position.” Undaunted, Kelly went on appearing many times with Jack Johnson…
… and solo.
Derek Rielly says that he has the voice of an angel and I think it would be impossible to disagree. All of America will be treated to it, anyhow, this Sunday.