The wave is down. It’s been about an hour.
Spirits are high, though.
Rosie is forcing Mick Fanning to fill camera time while the machine operators fix whatever it is that needs fixing. Team Brazil just did the equivalent of a touchdown dance after thoroughly destroying Kelly’s wave. Filipe got a ten, which seemed like a bad decision, just on principle. A ten should never be given here. Not to discount his performance. It was amazing. But, objectively, this wave can always be surfed better. The ten especially seemed like a bad idea as Gabriel Medina proceeded to surf (arguably) better on the very next wave. He did some sort of McTwist situation then backflipped off his board in celebration, because he knows that he is great, and what he did was great.
A deep 808-style bass pulses underfoot. Families are strewn about in the dirt, corralling kids in and out of the freshwater pool that runs parallel to the wave itself. Michelob Ultra Gold’s are being drunk in Michelob Ultra Gold drinking stations. Industry bigwigs are smiling at each other. There is excitement.
And this is it. This is the big show. This is the physical manifestation of surfing at its highest commercial potential. These are the dollar signs and a glimpse into “the future.” And this is the apex of capitalism and ingenuity as it relates to surfing. Right here in Lemoore, in front of a sold-out crowd. The pool is a production studio. A gigantic HBO Sports camera is sitting on a table next to me. There was an item on the schedule called “The Halftime Show.” I expected Beyonce. There was no Beyonce.
I, personally, stand to benefit from the success of this event. If this catches on, then, hey, maybe surfing really will be a more accessible and moneyed professional sport with its attendant dreams and nightmares. Maybe there will be a trickle down among the athletes, brands, and businesses that have operated in this relatively niche space. The WSL is working hard at this — maybe with winner-take-all ambitions. Who knows? They bought a wave pool and made this thing in Lemoore that we’re all at.
I feel weird about it all. On one hand, I personally have felt how good it feels to surf this wave. It’s absolutely amazing. If more people get to experience that feeling, and everyone involved gets a kickback in the process, then seems like a win-win? That’s what I tell myself. We’ll see. Pandora’s box is open, and the commercial viability of these wave pool projects is still, as of yet, entirely unknown. As are the ramifications. But that’s the future. Like the climate and rising seas, the human tendency is to deal with it when it’s borderline too late. When it’s an emergency. This is now.
I didn’t know what to expect coming here, but I suppose it’s somewhat in line with my expectations. For the first-ever public-facing event at Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch, it has a festival vibe. A lineup of just-under-the-radar, contemporary bands have been booked to entertain, and the surfers are doing their jobs. They’re surfing with reckless abandon within the guidelines of the format they’ve been provided. The crowd oohs and ahs and drinks beer and eats food. I can see this aspiring to become a Coachella derivative. For right now, there are happy families attending. The WSL will work to preserve the family atmosphere. I would like to see a naked human emerge from the crowd, throw caution to the wind, grab a board in the birthday suit, and drop in. I wonder how the WSL would respond.
The crowd is an interesting mix. I was curious as to who comprised this sold-out crowd? Who made the not-convenient drive to Lemoore, California to watch pro surfers in Kelly’s pool?
I spoke with a teacher from Costa Mesa, a private equity firm owner from Encinitas, a web developer from San Francisco, a marketing guy at a tech company in the Bay Area, and Annika Dejong, a woman from Hanford, a town a few miles away, who operates a dairy farm with her husband. They milk 2,500 goats to provide milk and creamer for America.
“This is basically the breadbasket of the world,” Delong told me. She said it’s good that this event is helping bring folks from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego into Lemoore to understand that “real people” live here. Ironically, there is a war for water raging among the agriculture community in this region.
Everyone here just wants to see some sick barrels.
“It’s just a fun day to hang out with the family and see my kids have fun,” said Annika Dejong. “I’m just making sure they have water and food.”
As far as expectations, she’s easygoing.
“I knew it was just a wave in a dirt field, so that was my expectation, but my children (who are 19, 17, 14, and 11) think it’s great. They get to see the guys right in front of them, so they’re loving it.”
Dan Petty, a 34-year-old freelance web designer, received tickets as a gift from his wife for his birthday. He made the trip solo from San Francisco.
“I just had to see this,” said Petty. “Ever since [Slater] started talking about this wave, I just had to see it. It’s totally exceeded expectations. I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t think I’d be able to see it either, but you can get a pretty good view from anywhere.”
As for the price for the weekend tickets: $200. He said it’s worth it.
“I would come back again.”
In that case, as far as the WSL is concerned, mission accomplished.