We are doing the Lord’s work here and you are too. It’s our shared burden, our sacred duty, to examine every last angle on the Surf Ranch and eponymous Surf Ranch Pro before we move on. Oh it would have been easy, yesterday, to put Lemoore behind us and thrill over the next shiny thing but then we’d be no better than black crows. And we are better than black crows. Better than any and all solo projects associated with black crows too from Magpie Salute to Chris Robinson’s Brotherhood.
And so, brothers + sisters, let us peer into Jordy Smith’s Instagram where the current world number 6 asked for his friends and followers to weigh in on the Surf Ranch.
What was your thoughts on the @wsl #surfranch event? 👍🏼👎🏼 also thanks @slaterdesigns for the board. Had fun riding something different 🤙🏼 now back to the #ocean 🌊
A quick scroll through the feed reveals more thumbs downs than thumbs ups but it is certainly a mixed bag. Many people loved. Many more hated. And many many more fell somewhere in between extremes.
Jordy entered the fray himself midway though the feed in response to the great Shane Beschen.
jordysmith88@shanebeschen absolutely. I think size equals depth in the barrel and honest my dad can get a barrel in the pool. A barrel in the ocean is highly rewarded because it’s hard to predict and hard to come by. But the ranch is predictable and really not that exciting to the viewers after watching the 10th surfer go back into the barrel for another 10 seconds .. 😂😂😂 anyways my 2cents
A valuable 2 cents, don’t you think? And an accurate assessment. Funny enough, when Derek and I finished our day at Surf Ranch and were driving home, Derek newly invigorated from chasing a hangover away, me with busted wing, there was much discussion of the barrel and what a waste of the wave it is.
Oh it is fine and fine enough but in myopically focusing on it the rest of the ride is sacrificed. Sacrificed for a crouchy little thing that Jordy’s dad can also enjoy. Of course there is much difference between the top 32 and Jordy’s dad and Derek and me but I think the sentiment might be the same. That consequence-free barrels, when there is a glut, are not as fun to watch, or do, as airs or turns.
If ever invited back, I’m going to race ahead and right when that barrel starts to bend pull my Birdwells down and moon it from out on the shoulder.
8.5 for me!
Ever so pretty!
Travis Ferre reports from Surf Ranch: “I have never had a more transcendental and spiritually cleansing surf in my life!”
What Youth founder spends two days at Surf Ranch Pro. Misses duckdiving. Drives to San Francisco.
We were sitting at a picnic bench next to a Shell gas station in the dusty center of California drinking Coors Light. It was morning still and Chas was with me. We carpooled from The Old Spaghetti Factory in Fullerton where no surf trip has ever started and maybe never will.
We had no surfboards in the car and it was not surf trip. We were lacking the usual buzz that accompanies a surf trip or any trip and instead maybe felt like we were going to youth group. Or summer Bible camp. Not Coachella or Desert Daze or Burning Man or on The Search. But desert surf youth group bible camp. Our usual enthusiasm was just not in the car. We were in survival mode. And hydrating with black coffee and Coors Light. We were on our way to Surf Ranch even though we might be non-believers.
The drive was lonely and alien and the landscape outside the car was peppered with slaughterhouses, fast food logos and gas stations with neglected bathrooms. I gathered that Chas is I think almost tired of it. All of it. Pools. And WSL. And Surf Ranch. Surf journalism. Defending the core.
He is tired of it, we are tired of it. But we desperately want to help and so we are cursed to continue and resisted the urge to turn left and head west for fog and saltwater and the nature’s infinity pool. We stay committed to protecting our beloved and once esoteric little surf culture from the wave pool machine disciples. And we continued on to attend Surf Ranch.
We pulled into the parking lot of the Tachi Hotel and Casino and thought we saw four surf fans in the parking lot. We thought maybe they were surf fans because they were wearing shorts. Chas and I were in pants, and wanted to be surf fans too, but we were in pants. The only other person we saw in long pants all day was Chippa Wilson.
We entered the ranch together and began flapping our wings and conversating like industry buzzards. Matt Biolos. Pat O’Connell. Podcasters and Timmy Patterson. The Hurley’s. I saw that Polo by Ralph Lauren had a booth. And so did Jeep. We continued on and sweat and got hot and talked about the heat and regretted the fact that we couldn’t go do a duck dive and then we drank more so that we could continue conversating like industry buzzards. I still hadn’t really seen the wave despite walking two full laps the length of the pool — which is hundreds of yards long. I met Jen See. I had another beer. Jen See showed me where to watch from so that maybe I could get a good look at the fake wave. The story goes on. I saw some waves from afar and they are fun-looking things for sure, but I’m still more entertained by friends and colleagues and fighting off dehydration with beer. While here, mabe people said I would regret not taking my opportunity to surf it, but I never freaked out about turning down my invite despite the fact that many people think I should pull my head out of my ass and surf it and just shut up and be happy.
I saw Yago Dora and then watched his bubble burst just a little as he drifted below the transfer spot for finals day. The leader board with a cut-off made for something very nearing excitement if you took the time to figure it out. Later Yago would make me stoked because during the un-webcasted freesurf with Chippa Wilson, Archy, Mikey Wright and Albee Layer, Yago rode my favorite fake wave of the day by doing an off the lip shuv-it, to switch barrel ride, to layback backside tube. It was the closest I got to being a psyched surf fan all day. Oh, also when Kolohe Andino told the truth about the judges on camera.
Overall, my day at Surf Ranch was not a bad day. It was totally fine. Dave Prodan of WSL slid a complimentary VIP bracelet on my arm when I got there which allowed me to hydrate with bottomless Stellas and the option to stand underneath the very necessary misters. I watched Bethany Hamilton ride a cool wave with a cool beer in my hand and I felt good about it. I wasn’t angry or cynical or grumpy.
At one point, I did need a breakthough. The heat is real and no matter how much hydrating you do with Stella and Coors Light, heat stroke feels near when you get to the early afternoon. I left surf ranch around 3 to wash off the dirt and sweat. I checked into a motel about twenty minutes away. The local bar next to the motel is called Spirits and had a sign out front welcoming surf fans. Bars like this don’t always welcome you, so this was a cultural opportunity to check it out. Inside I met Tony who sat next to me and noticed that maybe I’m a surf fan because I have 3 different bracelets on and I’m also under the age of 65 which he tells me is the median age of the locals at Spirits. He points out two men in the corner who are above the median age.
“Listen to those two,” Tony says. “They cuss and yell at each other all day until one of them decides to leave. And whoever leaves first is the loser that day.” He is right, they are cussing at each other. And before I go, one leaves out the back door. Loser.
Behind me is a table covered with all the makings of a birthday celebration. Tinsel and decorations and napkins and those annoying little noise makers are everywhere and ready for a festive party.
“Last night was karaoke, tonight there’s a birthday party,” Tony said. According to the napkins it will be a 50-year-old’s birthday. “She’s probably our youngest local.”
Tony’s ex brother-in-law is from Huntington Beach so we were fast friends. I asked him if he’s ever been to Tachi Casino. “Oh yeah, I go there to get fucked up and gamble. Went there last Saturday.”
It took about 30 minutes to get an Uber to show up, but it finally came. I said so long to Tony and headed back to surf ranch.
Chas had long since fled the surf ranch and so I returned alone this time. And I was about to have my finest moment at surf ranch. I left the VIP area and headed for the center of the pool. I found a little space to stand alone and watched as some of my favorite surfers entered the pool together. This is the only time during the day that the pool resembled a real lineup. Yago Dora, Chippa Wilson, Mikey Wright, Albee Layer and the surprise guest, Matt Archbold paddled out (in?)…well, they don’t paddle out, but they are in the water together and kind of paddle around to different areas in the pool.
By now the sun had dipped enough to make the temperature bearable and the lighting was damn near beautiful. The guys in the water were using each other to create sections for airs. This is when Yago rode my favorite wave and Chippa did a few off-the-lip shuv-it’s that I keep replaying on my phone. A really nice girl offered me a Paloma. I accepted, turned back around and watched the pool as golden hour light came in through the trees behind me. I wrapped my hand around the ice-cold Paloma and felt good. I was enjoying myself at Surf Ranch.
By now the sun had dipped enough to make the temperature bearable and the lighting was damn near beautiful. The guys in the water were using each other to create sections for airs. This is when Yago rode my favorite wave and Chippa did a few off-the-lip shuv-it’s that I keep replaying on my phone. Behind me I think there was a Jose Cuervo VIP lounge maybe, and a really nice girl offered me a Paloma. I accepted, turned back around and watched the pool as golden hour light came in through the trees behind me. I wrapped my hand around the ice-cold Paloma and felt good. In this moment, I was not a cynical media dude. All of a sudden I was a surf fan having a Paloma while watching my favorite surfers surf. I was enjoying myself at Surf Ranch.
I would go on to enjoy Social Distortion later that night too. I continued to hydrate. I continued to not have a bad time. I ventured over to the casino to see if Tony was right. I found blackjack tables full of surfers. Joel Parkinson sat at a table wearing a cowboy hat. He sat next to Conner Coffin and Blair Marlin. Lemoore locals looking to get fucked up and gamble like Tony surrounded the surfers. After a bit though, I realized that a casino is a sad place. Sober or drunk, it is a sad place to be and I started to feel real casino sadness. It was weird and sad to be so close, yet so far away from surfing. I ran into Chippa Wilson and we continued to drink our way through the night. We poured beer and spirits and tequila on our casino sadness. My phone died and I bought a charger in the 24-hour gift shop around 2 a.m. so I could get an Uber and as I got in the car I looked back in through the glass doors. It should have been closing time but it was still as busy as it was at 10 p.m. and I was leaving Tachi.
But the casino sadness raged on inside.
All throughout the day at Surf Ranch, what I missed seeing most was paddling and duckdiving. And when I woke up with red eyes from air conditioning and indoor smoking acceptance, I realized that Surf Ranch’s finest feature is it’s proximity to the best place in the world for duckdiving. It is three and a half hours to Ocean Beach in San Francisco.
So I drove and drove and made it to SF and borrowed a surfboard from friend and Away Co. dude Taylor Paul.
I put on my wetsuit and ran to the beach as fast as I could. I paddled out into thrashed windswell riddled OB and I have never paddled out and had a more transcendental and spiritually cleansing surf in my life.
I paddled out as far out as I could into the choppy cool water and drifted down the beach and was tossed around by the north wind and duck dove hundreds of times and rode a few waves. I think I am now the first person to leave for a surf trip from The Spaghetti Factory in Fullerton.
Rumor: $50,000 Surf Ranch days sold out for the year!
I know you don’t want to read another word about Surf Ranch. About Lemoore or greater Lemoore or the Grapevine. That you are thoroughly and completely exhausted so I’m sorry for this here but we still have things to ponder in our hearts. Therefore, pull your work pants up and let’s get to pondering.
I saw many things while walking, people and Dirk Ziff in cream-colored dress shorts w/leather topsiders and Barefoot wine signage. I heard many things too. That Surf Ranch offered 88 days for lease this year or rent or whatever it should be called. Loan? Whatever. That Surf Ranch offered 88 days for loan this year, $50,000 each day, and has completely sold out.
Big blue chip corporations are using the Lemoore facility to host employee appreciation events or gold member perk nights, tossing foamies into the pool and turning the wave down, letting senior vice-presidents from Omaha feel the rush. Or turning the wave up and letting Jim from accounting release the fins a la Sebastopol Zeitz.
Just kidding. Jim from accounting can’t release the fins at all but I was thinking anyhow, if you worked for a big blue chip corporation and they gifted you a day at Surf Ranch wouldn’t you be hyped? Oh sure you’re in Lemoore BUT also at Surf Ranch and Mary from legal is in the hot tub watching the last little barrel bit of the left.
All to say, when I heard the 88 $50,000 days had all been sold out it made me think the WSL is really on to something in turning surfing into the ultimate team-building exercise and suddenly $50,000 didn’t seem like very much at all.
Also, did you see Kelly Slater doing his Wim Hof breathing before his final run?
But back to team-building days at Surf Ranch. A steal at $50,000 no? I would imagine a speaker (not Paul), some nifty hula-hoops and a catered meal from Buca di Beppo costs more than $50,000.
BeachGrit is going to book a corporate retreat next year once we pay off the billboard. We all need better teamwork and more trust etc.
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.”
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
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.