Gabriel Meinda, for the third time in a row (Future Classic, Founders' Cup, Surf Ranch Pro) leaves other competitors gasping like fish for air. | Photo: WSL/Cestari

Gabriel Medina wins Surf Ranch Pro: “A pure corporate dusting of the intangible!”

For the third time in a pool event, Gabriel Medina leaves other competitors (exception: Filipe Toledo) like caught fish, gasping for air!

Soz, but your burnt-out hack got the lay-out and implications of Finals Day, Surf Ranch Pro, horrendously wrong. I can only blame the cognitive deficit of four days of compounding sleep deprivation but I thought Finals Day was remaining top eight men and to four women having one run each.

One left, one right to decide the matter.

Which would have placed a premium on conservative, finish-the-wave type surfing.

As it happened there was a glut of surfing. The basin was playing up and “defect” waves plagued some competitors. When replacement left waves were added to both men and women the empty rights got pounced on by Strider, who was the closest and loudest seagull to the chip.

Strider live-narrating a funnelling right hander was almost the highlight of the Finals Day, for me. It was a welcome break from the monotony of mandatory high performance – as compelling as one of those live car chases shot from a chopper that American TV does so well. Apart from Kolohe’s dummy spit yesterday about the only true non-scripted moment.

There were a lot of fails in the opening rides from the men.

Stage fright? Some weird wind ribs and general funkiness in the lefts that made accurate reads hard to come by.

The first excellent ride was an insanely well ridden right from Filipe Toledo. The foot forwards tube technique was a cross gendered homage to Steph Gilmore who had looked shaky in her opening run. It was obvious from the 8.33 that judges had reset the scale overnight, because by the scale set by Kelly’s opening day wave it was a mid nine.

Kanoa’s opening right with a failed air on the end was awarded a 8.17. It caused consternation in the booth. Blakey must have been getting a little BeachGrit into him overnight because he came out firing.

“Would you stick that in a free surfing clip?” he mused, “because that’s my definition of high-performance surfing.”

Lovely Kanoa Igarashi.

Hate to break it to you Ron Dog but by that standard less than a dozen waves ridden in four days would make the High P cut. The judging applied to Filipe was curious. He was measured against a theoretical limit of what he might produce, versus what he actually did.

Gabe’s first right was ridden with a mixture of brute power and palpable relief; he slotted deeper into the end section than anyone and emerged with pale hams quivering with lactate in the Steinbeckian sun.

Again, we were treated to passionate discourse from Pete Mel telling us rides would have to feature the progression of above-the-lip surfing if they wanted to get in the excellent range.

Unless you’re Kelly Slater.

Three thousand four hundred fans in Oceania tuned in on Facebook to watch him score an 8.60 without loosing the fins and falling on the end turn. It did not raise an eyebrow.

Wobbly, weird lefts caused confusion for gals and guys. Carissa’s power game on the forehand was imperious but her lefts looked a little forced. No matter, she held a winning lead from start to finish, despite a fast finishing Lakey Peterson and an air game from Caroline Marks who somehow, out of all the surfers this weekend looked more stylish in the tub than the ocean.

Julian was going big, skate style big. But couldn’t stick a single one of the varial/big spin attempts on the lefts and just wasted too much real estate on the right boosting on the end section.

Which bought Toledo into the mix on run two. Righthander. Three clean, boosted and greased airs, the first one launched near the outside pole 69, if my eyes did not deceive. Huge hacks, tube-rides. The best wave of the event by so far it wasn’t funny. The one wave that did deliver on the promise of the wave systems vision of the future.

Ten, I wrote in the notes. Got to be.

Got to be.

Except it wasn’t. Judges short changed it in a miserly display.

Kelly deserves his plaudits. His janky, jangly angular foam climbs and twitchy backside re-entries were definitely not to my eye or taste but they impressed the judges and made a hometown crowd – as close to hometown now as he will get – wild with joy.

“What do I have to do to get a ten?” he announced to fans who had erupted in boos when the judging call was announced.

Fucked if I know. Maybe shave your head and stick an outerknown sticker on your board?

Now, now, that is unfair. Kelly deserves his plaudits. His janky, jangly angular foam climbs and twitchy backside re-entries were definitely not to my eye or taste but they impressed the judges and made a hometown crowd – as close to hometown now as he will get – wild with joy.

Gabe was the only one to capitalise on the bonus left. The drive, zap and drift through turns was stunning. The ability to redirect with deep gouges and not lose forwards momentum, a notch above. Just before a live TV audience on CBS was cut he stuck a lofted Kerrupt flip that crop-dusted the entire end section with rad from a frothy height. The winner of last year’s Future Classic, the best surfer at the Founders’ Cup was again the best surfer in the basin. Even if Filipe got a ten, he would not be bested. The Medina family went nuts, tears of joy flowed freely etc etc yet the silent evidence seemed to fill the room. Facebook audience stayed static between two and three thousand. Pitiful. Everyone I spoke to pronounced: boring.

Is this Betamax or the internet?

I know I’m a bum, the very essence of Teddy Roosevelt’s nameless critic who does nothing compared to the great ones etc etc. I never pretend otherwise. Kind to my kids, polite in the water, try to write the best sentence I can. That’s the best of a very flawed package. I take my lessons from what’s poor: as Bonnie Prince Billy said. That’s what God has put me here for.

But bizarrely I have friends in high places. One of them texted me as the show wrapped. I give the last word to her: A pure corporate dusting of the intangible.

Thank you for reading, hope you enjoyed the coverage.

If you’ll excuse, there’s something involving a man and a mat I need to investigate.

Surf Ranch Pro Men’s Final Results:
1 – Gabriel Medina (BRA) 17.86
2 – Filipe Toledo (BRA) 17.03
3 – Kelly Slater (USA) 16.27
4 – Kanoa Igarashi (JPN) 15.77
5 – Owen Wright (AUS) 15.40
6 – Julian Wilson (AUS) 15.37
7 – Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 15.07
8 – Miguel Pupo (BRA) 12.96

Surf Ranch Pro Women’s Final Results:
1 – Carissa Moore (HAW) 17.80
2 – Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 16.70
3 – Lakey Peterson (USA) 16.57
4 – Caroline Marks (USA) 14.77

2018 WSL Men’s CT Jeep Leaderboard (After Surf Ranch Pro):
1 – Filipe Toledo (BRA) 49,785 points
2 – Gabriel Medina (BRA) 45,685
3 – Julian Wilson (AUS) 37,125
4 – Italo Ferreira (BRA) 31,825
5 – Owen Wright (AUS) 29,485

2018 WSL Women’s CT Jeep Leaderboard (After Surf Ranch Pro):
1 – Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 61,175 points
2 – Lakey Peterson (USA) 54,260 points
3 – Tatiana Weston-Webb (BRA) 41,415 points
4 – Carissa Moore (HAW) 41,235 points
5 – Caroline Marks (USA) 37,000 points


Live from Surf Ranch: “Maybe tomorrow I’ll go surfing!”

The last chapter of a perfect story.

The door to my hotel room is stuck. I have warm pizza and cold beer and I can’t get into my hotel room. I wait in the hallway. My beer warms.

The woman from the front desk in Visalia asks if I’ve been at the surf event. I’m not sure what gave me away. Maybe the Patagonia bag, the cut-off corduroys, the blonde-streaked hair.

I’d love to check it out, she says of the Ranch. And Social D is playing! That’s going to be a great show. But she has to work and she’s envious that I get to be there. My feet hurt and I desperately need a beer, but I try to absorb her enthusiasm. I want to carry it with me when it’s time to do it all over again tomorrow.

I awaken in the dark and pull another lululemon top from the pile I brought with me. Lululemon is my hot-weather uniform. No one can see me sweat. I blend into the scenery. A woman walks by in lululemon. Do you notice? Probably not. Sometimes, it’s nice to slide through the world unnoticed.

I drive toward the sunrise. I stop at Starbucks and slam my two espressos in rapid succession. It’s best not to taste the coffee at Starbucks in my experience. Just get it down. I crank the radio to ear-splitting levels. I’m not a morning person and I need all the help I can get. I find the right exit this time and my spirits lift. I’ve got this Surf Ranch thing dialed.

I pull into the dirt lot that serves as general admission parking. Then I wait for a shuttle that never comes. Eventually a Tachi employee drives up in his maintenance cart. We’re closing this lot today, he says. You have to take the shuttle from the hotel. I repark and ask around until I find the shuttle. I’ve missed the start of the event, but it’s fine. I got this. I totally got this.

It’s not a surf spot until it has a name. I’m not sure I would have chosen The Basin, but no one asked me. The North Basin. The South Basin. Upper Basin. I play with the possibilities. Kelly’s Right. Jackson’s, after the street name. Where’s the drunk in the parking lot? We need the local parking lot drunk to name this thing properly.

I stand against the wall of the Basin and watch the lower seeds fall. It’s as though every wave is the last set of the heat. Everyone’s racing the buzzer, needing a high score to advance. Very few make it through. The stakes add an intensity to the proceedings that was missing during the previous day. Amidst the whirring of the cables and the pulling of the plow, Wilko gives the sport a human face. His hopes and dreams are sucked under. He’s out.

I try to get into the headspace required to compete here. It’s a one-minute effort. You have one chance. There’s no warm-up. You’re sitting in the pool, waiting for the train, facing an all-out, one-minute effort from a standing start. And nothing can go wrong during that short slice of time.

In heat surfing, there are second and third chances. A competitor might come out swinging and nail their best score on their first wave. Or they might “build house” throughout the heat. There’s no building house at the Basin. Some surfers very obviously manage the shift in headspace better than others. Anyone who’s surfed a crowded line-up understands the hassle of heat surfing intuitively. We do a version of it everyday.

I imagine trying to surf here and my brain seizes. No paddle-out. No quick insider or two to get going. Just straight on to a perfect set wave. I get stage fright just thinking about it. My brain spins up a new anxiety dream. I’ve been invited to surf the Basin. I hear the train coming. The count-down. I’m ready. Paddle in. Stand up. Feeling good. Then I take off and go the wrong way, straight into the white water.

The crowd is sparse in the morning, but it fills in steadily by the afternoon. A woman passes pulling a wagon packed with kids. They could be headed to any beach in California. Dad is watching the surfing. The kids are going to the beach. There’s a lake that runs parallel to the Basin and Hurley has set up umbrellas and floated blow-up toys. By late afternoon, there are kids splashing happily amidst the giant swans and flamingos. My bikini is in my car, parked a shuttle-ride away, or I might join them.

I lounge in the shade during the break and then it’s on to the higher seeds. I swim through the crowd along the pool’s walls. They cheer for the airs and groan at the falls. They’re into it — and most of the people seem to understand what they’re watching. They love Julian’s wave with its straight air on the final section. They like Kelly’s barrel on the left, but the airs get the biggest reaction.

From the side of the pool, I watch part of the wave live and part of it on the video screen. Kelly feels overscored, Kolohe under. But I’m not sure if that’s because the judges are wrong or because I can’t see the full wave from my perspective. Kolohe’s angry interview injects a necessary human element. He gives a shit. Maybe we should, too.

Chas shows up and I’m not sure I see another wave for the rest of the day. We stand together and toy with the joke about how we’re supposed to be the same person. Me, in my lululemon. Chas, well, you can see him coming from a mile away. He does not slide through the world unnoticed. We gossip and circulate. We forget about the surfing. I still haven’t seen Nick Carroll.

Then it’s time to go. The heat begins to press. I’ve had my watermelon agua fresca and my avocado toast. I’ve seen some good surfing and laughed with some entertaining people. I’ve napped in the shade and walked until my feet hurt. The coast is calling.

Back at my car, I peel off my sunscreen-crusted clothing and wipe away the dust. I slide gratefully into a cut-offs and a tee. Then I down another espresso and drive southwest across the valley’s flat terrain.

I stop for ice cream in Kettleman City. My phone buzzes. It’s Chas.

Nick Carroll says, Where the hell is JEN SEE?

I laugh and slide through the golden hills to the coast and home.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll go surfing.


Nick Carroll, at left, and Charlie Smith, author of Coke and Surf etc. | Photo: David Lee Scales

Listen: Chas Smith vs Nick Carroll!

The future of Surf Ranch revealed in a mutual vision!

I woke up yesterday at 4 in the morning, darkness outside, darkness in my heart, grim about the mouth. It was time. Time to drive to Oceanside to catch a train to Fullerton to meet Travis Ferre and continue driving to Lemoore, California. Home of cows, more cows and Chas Smith’s damned ex-wife.

Son of a bitch.

It was appropriate to join with Travis in Fullerton, I thought, as the train crept through black fog, because it is home of The Spaghetti Factory, collegiate baseball and Social Distortion. The new headlining act for the Surf Ranch Pro. In Lemoore, California. The future of professional surfing. The beating heart of professional surfing.

Travis and I chatted and sipped his black coffee as we headed north and east, away from the coast over the hills into a valley that stretches the length of California. If not for the sheer joy of spending time with him my mouth would have stayed grim. Lemoore, California. Going to Lemoore, California.

I would not have been going to Lemoore, California had I not spent the past nine months glibly and smirkily dancing upon Surf Ranch and the World Surf League. Laughing, poking, laughing, poking, Backward Fin Beth, Dirk Ziff, no grumpy locals, laughing some more. There was nothing for me to write, no possible way to add to the tandem beauty of Jen See and LT, but I have a personal ethic, maybe my only one. When I make fun I need to go look the thing in the eye in case it wants to slap me. I need to give it, whatever “it” is a chance to re-re-re-rebreak my nose and then feel we can laugh together.

And so we drove and drove and finally arrived at the Tachi Palace where we parked and took a shuttle to hell. It was early and already too hot but my hateful attitude continued to dissipate as we passed Matt Biolos, Jesse Faen, Danielle Beck, Evan Slater, David Lee Scales, Jen See etc. etc. etc. All of my friends and family.

Live professional surfing, I realized instantly, is enjoyable because of the spectacle certainly but mostly because of the other people who go and watch live professional surfing for whatever the reason. The WSL could have hosted a contest anywhere, from Alice Springs to Pittsburgh to Brasilia to Lemoore and the friends and family show up, the People too, and it is fun to be together.

And so it came to be that I was in Lemoore, California in front of my favorite surf journalist of all, Mr. Nick Carroll feeling very happy. Clearly seeing the problem of Surf Ranch and the solution to Surf Ranch.

I love Nick Carroll.
I love Nick Carroll.

In creating this perfect inland wave man effectively killed God but then took a giant nap. The wave is there, churning and driving. The surfers are there surfing and not duck-diving. The skis are there Raimana yelling just like in the ocean.

BUT THIS IS NOT THE OCEAN!

The powers could have done anything. Anything at all. They could have, and should have, put Slayer on the plow, having them play Raining Blood with flames shooting up around them or the bass player from Mad Max. They should have had carnival tents with freaks and strippers tempting wayward youth. They should have had a Waterworld-style barge in the pool with actors and actresses dressed in fine dystopian chic. They should have strung cables over the top of the pool and had contortionists swinging on swings.

Lemoore is hell and they should have decorated it appropriately. Like the Titty Twister in From Dusk til Dawn.

Future wave tank and wave tank events should also be themed because why the hell not? The ocean is beautiful, wonderful, home but also presents certain constraints. Those are gone when the wave is removed. So why not party? Like really really party?

What do you think about that?

Listen here!


Riding a left that was, I can't even describe it, except to say it might have been state of the art in 1998 but it wasn't in 2018 and was scored a full point and change over Italo. Conveniently, along with his 8.5 from Day 1 Kelly was now rocketed up to second place on the leaderboard. You can create your own walled reality and do what you want with it – from Rockefeller to William Randolph Hearst to Gates, Zuckerberg, Page et al, that's the American dream – but if you are going to broadcast it to the world and call it sport then you need at least the illusion of fairness and transparency.  Kelly's overscore made the Surf Ranch look less level playing field for all and more private fiefdom, administered by opaque decrees designed to make the King look clothed in gold. | Photo: WSL

Surf Ranch, Day Three: “Kolohe Accuses Judges of Mind Tricks; Kelly’s overscore makes the king look clothed in gold!”

If you are going to broadcast to the world and call it sport then you need at least the illusion of fairness and transparency. 

After breathing the rarefied air from yesterday’s dizzying climb it was a buzzkill to have go back to basecamp and watch the field of honest journeyman get crushed by boulders they had no hope of summiting with. Three days in and the affair has blended into a quagmire of instantly forgettable rides.

The scoreboard takes an age to update which meant the mind had to loose itself from the previous ride to focus on the current one. That, and the bombardment of advertising between each ride, made for a particular psychological challenge to stay engaged. I mean in a wave by wave fashion which gives the event some meaning as sport.

If there was one thing to be grateful for in the Run Three reset it  was Miggy Poops being able to elevate himself from the muck of mediocre rides. He rode a left and a right gracefully, beautifully. Like other surfers the camera cut to the dewey eyed babe watching nervously on the …..shoreline?…presumably his wife added some kind of emotional intensity to the broadcast.

After three days of having waves of uncommon length and perfection implanted in my brain I feel a curious sense of hunger. The return on investment for the viewer, in terms of memorable moments, is low, even by pro surfing standards.  The prodigality of the ocean has been supplanted by the stinginess of the machine. We’ve seen a lot, but we’ve barely seen anything of substance. Mikey Wright spoke of feeling like he’d had only half a bite of an apple. Judging from the shellshocked and wistful pressers with the losing contestants that must have been a common reaction.

If there was one thing to be grateful for in the Run Three reset it  was Miggy Poops being able to elevate himself from the muck of mediocre rides. He rode a left and a right gracefully, beautifully. Like other surfers the camera cut to the dewey eyed babe watching nervously on the …..shoreline?…presumably his wife added some kind of emotional intensity to the broadcast. 

The tub had, presumably by some common consent, become a “basin”. Pete Mel got assigned the job of pitchman and took to hustling merch with a feverish intensity. Mobile phone cases, WSL merch, a muddy pond with blow-up swans. Pete took to it all with admirable sincerity.

It was becoming hard to separate one rider from another. Style is exposed in the ocean. Heightened. In the basin it is flattened. They surf a little less like themselves. If the ocean is a karma sutra where the range of positions is infinite to the imaginative lovers the basin seems more like jackhammer sex with an unresponsive doll. It gets the job done for the participant no doubt, but to the onlooker it lacks grace. (Editor’s note: Just read Jen See, she says it so much better).

Only Italo made it look like he was having fun. He loosened up the program and dished up a left spiced with a pair of cleanly made airs and a ton of repertoire. This was minutes after Pete Mel almost burst a haemerrhoid telling us judges wanted innovation, progression, risk etc etc. 

Except they didn’t. They just didn’t.

You can create your own walled reality and do what you want with it – from Rockefeller to William Randolph Hearst to Gates, Zuckerberg, Page et al, that’s the American dream – but if you are going to broadcast it to the world and call it sport then you need at least the illusion of fairness and transparency.

Kelly proved that in short order. Riding a left that was, I can’t even describe it, except to say it might have been state of the art in 1998 but it wasn’t in 2018 and was scored a full point and change over Italo. Conveniently, along with his 8.5 from Day 1 Kelly was now rocketed up to second place on the leaderboard. 

You can create your own walled reality and do what you want with it – from Rockefeller to William Randolph Hearst to Gates, Zuckerberg, Page et al, that’s the American dream – but if you are going to broadcast it to the world and call it sport then you need at least the illusion of fairness and transparency. 

Kelly’s overscore made the Surf Ranch look less level playing field for all and more private fiefdom, administered by opaque decrees designed to make the King look clothed in gold. This is a man who has claimed injury has prevented him from surfing all events except those in his private basin, and who will probably be granted the injury wildcard next year in spite of it. Italo’s injured hamstring has been discussed ad naseum, Kelly’s busted hoof carries the mystique of the Turin shroud. As inviolable as the Koran. From any viewing angle, it don’t look right.

Grown-up sports have independent broadcasters and commentary teams and integrity units and judiciaries and other accoutrements aimed at least giving an impression of accountability. That’s how folks believe that it’s at least semi-legit. Pro surfing believes in back slapping and bubbles and magical thinking, as long as someone else picks up the tab. 

This confusion turned to disgruntlement and boiled over in Kolohe’s post heat presser. Kolohe accused the judges of “playing mind tricks” and rewarding safety surfing and sitting in a barrell that carried with it no risk. “I thought they wanted to see risk,” he said.

So did I Brother, so did I. I thought he had legitimate beef to have not made the cut. Certainly, his two wave total should have bested Kelly.

The high point of the day was supplied by Julian Wilson. He greased a rooftop landing on a lofted reverse on the left then exclaimed a static free right with a monster slob grab. His was the counter-factual to Kelly’s insider trading. No pre-trip warm-ups. He settled the nerves by “not watching anything”. A quick skate to warm-up then boom.

The WSL site and app crashed for the final two runs with Medina and Filipe. I clicked to Facebook feed. The Oceania audience rocketed up from 2600 to 2900 which indicated 300 hardy souls were tuned to the WSL webcast. Facey had no scores, no leaderboard and a failed audio sync. Angry face emojis sailed skywards through the screen and made surreal bedfellows with Toledo’s high-as-fuck-but-just-failed flip.

Anyway you measure it the numbers look pitiful. 

The swolled field should have been thinned sooner allowing extra runs for the Final day. Eight man field left, four women. That should be a clear cut demonstration of winner and loser if judges can decide on what is good surfing 2018, not looking into the rearview mirror and pining for a day long gone.


I wonder if style derives less from the dialogue a surfer has with a perfect wave, than from how they finesse the imperfect and unexpected. And maybe those beautiful spaces in between come from the necessity of waiting for a natural wave to open up and show its true form. With the machine wave, there’s no need to wait. Its form is the same time after time. | Photo: @iamjensee

Live from Surf Ranch: “Does style derives less from the dialogue a surfer has with a perfect wave than from how they finesse the imperfect and unexpected?

And more fabulous observations from the Surf Ranch Pro… 

I awaken too early from a strange dream. It’s too dark and too early. I drive to a nearby Starbucks, squinting against the orange glare of the sunrise. The air smells of cattle. I order two double espressos and drink them one after the other as I drive west on the 198 toward Lemoore.

I get off at the wrong exit. It can only get better.

Security wants to take my peanut butter sandwich. I look pathetic and sad and they let me keep it. I walk almost two kilometers before the thing ever begins. I probably walk five or six kilometers before it’s over. I hate shoes, but I wear them, grudgingly. Dust puffs and whorls.

The Surf Ranch remains an awkward venue. There’s simply no way around the 700-meter size of the pool. Security wants to take my peanut butter sandwich. I look pathetic and sad and they let me keep it. I walk almost two kilometers before the thing ever begins. I probably walk five or six kilometers before it’s over. I hate shoes, but I wear them, grudgingly. Dust puffs and whorls.

I’m there in time for the women’s start. This was my only goal for the morning. I wanted to see the women’s heat or session – or whatever we are calling this thing now. The crowd is sparse in the morning and I have my pick of vantage points. I head for my favorite, around mid-pool, along the side. I can watch much of the right and the first few turns of the left. And the turns I see, well, they’re right there in front of me.

Carissa and Lakey come out firing. Steph, less so. In person, the power of Carissa’s turns in the pool is emphatic. But still, I struggle to understand the scoring. Lakey’s barrel on the left looks amazing, but so do Steph’s on the right.

How is it possible to delineate a difference? The commentary keeps telling me how close I am to the action, but in truth, with the walls and the cement, it all feels farther away than it does at the beach.

The surfers look more similar than I expect. The pool seems to offer less space for style, that elusive, but essential element of good surfing. Or at least, of the kind of surfing that I like to watch. I remember how mesmerized I felt watching Steph surf J-Bay. I watched every heat that Steph surfed there. It wasn’t just her turns or maneuvers, the bits and pieces that add up to a good score from the judges. There was all that gorgeous space in between that makes Steph who she is.

Those distinctive elements that define each surfer’s style were harder for me to see on the man-made wave. I wonder if style derives less from the dialogue a surfer has with a perfect wave, than from how they finesse the imperfect and unexpected. And maybe those beautiful spaces in between come from the necessity of waiting for a natural wave to open up and show its true form. With the machine wave, there’s no need to wait. Its form is the same time after time.

I go in search of water and a bathroom and meet someone who is surprised to discover I’m a real person. I’m not sure what to say, but I nod and smile. I later learn that having a female alter ego is a thing among male surf writers. I nod and smile some more.

The women’s event ends. I had begun to get into the rhythm of it, to understand the narratives and storylines, and then quite suddenly, it was done. I go in search of water and a bathroom and meet someone who is surprised to discover I’m a real person. I’m not sure what to say, but I nod and smile. I later learn that having a female alter ego is a thing among male surf writers. I nod and smile some more.

Then I come around a corner and come face to face with Kelly. He’s riding a cargo bike with a rack and an electric assist motor. It’s the kind of thing you’d use to fetch groceries or run errands or carry a bunch of kids to school. Kelly’s cruising around the Surf Ranch on an electric bike. I am super jealous. I want to steal Kelly’s bike. He goes by me too quickly to tell him that I want his bike. I regret this more than I should.

There’s still time to kill before I can watch more surfing. I sit in the shade of the pool’s control tower and flip through my phone. Then I lie down. A cool breeze wafts over me. It’s the perfect spot for a nap. Life is so good right here under the control tower in the shade with the cool breeze. Maybe I’ll just stay right here.

The men’s session begins. There are moments when I understand it, when the Surf Ranch makes sense to me. I’m at mid-pool when Kanoa Igarashi drops improbably from his nose-pick air straight into the barrel. From where I’m standing, it happens almost in front of me and along the cement wall that lines the pool, the crowd comes to life.

Later, when Andino lands two airs on the right, I’m standing in a VIP area. There are shouts of disbelief. Can you believe that shit? Everywhere I go, the crowd seems to get it and to come to life when the surfing does. But the time in between. I don’t know what to do with the time in between.

I drink a watermelon aqua fresca. The food truck came from Los Angeles. Another from Corona (the place, not the beer) sells me avocado toast.

It’s mid-afternoon when I begin to crack. The heat begins to sink me and the stop-start rhythm of the competition has me struggling to stay with it. It reminds me of football, of how there are an orchestrated set of plays that unfold with the clock as the arbiter. I remember how football fails to hold my interest with its slow moving progress down the field and its near-endless replays.

I run into a friend from the coast. He wonders what we’re doing out here. I don’t have a good answer. We lean against the wall that doesn’t turn out to be a wall. I’m here to break the Surf Ranch, I joke. It’s as good an answer as any other.

Later we sit in the pool at the Tachi Palace and try to make sense of what we’d spent the day watching. So much of what we understand surfing to be is stripped away here. There’s no dolphins, no sand between our toes, no infinite blue. The wild, free essence of the thing is lost, rendered a ghost by the machine. And I’m not entirely sure I recognize what’s left.