Live from Surf Ranch: “This ain’t a boat trip!”

Part 1 of today's historic Founders' Cup!

(Ed. Note: Of all the various medias sending witnesses to Surf Ranch I can authoritatively say we have the best. Jen See will be our eyes and our ears today and we are blessed.)

It’s 4 a.m. We’re in a bus. I try to pretend it’s a boat trip, but it’s not really working. There’s no splishy splashy water sounds, no scent of salt in the air. We’re pointed away from the coast. Landlocked, and destined to be more so.

It’s dark. The lighted signs of Southern California strip malls slide by on repeat. McDonalds. Starbucks. Chevron. Another McDonalds. Maybe the bus is just taking us to the boat. But no, not this time. There’s no boats involved. Just a bus.

In prehistoric time, California’s Central Valley was a sea floor, but not lately. A bunch of geology happened and it became a flat expanse of grasslands. More recently, industrial agriculture, which is neither especially aesthetic nor easy on the nose, took it over. John Muir wrote ecstatically — I think the dude used more exclamation marks than Chas — about the valley’s wildflowers and boundless life. On the slopes of the hills above Gorman, where poppies tint the terrain orange, you can still see a hint of what got Muir so excited.

A week ago I was doing 80 on the 99. I’d been on my way to do an interview at Surf Ranch when the whole thing got monkey wrenched. The Monkey Wrench is such a constant presence in media work that I’m always amazed when anything goes the way it’s planned. The 99 is one of two straight highway ribbons that unwind the length of the valley, which is tilted just slightly. The northern end is a few inches higher than the south. Drive up the map, drive up the terrain.

I’d pulled off the freeway in Tipton, a small town somewhere south of Visalia. An old man sat in the gas station, waiting. If you have a banjo handy, you might give it a little strum about now. Meat sizzled on an expanse of barbecue grills out front. There was another gas station across the street and a Denny’s after that. A loudspeaker called a school girl to the office somewhere nearby. The persistent wind riffled the trees’ leaves. Except for the highway, Tipton’s small grid of streets sat silent.

My phone lit up to tell me to turn around. I wasn’t going to the Surf Ranch this week. I didn’t need to be told twice. I pinned it south. Somewhere past Bakersfield I stopped at a gas station. I bought a bag of peanut M&M’s and poured it into my mouth. I chased it with the remains of a coffee of unspecified vintage. It wasn’t good.

By then, I was delirious from the truck fumes. I began to think this was all some kind of cruel joke that Kelly has decided to play on us all. Wha’d I ever do to you, man? You came to my town, you surfed our waves, I never dropped in on you. I didn’t snake you at the grocery store check-out line or eat out of your salad bowl. Maybe it was something I said. But really, I’m sure I never did anything to deserve this turn. I’m stuck in the Central Valley, miles from any ocean. Something has gone terribly wrong.

Back over the Grapevine where the dumbasses swerve in and out of the truck lane. I curse them vigorously. Then, the hard right turn across the Santa Clara river valley to Ventura. Back to the coast, I breathe more deeply. I made it home in time to surf with dolphins. No regrets.

Now I’m trying again with the whole Surf Ranch thing. That’s the point of this whole 4 a.m. bus trip. It’s Founders Cup weekend. I still don’t quite understand how this thing is supposed to work, but I figure I’ve got three hours in a bus to figure it out. There’s something with teams and rounds. Points, maybe. Someone will win, that seems certain.

And there’s a train that pulls a sled through the water to make a wave every four minutes. The Promethean analogy feels so obvious that it’s all but impossible to ignore. It’s like that footstool in the middle of the room that you keep tripping over, but can’t be bothered to move. It’s just right there.

The sun rises over Gorman. We drink truck stop coffee. I forgot to bring a banjo.

Claim: “WSL Surf Ranch took my job and passion”

Construction worker says he hasn't had a job in two years since Surf Ranch injury…

On the eve of the wildly anticipated Founders Cup, a former worker at Surf Ranch has appeared with a claim that he was severely injured during its construction.

In response to a post by Kelly, @decayrook, owned by the relatively notable drop-knee bodyboarder Louie Robles, wrote: “I been a wave rider my whole life and an #ironworker for half. I love my job almost as much as getting spat outa the pit. The #WSLsurfranch took both my job and passion. Unfortunately I took fall off the square tube/beam the vessel rolls on I haven’t worked since April 12 2016. As you can imagine, workman’s comp insurance claims suck. Please help turn this tragedy around for one or two of the #ironworkers who built this wave out of a wakeboard pool when all was kept secret Even if it’s for one ride @kellyslater help me out here man. I built your stoke machine please let me ride what we worked on for so long.”

Kelly replied,

“I’d love to see you ride a wave one day here. That’s why it’s for after all. Thank you for your work on it I/We do appreciate all the time and efforts people have put into the project. I’m sorry about your injury. I never heard about it or the details and I hope you heal up. I take a slight offence to you saying it ‘took your job and passion’ but I really don’t know what occurred to injure you or cause the accident. Can you enlighten me as to how it happened?”

And, from Robles,

“I DM’d you the details but I fell into the vessel trench breaking my scaphoid bone in two preventing me from working and surfing, my two passions, until the surgery is approved, which is a whole other issue. But fortunately it’s being resolved/approved and surgery scheduled soon. Since you have responded it seems progress is being made. Thank you for your time and inspiration.”

Both Kelly and Louie have been contacted for comment.

More to come etc.

The World Surf League reacts to punishing its surfers.
The World Surf League reacts to punishing its surfers.

Agent on WSL rules: “This is deeply offensive!”

"It really is fascist. I can't believe it."

When Nick Carroll writes I read and under the latest piece revealing the World Surf League’s fascist tendencies in restricting what the surfers participating in tomorrow’s Founders’ Cup can post on social media he wrote:

Where are all the agents in this whole shitshow? Didn’t they used to run ragged over the surf cos on a regular basis? What are they thinking in connection with the WSL and its direction?

And I thought, “Yeah! What do sport’s agents think?” So I called the best one in all of action sport, read the World Surf League’s missive to athletes and pressed record.

To take something that really should be public domain, surfing in the ocean, and putting it behind a wall is already offensive in its lack of democratic visibility. That aside, the above-the-line restriction is counter-intuitive. Surfers have their own identities. It’s not like a real league, like baseball or basketball, where everyone wears the same uniform. The surfers are individuals and have always been individuals. If they’re going to restrict the individual athletes’ participation on tour then they need to pay them a salary.

It would be like competing in X-Games and not being able to promote the partners that got you there. This letter sounds like the Olympics, rule 40, which prohibits athlete sponsors from promoting them, or athletes promoting the brands during the Olympic period. It’s problematic because it restricts the athletes from benefiting the partners who facilitate their participation.

This happening during the time of massive market contraction is a disservice to the industry that for years has encouraged participation and enthusiasm. It really is fascist. I can’t believe it.

And there you go.

The fucking bastards. I haven’t been this incensed since… since… Tom Ford sent me a pair of sunglasses that have very loose arms and they slide down my nose and make my head look extra thin.

More to come.

Future Surf Ranch locations seen on map.
Future Surf Ranch locations seen on map.

Fascism: The WSL cracks down at Surf Ranch!

A leaked email confirms worst suspicions!

With tomorrow’s airing of Founders’ Cup live on CBS from Lemoore’s Surf Ranch it is official. The World Surf League has liberated waves from the ocean. Before Kelly Slater’s great revolution waves had been hideously oppressed by nature. They had been starved and flogged. They had been brutalized but also brutalized us with their fickle behavior. Waves were altogether impossible to trust, maybe due their starving and flogging but still. Forecasts would predict their arrival but they wouldn’t come. Or they would come somewhere they weren’t supposed to. Or they would come just for a few moments, for a tease before leaving Kieren Perrow scratching his wet hair, stone-faced.

But now they are liberated from fate and will march happily when the powers tell them to march.

Such total power. Such complete control.

And have you wondered how surfing would look locked behind a high wooden fence and how the World Surf League would exercise its total power and complete control? Would it be benevolent or fascist? Hands off or iron-fisted?

I have wondered and watched. Who gets invited and who doesn’t. What they post on social media and what gets deleted. It has long felt, to me, that there is a creeping consolidation of narrative. That the total power and complete control of the waves is being foisted upon the surfers themselves and today a leaked missive from the League confirms.

Dear athletes,

We are extremely excited for the Founders’ Cup of Surfing and are stoked that our athletes are spending time at Surf Ranch. We would like to remind you to please respect the space as a training center and venue, which includes avoiding any brand endorsements that imply an association with Surf Ranch, including on social media.

When on the property, please do not endorse products (through product placement). This includes, for example, products placed in front of the wave, within the locker room, etc. You are of course allowed to post footage of your performances and rides at Surf Ranch and tag your sponsors while doing so.

A useful rule of thumb is that if you look at a potential post and see a product in association with Surf Ranch imagery, or if you see a post at Surf Ranch and assume it is a paid advertisement or contractual commitment with a brand, it is likely to have crossed the line. On the other hand, if it is sharing an experience or a nod to the event, without product placement or product endorsement, it is not an issue.

We respect and encourage you to have endorsement deals and have prominent social media presences, but ask that avoid implying Surf Ranch is part of such deals.

If you have any questions, please reach out to any one of us. I will send you some detailed examples next week of posts that are ok and posts that are not.

Thank you for all your support.

While most totalitarian regimes begin seeming innocuous, the World Surf League has decided to buck that trend and go full fascist straight out of the gate. The implications of the above are honestly wild and, if extrapolated, render sponsorship deals with professional competitive surfers moot. The “useful rule of thumb” could be applied to any post whatsoever. Any post of any thing could be seen as a “paid advertisement or contractual commitment with a brand…” because they are, but it is the surfer reaping the ever dwindling benefits and not the World Surf League.

What’s more, it shows the League’s willingness to assert total, complete authority over what happens behind the fence. That damned, god-forsaken place. I can only hope the pro surfers themselves have enough backbone to tell the League to fuck right off and post all sorts of brand products in front of the wave, within the locker room, etc. You can take our waves but you can never take our freedom!

Fuck those bastards.

And I am only getting started. I haven’t felt righteous indignation like this since… since… Swiss airlines stranded my poor family in Zurich for an extra four days, without real apology, at the end of our Alpine vacation.

Fuck all those bastards.

More to come.

surf fans
Surf fans flee for their lives at the Margaret River Pro after two attacks in one day. | Photo: @Jaws

Invest: Shark Shield Wants $5-ish million!

It works, mostly, depending on the "motivational state of sharks."

Have you ever dreamed of owning a small slice of a cutting-edge technology company? One that is not only a game-changer but actually saves human lives? And, best of all, is a growth industry?

One week ago, the Australian company Ocean Guardian Holdings, formerly Shark Shield, threw open its doors with an IPO (initial public offering, means they’re selling shares in the company) in the hopes of moving 25 million shares at 20 Australian cents apiece in its go-away-shark biz.

Shark Shield, if you were wondering, is one of the few technologies that has been independently proven to work, at least some of the time.

According to The Australian

The technology behind the Shark Shield Freedom+ Surf has been shown to deter great whites from potential prey. Many divers in South Australia swear by them. The device emits electromagnetic pulses up to 2m. These pulses are detected in the sensory organ in the shark’s head called the ampullae of Lorenzini, making the shark uncomfortable. But the findings into the device’s effectiveness are inconclusive, especially in situations when the shark is in attack mode. Also, two people have died while wearing the device.

Abalone diver Peter Clarkson was wearing a Shark Shield designed for divers when he was killed near Coffin Bay, South Australia, in February 2011. He was known to switch his device on at all times while diving but nobody knows for certain whether he did so on this occasion.

Paul Buckland was wearing a SharkPOD, an earlier version of the Shark Shield, when he was attacked and killed off Ceduna in April 2002.

At the subsequent coronial inquiry, it was concluded that he had not turned the device on when he dived into the water. He reached the bottom and was collecting scallops when a shark started buzzing him. He turned the device on and swam to the surface. Once on the surface, the device’s effectiveness was reduced. He was then attacked.

Senior Sergeant RB McDonald, of South Australia’s police water operations unit, told the inquiry that such devices have “little effect” once a shark has reached a “level of excitement where it will attack”.

Asked after this week’s launch whether he agreed with this, Shark Shield managing director Lindsay Lyon said: “Look at the inde­pendent scientific research that shows that Shark Shield is capable of deterring a shark charging at … full speed.”

The research Lyon refers to was conducted by Charlie Huveneers off South Australia in 2012. A seal decoy was towed behind a boat at 10km/h. Great whites approached the decoy as if to attack and were seemingly deterred by the Shark Shield, but their speed was not recorded. The commonly agreed top speed of great whites is 40km/h but one researcher has estimated one travelling at 56km/h.

Huveneers also noted that the Shark Shield “did not deter (great whites) in all situations”, and that the effectiveness of the Shark Shield depended on the “motivational state of sharks”.

The inner-motivations of Great Whites aside, let’s examine the company’s books.

shark shield
Biz is booming, profits not so much.

Is it viable biz? Is it worth throwing your lunch money or your life savings at?

Ain’t much profit dripping down, those big numbers in brackets down the bottom are losses, that twenty-gees in the middle is a real slim make on almost two million dollars of sales.

The company wants to raise capital, it says, to expand into the leisure boating market (who wants to see y’kid swallowed as she gets towed behind on her inflatable banana?) as well as investigate new long-range shark deterrent technology.

(Actually, $750,000 will be the cost of the float, $1.2 mill will be spent on marketing and only $1.5 mill be spent on research.)

Interestingly, the technology behind Shark Shield has been off-patent since 2016 meaning you could, theoretically, save your cash and start your own go-away-shark biz with Shark Shield technology.

In? Out? Snake oil or no?

View the prospectus here. 

 Read a report on shark repellents and their effectiveness here.