The Inland Most Limits Of Pure Fun ???

OK, that HL is a little snarky. And, truth be told, if I could wrangle a free invite to Kelly Slater's Surf Ranch, I'd drive there foot mashed to the floor, running every stop sign and red light along the way.

Slater's Ranch generates more divisiveness than any other man made wave in the 50 year history of wave pools, by a factor of a thousand.  No one blinked an eye at Big Surf in Phoenix back in 1969...

The reason is that Kelly's wave -- at least visually -- challenges all but the best ocean waves. For once, someone's come up with an artificial wave that raises the bar of what constitutes a "good wave." Even video of head high waves in the cove at Rincon seems bland by comparison.

And there's nothing about The Surf Ranch that can't be replicated or improved upon. This isn't the pinnacle of artificial wave surfing, it's just the beginning. It can and will spread like wildfire. The act of surfing -- not just the accoutrements -- is going to be monetized in a big way.

Surfers have traditionally been hunters and gatherers.  Armed with knowledge and experience, we searched in nature for what we wanted...good waves. But now, like the dawn of agriculture thousands of year ago, we can generate what nature once only gave to those who knew when and where to look. Calling it a "Ranch" is appropriate. It's recreational agriculture.

There's another angle to the ''Ranch'' name as well. One on-line commenter dissed Kelly's facility as a "blow-up-doll whorehouse." And what do they call legal cat houses???

So yeah, like a brothel, the Surf Ranch is a predictable, "pay for play" situation.

On the other hand, no one complains about artificial venues in other sports. Olympic ice skating once took place on frozen lakes, then indoor rinks were developed to stabilize conditions. Same with hockey.  Cars drive on public roads, but race cars utilize purpose-built tracks. Skateboarding began on sidewalks, then skate parks came along. So why the big deal about a wave pool?

Another positive...this year's Trestle contest has been cancelled in favor of the Surf Ranch. That's a win for surfers who frequent Trestle, and would be displaced on the best surf days during the contest period.

Maybe contest surfing will one day be limited to pools, so it can be televised in a scheduled manner like other sports. (ie. no waiting periods, no lulls during heats, etc.) Coastal surf spots will return to their natural state, and the HB riots will become nostalgic, as the cost of wave pool admission will weed out the drunken hoi polloi.

The next question is, what will be the cultural and surfing impact of quality wave pools? The waves themselves are so repetitive, what constitutes "good surfing" will undergo reassessment. The scrutiny of the "same" wave being ridden over again will give rise to new ways of looking at surfing, especially when contest judging is thrown into the mix. Maybe they can come up with an objective a curl line that accelerates faster and faster until it passes every rider by, then gauge who hits the highest peak speed with GPS. That could be juxtaposed over subjective style points judging.

Just kidding. It will all be about airs and flips and stinkbug rail grabs.

Pool waves aren't anywhere as complex as ocean waves, and probably never will be. There isn't much water moving around a breaking pool wave, and that's a big part of what makes a good wave, a good wave. In fact, looking at the videos, the energy of the breaking wave moves away from the direction of the curl line.

The first shot of this video of the new Waco pool clearly shows the energy moving left, even though the curl is bigger and hollower going right...the opposite of a quality ocean wave.

To that point...after riding Kelly's wave, Randy Rarick commented:

"It’s different than an ocean wave. I’m sure you could get used to it and get it more dialed in if you spent a couple days riding it over and over again, but, for instance: on my first wave a little section came up and I stalled, but you don’t stall there. As soon as you see a section, you actually go faster. It’s weird because the wave is sucking you back into it — coming off the sled — rather than having an ocean wave pushing you forward. So you have to approach it a little differently, for sure."

You can see in most of the videos that it's hard to draw a meaningful line off the bottom. One exception I found is this really neat, trimming ride by Tom Curren.

Culturally, more people will start surfing as wave pools proliferate. But with more waves available, who knows? Maybe the crowds will lessen at the beach on all but the best days. In the eyes of many, why ride the slop at HB Pier, if perfect peelers are available a few miles inland?

The 800 pound gorilla in the room is, of course, the unnatural habitat.


When I was a kid growing up in California's San Joaquin Valley, this was exactly the industrial/agricultural infrastructure I enjoyed getting away from when we drove over to the coast on summer weekends. Now it's a part of surfing's brave new aesthetic...



True, there are no sharks in a wave pool, but we sure as hell won't see a flock of pelicans swoop down and run along an artificial wave face for 300 yards, will we?

The cynic in me thinks that surfing in an artificial environment would be like taking a gourmet meal and throwing it all in a blender and chugged it all down in one gulp. Technically, you'd consume exactly the same ingredients, but the culinary experience would be ruined by anyone's measure.

Another factor that will kick in over the next 10 or 20 years is the impact of wave pool surfers who come to the ocean for a surf...not only in terms of their potential numbers, but in terms of their perspective. If you grow up surfing in and around the ocean, you intuitively know how to interact with others in the ocean. If you grow up in a wave pool environment, who knows how you will react in a disorganized crowd of surfers?

And where will Surfline fit into all of this? In time, will they post cams at all the pools? (I'd watch Kelly's pool on a real time cam now and then.) Will they provide detailed wind predictions for the inland locales? Who wants to drive 100 miles only to find the wind was howling?

The Surf Ranch during strong

Getting back to Kelly's Surf Ranch, I haven't found out how you get in, or how much it would cost if you did. There appeared to be some kind of Willie Wonka contest at one point...


The weekend of the first big contest they charged $9,500 for an hour in the water after the contest was over. That's not a typo, kids. A pricey go out, even by Indo standards. Obviously, the cost will come down, but it won't ever be cheap.

The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow may not be the waves, but an actual pot of gold...

Of course, there have to be rules at the Ranch, and they've covered all the bases...

If the second amendment means nothing to these whiny snowflakes, will red blooded Americans really want to participate in a gun-free zone?

And based on these pics, I'm not sure how well they enforce the no camera policy...

Surfers have always yearned for a landlocked substitute...but after the early days of sidewalk surfin', skateboarding took off on its own. Pool surfing may follow the same path, and eventually become a different sport entirely. That may not be a bad thing...


1 comment:

KingWaka said...

Excellent read! I want a Happy Ending, Willy Wonka Surf Ranch ....for 4 please with variable air inflations.