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Beach Grit

Wow: How Kelly improved Surf Ranch!

Derek Rielly

by Derek Rielly

It ain't what y'think… 

It’s hardly news by now that Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch was closed in November for what you would’ve supposed to be a bathymetric renovation. Raise the vinyl-covered bottom a little here, a little there, make it hollower, faster and so forth.

It reopened a couple of weeks ago with its usual drip-feed of footage, the most significant, or exciting, tour rookie Griffin Colapinto’s tuberiding (and clean fin-throw to tube) there.

But what was presumably a makeover of the man-made sea’s bottom was actually nothing of the sort. The bottom is static.

Instead, says Kelly, it’s “tuning of speeds and water depths. Just like a pool or lake, water depth just changes by taking out or adding water. Speed of wave matches the foil and whatever angle it comes off the foil.”

Get that? A little more volume in the pool, change the angle of the foil.

And the tube of Griff? Is the shape and length of the tube different?

“Not real different. It was probably a first wave after long pause and super calm. I was surprised he made it ’cause he was so deep. Really cool.”

Does USC scientist, Adam Fincham, the man who, in 2006, began to breathe life into Kelly’s outrageous dream with the use of parallel super computers, oversee these changes?

“He’s constantly helping with tweaks,” says Kelly. “He’s committed to making sure waves are consistently working right.”

I wondered, how many waves has Kelly caught in the pool?

“Not as many as you’d assume,” he says. “I generally surf less than anyone on days I’m there. Last week I probably surfed a half or third of what the other guys were surfing, maybe even less.”

When I was at the joint, I was struck by two things: the size of the pool – almost as long as Bondi Beach or 700 metres – and the empty man-made lake next to it. Back when Kelly and co bought the current lake in the first place, the owner who is a keen wakeboarder, I was told, wanted to retain one of ’em.

If he’d sold, would Surf Ranch have been twice and wide?

Bigger, hollower?

“The sheer scale freaked us out enough with just one,” says Kelly. “We just didn’t all the possibilities of future design.”