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.


Kanoa Igarashi, put the promised progression into high-performance surfing. Kanoa has been my darkhorse pick with his brand of inscrutable pumped-up safety surfing with progressive edge. And he listens to Snake. And those Sharp Eyes look insane under his feet.  | Photo: WSL/Rowland

Surf Ranch Pro, Day Two: “If yesterday was an under-risen souffle, today had genuine moments of genius!”

The elevation in performance showed the brutal truth that pro surfing cannot sustain a 34 man Tour. There is much dead wood to be culled. 

Apart from flushing toilets and dentistry I’m not really a gal who gets moist over human engineering marvels. The cosmic fact of a watery planet with solar-driven real waves is enough intellectual and spiritual cud for me to spend a lifetime chewing on.

The last human achievement that really lit me up – in a how the fuck did they do that kind of way – was the lost ruins of Nan Madol on Pohnpei. We sailed out of Ala Moana harbour to the Marshalls, spent weeks surfing perfect waves alone then made landfall on dark at Kolonia. It took one day to find P-Pass, which we dismissed as another garden variety reef pass, before stumbling on the ruins after a fisherman in a local village took us out to the nearest reef pass. A whole city built on the water made from fifty-foot long hexagonal basalt columns in a pre-machine age. And no-one still knows how it was built.

So forgive if a plow running through a pool to create a head-high wave does not elicit an appropriately awestruck response.

So how to cover this Surf Ranch on it’s own terms. If yesterday was an under-risen souffle presented to an unappreciative and largely absent audience today had genuine moments of genius. Primarily Medina’s shock and awe opening run – may as well adopt the terminology. More on that later.

It took twenty surfers enjoying four perfect machine-made waves each before the 21st in line, Kanoa Igarashi, put the promised progression into high-performance surfing. Kanoa has been my darkhorse pick with his brand of inscrutable pumped-up safety surfing with progressive edge. And he listens to Snake. And those Sharp Eyes look insane under his feet. 

Kanoa attempted and completed the first air out the back, a fin-throw-to-reverse before spinning into the barrel. His insanely well-ridden wave was awarded an 8.93. The spread of .43 to Kellys 8.5 showed the corner the judges painted themselves into yesterday with that egregious over-score. Kelly’s wave should have had a seven in front of it with Kanoa a low eight to allow headroom for what it surely to come. 

Strider said the “crowd is pumped up”. It didn’t look like it. It didn’t sound like it. The hyped stadium vibe was funereal over the broadcast. It made me think of Dane showing up for the first heat of the year in his sophomore year. In early morning high tide three-foot Snapper you couldn’t elbow within a hundred metres through a crowd intent on getting close to the messiah. He lost riding a CI MTF twin fin. Three days later, in pouring rain, a bigger crowd watched him massacre head-high runners against Blake Thornton in round two. Grown men were openly weeping with joy. Not criticism, just putting the hype into recent historical context. 

Surf journalist Nick Carroll said yesterday the event worked better as live spectacle then broadcast event but didn’t say why or how. A curious omission. On the broadcast we got slo-mo replays, angles and most importantly expert surfer commentary. It really worked. Wilko was great, Parko was better. During the much-anticipated Griff run he expressed a frustration the average surf fan was feeling: “He’s got to start going for it”. After choking for a run, Griff put the fins out the back in the same section, just prior to the opening tube, as Kanoa. 

We seemed marooned in a weird place, where weird was nowhere near weird enough. Weird, lame, not weird good. The camera angle with Peter Mel with his back to the pool was surreal beyond belief. The new head of the WSL Kelly Slater Wave Company, Nick Franklin, has a background with the Disney Company. These basic errors in optics must surely grind his gears. The thirty-second inter-heat pressers are so rote and token as to be useless.

Kolohe was brilliant. His opening left surfed at a pace, turn speed and with repertoire that shaded his peers. The spicy attack finally bought audible cheers and whistles from the crowd. American flags hung from the …….side wall. 

The top seeds in three-packs was great. In this crude form a new format is taking place that can and should be adopted in the ocean. A day (or even two) of three-man heats with a leaderboard and all surfing against all. The separation of the wheat from the chaff is undeniable. 

Owen Wright surfed the best left of the event up to that point. The shorter equipment added zest to the rotation. His backside tuberiding, flawless.

Each high seed who surfed made a mockery of what seemed an increasingly pedestrian group of backmarkers yesterday. With few exceptions the elevation in performance came with the increasing seed, showing the relentlessly brutal truth that pro surfing cannot sustain a 34 man Tour. Talent is crucial, talent prevails. There is much dead wood to be culled.

“Each second adds points to the score,” said Pottz.

How? A half-point per second, a quarter? All we know is that judges are scoring “highlights” and maybe as Wilko indicated “the drama of the tube entry”. 

Each high seed who surfed made a mockery of what seemed an increasingly pedestrian group of backmarkers yesterday. With few exceptions the elevation in performance came with the increasing seed, showing the relentlessly brutal truth that pro surfing cannot sustain a 34 man Tour. Talent is crucial, talent prevails. There is much dead wood to be culled. 

Jordy was the first to sacrifice the end tube sections to launch. That looked unbelievably refreshing. Italo was crucially underscored in his opening left but blazed his right for an 8.27. That put Kelly outside the cut, something that would have occurred much sooner if his 8.5 was correctly scored.

In late afternoon light, with what looked like windmill vanes throwing shapes on the faces, Gabe Medina stood next to the chain fence waiting for the opening left. That wave was ridden in a terrifyingly efficient and brutal fashion. The perfect melding of man and machine. A greased Kerrupt flip on the end was like a brick to the head from the future. The game is over. The 9.3 compared to Kelly’s 8.5 was a joke. It should have a been a 15 by that scale.

Finally something like real scoreboard pressure was applied and Toledo choked on it. His last right, the last wave of the day sizzled in the darkening evening. A lofted alley-oop that made the background disappear. 

There was, as Strider said, “ Nowhere to hide”.

Cut to Strider standing alone, on an expanse of fake sand. 

Fade to black.

By my reckoning, the leaderboard looks about right.

PS: Two thousand and change watching Toledo’s incredible surfing on Facebook.


Surf Ranch manager Spencer Perkins. Three years ago, this dazzling twenty year old learned to surf in the pool under the tutelage of Tahitian Raimiana Van Bastolaer. Now he gets barrelled! And y'know what's crazy? Kid has surfed in the ocean…once. | Photo: David Lee Scales

Meet: The Surf Ranch manager who learned to surf in the pool; surfed in the ocean once!”

Amazing revelations from Lemoore!

Did you watch all of day 2 live from Lemoore, California under the sun and sun?

Were you thrilled from opening to closing bell?

In this episode of David Lee Scale’s series of interviews from Lemoore, he has a “pure gold conversation with the twenty-year-old kid who live on, and runs, Surf Ranch, Spencer Perkins. Raimana taught him how to surf three years ago and now he gets barreled on his 5’9″. He’s only surfed in the ocean once!”

Also, Lakey Peterson reveals that she only learned how to get backside barrelled in the last three weeks.
And BeachGrit’s own Jen See calls noted longboarder and regular guest on Blood Feud, Joel Tudor, a motherfucker for claiming that he was the reason the WSL instituted equal pay.
Listen here!