“Who’s surfing? How does the format work? Everyone had questions.”
I’m at the night session, and it’s the last chance for Kelly Slater to advance to the quarterfinals. If you’re ever in a tough situation. As Kelly begins to surf, Pennywise’s Bro Hymn blares from the loudspeakers. Kelly falls on the right. Someone will pick you up again.
At the end of the left, Kelly scores a six. It’s a long way from being enough. Just remember who’s side it is that you’re on.
Around the time the contest started this morning, I wandered downstairs to buy a coffee. Two espressos. The women behind the counter looked confused. You want two, double espressos? Yes, that’s right. Her confusion was not surprising. It’s not the most normal coffee order ever. I needed all the help I could get.
When I walked through the Surf Ranch gates, the second heat had begun. Entering as general admission, I arrived at the bottom of the basin, where the right finishes. Someone was surfing, but I couldn’t tell who it was. There was no video display or audible announcer. It was quite peaceful down there, if completely baffling. I had no idea what was happening.
Very few other people did, either.
Who’s surfing? How does the format work? Everyone had questions.
Down at the end of the right, one of the best viewing spots, information proved scarce. Last time I was here, there was a video screen and commentary. Not this time. On the whole, there was less of everything — less food, fewer video screens, and fewer bathrooms.
I fired up my phone and spent the day hitting refresh to see the scores. It was not the most elegant solution. It was better than nothing.
For a while, I walked around without a clear direction. I wasn’t at all sure where to go. Soon, I found a spot near some Brazilian fans, who brought some life to the whole thing. They cheered loudly for Filipe and later, for João.
Brazilians comprised a solid proportion of the crowd, which appeared smaller than previous events. A close second to the Brazilians were the dads and groms from around California. Many wore t-shirts from the Trestles final or Vans U.S. Open. I saw a number of families from San Clemente and other surf mad towns who had made the trip.
In the middle of the lake, a girl in pink swim goggles stood on a paddleboard. She had no idea what to do with the paddle, but she was having the time of her life. Around her, kids laughed and splashed in the swimming area. Surfing, who cares! We’re going swimming. Around 15 or 20 adults, meanwhile, gathered for a yoga class sponsored by Alo. A pile of kids scrambled on a paddleboard. There was so much laughing.
A crew of bros passed by me, talking earnestly of surfboards. It’s way better to buy used, one of them said. That way, you can try them out. I did not expect to receive advice here at the Surf Ranch. Sorry, Britt, the bros said I have to buy a used board, so I can try it out first. It was unclear what I was supposed to do if the board didn’t work. Huck it off a cliff, maybe. Or sell it to my unsuspecting bro.
Then I saw Sam George. He’s extremely hard to miss. I stood on the opposite side of the barricades from him, as we chatted. He had a media pass and VIP credentials. I did not.
“That’s what you get for working for the National Enquirer.”
I have to concede, it was a sick burn, and I was too slow to send it back at him.
Later, floating in the pool, staring at the sky, I think of the best comebacks ever. But not right then, not when I needed it. Life is so disappointing sometimes. Sam told me I should work for The Inertia. I felt right at home, like you all from the comments section were right here with me. It was nice not to feel alone.
After the fourth heat, I drove back to the hotel, pulled on a bikini (blue again), and jumped in the pool. Two groms with WSL wristbands and their dads have the same idea. It was the time of day when the heat begins bear down, though it’s much less oppressive than the last time I came here.
Floating in the pool, I convinced myself that Lemoore is actually spelled l’Amore. I tried to convince myself I love it to pieces. I failed.
I made it back in time to see first of the women’s heats. The crowd had thinned, and I scored a parking spot right up front. I stood at the end of the right to watch Caity and Carissa.
Predictably, Caity brought the style. Her stall into the barrel was pure steez. She made the wave her playground, and it’s the rare surfer who can do that here. Carissa won the heat, thanks to her combined wave score. But Caity’s surfing is what I will remember.
I considered skipping the night session. No one will notice if I don’t write about the night session, right? Surely, I can just skip this part.
I needed dinner, but I took a nap instead. Chas told me to go watch a few waves. I stuffed a GoMacro bar in my pocket and headed out. The setting sun cast a hazy orange glow over the place. Squinting, it almost looked pretty.
By now, the people working the entrance recognize me, and didn’t bother to check my ticket. I parked up front again and initially, it felt like tumbleweeds roll through the venue. There weren’t a lot of people around.
I walk halfway down the pool to the judge’s tower. From there, I can see portions of the left and right and the one video screen. I can also hear the beach announcer call out the scores. It’s going so well now.
Slowly, the crowd fills in. It’s still not huge, though, by any means. I end up standing next to a dad-and-groms crew from Santa Barbara. The oldest grom is a freshman in college and has a fantasy team.
Kelly is old, he says with brutal honesty. I soon learn this is his preferred mode of surf commentary. I don’t hate it.
The format works. The grom makes me laugh. I surprise myself by watching the entire men’s session. The crowd is small, but determined. When the judges throw John John a pair of seven’s, boos erupt around me.
I hope in vain for someone to storm the tower. It would make the best story. Please, someone, storm the tower. Be legends!
As Italo starts his two waves, a song from The Offspring plays. The night session’s songlist is total chaos. It also seems to have stopped sometime during the last century. I recognize the song and idly wonder if they will play the radio version. They do not. Italo falls on the right’s end section as the song reaches a crescendo of profanity.
Just one wave left, and it turns out to be classic Italo. If the final air reverse is a bit low, well, the turns look fire. From my angle at the side of the pool, I can see his surfing’s speed more clearly than on video.
I can’t read the scores as they drop. I hear that he advanced, before I see it, as cheers erupt from the Brazilian fans. They’re still here. They’ve stayed until the end.
On the way out, I ask the bartender if she has any water left for sale. The register’s closed, but she hands me a carton anyway. It’s better in a box, she quips.
You’ve got friends with you ’til the end.