Live from Surf Ranch: “What a strange invasion!”

Thoughts on meaning and place!

You forget about the heat. You forget about the way it feels. Like a tangible thing. Alive. It has mass, this kind of heat. You feel it pressing down on you, surrounding you like a straitjacket. You can’t escape a heat like this, you can only hope somehow to endure it.

When it came time to turn east, toward Bakersfield, toward Fresno, toward Lemoore, I confess, I almost gave it up. To the west lay Morro and the Central Coast’s mysteries. Elephant seals, jagged rocks, and great whites. Secret coves and delicious reefs. Tree-lined hills that drop precipitously to the sea. So drama, this coastline. So irresistible.

To make matters worse, in recent weeks, the pattern has shifted. Now each morning, we awaken on the coast to a dripping marine layer. The front porch is wet. I dig a hoody out of the drawer and ride my bike for coffee. Now as I reach the road’s turning point, I can see the fog bank in the distant west. I’m drawn to it in a way that I can never escape or explain.

But I promised. I promised I would go, so I turn east and follow the signs. Next services 50 miles. Shit, I need to pee. I swing a hasty turn into a gas station. I count down those 50 miles. Off the interstates, California’s roads are a jumble. I follow a winding two-lane highway through the rolling terrain that forms the southern foothills of the Gabilan mountains. The grasses blanch blonde in the late summer sun.

Then the road splits unexpectedly. Bakersfield or Fresno. I roll the dice and pick Fresno. I am not wrong. The terrain opens up, but the road doesn’t. I sit in a line of cars snaking through the dry grasses. We’re in the neighborhood of the San Andreas fault, that giant zipper that tugs and jams at California’s terrain. I’m driving a rental car and every time I float on the road, an alarm sounds. I can’t figure out how to turn it off. I dream of sledgehammers.

I never got around to writing down directions, which is usually how I do this kind of thing. I write the directions on paper and follow them to the letter. Otherwise, I never quite know where I might end up.

I reach the 5 and turn north, which isn’t entirely wrong, but isn’t all that right either. I should have stayed on the 41, I guess. It’s too late to worry about it now. A freeway exit announces Lemoore Naval Air Station. Sounds good, I figure. I’m totally Calvinballing it now.

And then I see it. A mirage. Too amazing to be real. I watch as a pickup truck comes up the road. It sits there, waiting to make the turn to Lemoore. There’s a yellow longboard on the roof with a red fin. You must be kidding me. This can’t be happening, not here, not more than a hundred miles from the nearest ocean. But I follow them. Because surely, they’re going to the same place I am.

The terrain of the Central Valley is so flat that it seems to erase the horizon. The roads stretch in infinite lines. You can be 15 miles from your destination, but feel like you’ll never get there.

Almond groves line the road. I cross the California Aqueduct conveying its precious cargo from the upper reaches of the Sierra Nevada down the length of the valley. There’s never enough, it seems, and along the 5, patches of farmland lay fallow. Roadside signs urge people to vote for more dams. Make California great again. California needs more water storage, they say. Build more dams. Vote.

First settled in the 1870s, Lemoore began as an agricultural settlement on the northern banks of the Tulare Lake, which at the time, rivaled the Great Lakes in size. Dams in the western Sierras and agricultural use steadily drained the lake, which presently only reappears in years of unusually intense rains. Thanks to a rail line through nearby Hanford and a flour mill the town grew steadily through the late 19th century.

These days, a tidy house in Lemoore with a lawn out front and an American flag flying from the eves will run you $200-300 thousand. For $500 thousand, you can buy a six-bedroom in the gated community near the golf course. There’s the naval air station that arrived in 1961, a community college, and the assorted accoutrements of industrial agriculture. As I circled town looking for the Surf Ranch, I passed Olam Global Tomato and Innovation Center, where trucks filled with tomatoes waited to drop their loads. Tomatoes that had rolled free from the open trucks lay along the roadside to rot.

The road that fronts the Surf Ranch runs the gamut. A rusted out tractor looks like it hasn’t moved in 50 years or more. An American flag sways from a rooftop. A shirtless man in his 50s, rakes dry weeds along the edge of his property which fronts the road. The bright red of a mid-1970s VW bug catches my eye, but I doubt it would run any better than the tractor. A tangle of campers and motorhomes occupy a dirt lot without any signs of ambition. A family gathers to eat on a picnic bench in the shade of a nylon canopy. They turn to look at me as I drive by.

Tall fences divide the Surf Ranch from its neighbors. No parking. No trespassing. What a strange invasion and here I am, a reluctant part of it. I I try to hold on. I try to hold on to how the salt feels in my hair, to how the fog chills my skin. I try to hold on to some memory of where I come from, and how I ended up here. I step out of the car into the white heat and it’s gone.

kelly slater surf ranch
Did you think: “Ah Kelly, back where he belongs. The King back on his throne. Hallelujah and mad respect” or was it closer to “Look at this mad, mad bastard, who makes King Lear look humble and has turned pro surfing into his personal vanity project”? Me, mix of both. Like all codependents I love my abuser. | Photo: WSL

Surf Ranch, Day one: “They need to take napalm to this, then bulldozers, meat cleavers, machetes and hack this bloated thing down to about two hours. Max.”

Vivid impressions of day one, Surf Ranch Pro… 

First thoughts: you can’t re-engineer novelty. Peak wavepool novelty was the day before the great surf journalist reveal when the NDA’s expired and we finally got to hear what the proletariat thought of the new industrial wave revolution.

Or maybe the very first time we saw it, the day after De Souza’s World title win had the oxygen mercilessly drained from it.

Then we had Founders’ Cup and the reality dawned that it wasn’t going to be a revolution in pro surfing performance, new equipment etc etc. A thousand safety snaps bloomed, the Orwellian hallucination of a Turpel intoning “He’s super deep” while we saw them the whole way. All that water has already flowed under the bridge.

I came with arms outstretched today ready to love the new format.

Leaderboard, yes!

Ready to embrace what Mayhem prophesied as a “doubling of performance compared to Founders’ Cup”.

Second thoughts: Two thousand six hundred fans tuned in live on the Facebook feed – Oceania presumably – to watch the redux of the last time we saw the famous chromed dome with the famous broken foot that responds miraculously to the healing waters of Lemoore do his thing.

Did you think: “Ah Kelly, back where he belongs. The King back on his throne. Hallelujah and mad respect” or was it closer to “Look at this mad, mad bastard, who makes King Lear look humble and has turned pro surfing into his personal vanity project”?

Me, mix of both. Like all codependents I love my abuser.

Kelly’s foot, unless he was so zapped full of cortisone that he surfed like a drunk rabbit escaping an electric fence, is fine.
When he gets the injury wildcard for 2019 is that the moment when we can officially say pro surfing has jumped the shark. When Kelly embodied the words of Kendrick Lamar: I remember when you was conflicted, misusing you influence. Abusing my power.

Third thoughts. After five minutes of watching the new format I scrolled through the field. Of a sudden it seemed fucking yuuuugge. Like endless. Getting through the journeymen to a Filipe or a Gabby or Jordy was going to take an age. Four fucking days.

Kelly surfed his first right. Failed to complete. Throttled by the end section. Judges awarded a 5.50. I wrote it down. Seconds later it showed again as a 6.50. Huh? There was no mention of the “correction”. No mention of the injured foot.
His second right was well surfed but not amazing. I wrote 7.3. Judges gave it an 8.5. The best wave ridden all day. From that point I was so mentally destabilised I could make no sense of it. What are they judging I found myself asking continually.

My favourite sentence of all time is James Joyce: I saw the heaventree of stars hung with humid night blue fruit. At Surf Ranch today I saw a weed-infested grotto studded with grub eaten seven-point rides. Picking out the highlights in such an atmosphere was almost an impossibility.

Duru looked strong. Wilkinson spiked the left with squalls of semi-controlled feedback, and then fell on the two rights he surfed. Salty tears seemed to flow down his luxurious beard.

The biggest technical innovation is an adoption of the backside tube stance perfected by Gabe Medina but pioneered by Clay Marzo. The back foot folds away, the knee and lower leg sit flush on the board and parallel to the stringer. The upper body becomes counterweight and anchor. It enables goofys to burrow in. Pupo had it, Connor O’Leary too.

Rides looked astonishingly the same. I could not differentiate. Show me a wave from the last five years and I can give you the metadata. My mind works like that. Today I was cut adrift.

Attention was drifting when the first blank screen hit. Oh I admit I was surfing between tabs, reading reviews of Germaine Greer ‘s book On Rape, investigating a music festival in Sweden when Cisgender men are excluded and thinking, wow, what a wonderful world when the absence of Joey’s drone suddenly impinged.

It was the only true emotional reaction I had all day. A terror attack. Vegan/Eco-terror probably. Striking right at the heart of the ultimate display of western indulgence. Maybe farmers who wanted the quarter million gallons of water back. But no. Just a break. Everyone is OK.

I cut to the WSL tab and there was… nothing. Just an empty pool and silence. Stilled bodies under groves of bedraggled eucalypts. Straight away I thought something really terrible has happened. It was the only true emotional reaction I had all day. A terror attack. Vegan/Eco-terror probably. Striking right at the heart of the ultimate display of western indulgence. Maybe farmers who wanted the quarter million gallons of water back. But no. Just a break. Everyone is OK.

Sport relies on the drama of unscripted novelty when opposing elements intersect in time and space. Take that out and what have you got?

Kelly said he was scared of success. I say he should be more scared of what Nassim Nicolas Taleb referred to in his book Black Swan as “silent evidence”. That’s the world beyond the self-referential hype, the hordes beyond the three thousand watching on Facebook. The kids to whom comprehending pro surfing as sport, let alone spectacle is more opaque than ever when faced with the conformity of the tub.

They need to take napalm to this, then bulldozers, chainsaws, meat cleavers, machetes, scalpels and hack this bloated thing down to about two hours. Max. Then it might be interesting. Everyone gets one run and if they get less than a seven, a stagehook comes down from the sky and yanks them off screen. There was an enjoyable wham-bam quality to the Founders’ Cup that I enjoyed muchly. But the slow dawning horror of being yoked to this for four straight days is a punish equivalent to a comment section full of Ben Marcus anecdotes.

Something will happen here.

No doubt.

Filipe will step up, or Gabe or Italo but for anyone with eyes to see the idea that this is the great leap forwards for Pro Surfing is as denounced as Stalinism.

Men’s Surf Ranch Pro Qualifying Round Leaderboard Top 8:
1 – Kelly Slater (USA) 14.57
2 – Ian Gouveia (BRA) 14.33
3 – Tomas Hermes (BRA) 14.20
4 – Yago Dora (BRA) 13.80
5 – Joan Duru (FRA) 13.73
6 – Patrick Gudauskas (USA) 13.70
7 – Connor O’Leary (AUS) 13.56
8 – Adriano De Souza (BRA) 13.56

Women’s Surf Ranch Pro Qualifying Round Leaderboard Top 4:
1 – Coco Ho (HAW) 14.94
2 – Sage Erickson (USA) 14.07
3 – Courtney Conlogue (USA) 13.54
4 – Paige Hareb (NZL) 13.00

The good doctor.

Opinion: “Not everything is faux ‘Beach Vibes’ live from the Surf Country Club in the middle of nowhere!”

Surf culture ain't plastic…yet! Come visit the last bastion of realness.

I recently bought the dude who shapes my surfboards a 12-pack of Mexican lager to drink while we filled out three new custom order forms. Instead of going to a therapist, I’m opting for a less invasive procedure that involves inflating my quiver.

So, I went to see my guy.

It was my second attempt to see him this week actually — the first was postponed due to him attending a T.S.O.L. show, so we rescheduled and doubled down on the Mexican lager.

In the room over from us, resin and tape and foam were being pushed into a pile by a grom behind a broom while Joy Division radio blasted in from the shaping bay and into the “office” — where little stools, floppy discs, a mini fridge, magazines, calculators, scattered papers and an older laptop sit covered in a thin layer of foam dust.

By the end of our sitting we stared at the order forms detailing some of my thoughts for these boards. The forms looked like a highly caffeinated three-year-old doctor filled them out — barely legible scribbles scratched all over the form with no regard for staying between any lines. But he knew exactly what they said.

A custom order form filled in with a pen. Such a relic!

And so did I.

My shaper (who happens to be Doc Lausch of Surf Prescriptions in Huntington Beach) then assigned each form its own floppy disc for future dimension reference and we clinked our beer bottles together to celebrate the future creations. They will soon add weeks and months and years of joy and meaning to my overly anxious existence.

I have been doing this sort of thing one way or another my whole surf life. I was in middle school when my Dad showed me this shaper/surfer procedure and all the nuances that come with it — and I think it was best celebrated by my comrade C.S. Louis who penned this for What Youth a while back in: 6 Things You Should Never Do To Your Shaper, and the follow up: 8 Things You Should Be Doing For Your Shaper.

There are less and less of these dudes to drink beer with and bring Doritos and Jarritos to these days as surfboards enter whatever this new mainstream/plastic thing that’s happening is and ordering boards can be as simple and lonely as typing your height and weight in on a website, followed by your credit card number and favorite color. This gets you a cold, Swedish design aesthetic surfboard in your favorite color.

But these dudes I speak of are still out there. Making boards. Talking surfing. Saving lives. Guys who practice the artisanal craft of nodding through your vague and ill-informed and desperate descriptions of surfboards and then manage to translate it into what you actually need.

“Ordering boards can be as simple and lonely as typing your height and weight in on a website, followed by your credit card number and favorite color. This gets you a cold, Swedish design aesthetic surfboard in your favorite color.”

The dudes in HB like this are Doc and Tim Stamps — guys who can solve all your high-performance and grovel needs — or there are guys like Jeff Beck at Nine Lights who will take the time to teach you about alternative construction (wood!) and shapes (asymmetricals!) as well as sustainable materials. And regardless of what city or town you live in I hope this brings to mind at least two or three dudes who would love a pack of beer and a bag of Doritos on a Friday afternoon in exchange for a board or three.

There is a chance that I am overly sentimental or romantic about this type of thing. As I am about many silly things in surfing. But my first job at 15 was in a surfboard glass shop. I spent hours after school with glassers in their 20s who got free boards and wore resin high tops and cussed like motherfuckers.

My job there was simple: “Clean up this hell hole and stay out of the way…fuckin’ grom.” Guys named after motorcycle parts wandered the halls in masks and looked grumpy. I’d nicely restack the porno mags on the back of the toilet, take the toxins to the bin, sweep the foam and pubic hairs that didn’t make it into your new board and generally organize the wreck of the toxic workshop as best I could. But what I really did was listen to the dudes talk. Over frequent afternoon beers they talked about surfing, fighting, drinking, traveling, women, and the victories and atrocities that accompany chasing those things.


And nothing sounded better to me. I promptly quit any and all organized sports or clubs in exchange for a friend named Clutch who I’d thrill to run into at any local parking lot or bar.

As we head into a big week for artificial surfing culture and surfing’s Homo Deus moment, I think it’s still important that we remember that not all is faux “Beach Vibes” and being “King of the Weekend” live from the Surf Country Club in the middle of nowhere.

Not everything is plastic yet.

There are still those little things that bring actual meaning to your love of surfing. Ordering custom boards in person is one that never gets old for me. And while I’m definitely curious about this weekend and currently loading the Red Shark with cigarettes, gambling cash, Perrier and hallucinogens for me and Chas’ weekend in Lemoore, so far my favorite part about all the anticipation for the contest has been the Pacific Ocean’s response to it all: two hurricanes and several southern ground swells stacked up and ready to take us ocean-going surfers right through the end of September.

First swell hits Friday. Remember, remember the former contest of September.

Breaking: blink-182 cancels Surf Ranch Pro show!

But don't worry! Social Distortion is here to save the day!

Everything was working. Everything was working so damn well minus Joe Turpel’s vocabulary, the left, Martin Potter, too much Merino, the actual plow itself plus a handful of other issues depending on who you talk to and depending on what they’re drinking.

Surf Ranch. A success. An unmitigated* success then blink-182 cancels.

Like that.

Blaming drummer “Travis Barker’s ongoing medical issues.”


And what the hell? What the dammit hell? How could this happen?

Tickets were sold based purely on blink’s wide appeal. Tickets, man, to kids wanting to see mechanical surf of course but also Travis Barker, Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge. I mean Matt Skiba.


Thankfully there appeared to be a backup. Social Distortion. Social D.

Now, I’m not even going to pretend I don’t love Social D so I’ll be there. But will you?

Will you?

Speaking of Social D real quick I saw Mike Ness once backstage at a Brian Setzer Orchestra show in Orange County. My damned ex-wife performed with Brian Setzer and I was there backstage, before she was my ex-wife, standing next to Mike Ness, looking at him thinking “heroin does no favors.” Though maybe it had nothing to do with heroin. He was very wide. Much wider than I wanted him to be. And that sounds like it has absolutely nothing to do with heroin at all does it.

My damned ex-wife is also from near Lemoore remember. She grew up in the cow stink and made me hate that cow stink forever and ever and ever. Everything comes full circle.


*Minus Joe Turpel’s vocabulary, the left, Martin Potter, too much Merino and the actual plow itself plus a grab bag of other things.

Surf Ranch Pro: It’s finally here! Watch live with friends!

Come share your first impression!

We’ve been wagging our tongues about this Surf Ranch Pro (watch here!), this very moment right now, since it was announced there was going to be a real competition, not an expression session, not a Founders Cup. Jen See is in the crowd, taking notes, observing. I’ll be there Saturday but at his moment am in front of my computer, like you, watching and maybe confusedly.

Is it fun? Exciting?

Or dull?

I know there are too many ads. I know that without any help. 1 minute on 5 minutes off is how it feels and that is too much. I like Wade Carmichael and I like Merino wool but I don’t know how much more I can take about life on the Championship Tour and the necessity of Merino wool.

They knew this was coming the 1 minute on 5 minutes off and didn’t prepare fun interstitial programming?

Don’t they have a studio in Santa Monica?

Still. I don’t know what to think.

What do you think?

I’ve asked Matt Warshaw what he thinks and we shall hear from him soon.

P.S. Did Ronald Blakey change his voice for this event? Is he trying on a new persona? I thought Crocodile Dundee was in the booth for a good 10 minutes.