Entering the Kelly Slater Surf Ranch for the first time is an experience I’ll never forget. After a three hour drive from LA through the fruit growing dust bowl, you arrive in the sleepy town of Lemoore. Until recently it had little to offer the Aussie tourist. But on May 5th 2018, Slater and the World Surf League opened the gates (with the excitement of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory) to the Surf Ranch for the inaugural Founder’s Cup event.
The event was a friendly but competitive showcase of the best surfers in the world on the world’s best man made waves. Kelly Slater, Steph Gilmore, Jordy Smith, Johanna Defay and Gabriel Medina to name a few of the 25 surfing athletes competing for their country. Teams were USA, Australia, Europe, Brazil and Rest of the World. It was a different format to what we usually see at a CT event, there was only ever one surfer in the water at a time, each surfer had 3 rounds to surf a left and right wave. The highest scores were counted and the top three teams progressed to the finals.
I was fortunate to have already committed to being in California that week for a Surf Movement Seminar at the Hurley HQ in Costa Mesa, so I grabbed my ticket to the Ranch pretty early (the day they were released). The Surf Movement Seminar was a collaboration of movement teachers, therapists and sports psychologists who all work with pro surf athletes, Olympians and other high performing individuals. Chris Prosser (Medical Director WSL) went through the most common injuries sustained by surfers (men and women) and a plan to help reduce this. Michael Rintala shared his experience in utilising DNS to rehabilitate and up-regulate athletes performance. Michael Gervais shared incredible insight into the champions mindset and the mental impact of trauma. Dr Tim Brown and Mark Kozuki shared insights into healing chronic soft tissue injuries and the impact of scar tissue on movement and Brian Mackenzie unlocked breathing and the power it holds for maximising your performance in and out of the water.
There were so many great pearls of wisdom from the presenters that wouldn’t translate well in a blog so I am currently curating the information that I received that weekend to create a series of ‘cheat sheets’ that you can download here.
But lets get back to the Surf Ranch…
When I first caught a glimpse of the lake that the wave is generated in the scale blew my mind. It’s long, and the wave I saw being ridden by Australian womens surfer Tyler Wright was incredible. It was a thing of beauty. If you’d like to see the footage you can find it here.
I’m the kind of guy that will always prefer natural over man made. As a Chiropractor I’m constantly looking for ways to harness nature to help my clients achieve their health goals so I’m well aware that nature knows best and sitting in the ocean staring at the horizon is one of life’s great pleasures, but I can honestly say that there is a place for the wave pool. It’s not a replacement for Pipeline, J-Bay or Bells but it does provide a unique spectacle for the fans and a unique opportunity for the athletes.
The surfer sits waiting for the wave by themselves but within earshot of the crowd. When the train that pushes the wave takes off there is approximately 8 seconds before the wave reaches them. I saw super experienced Joel Parkinson, the only man to score a perfect 20 twice in competition, trying not to hyperventilate while he waited for his first wave. There was a moment that I thought he may not make it. I could see his facial expression, his breath and his body language. Fans were calling out to him. He was genuinely pumped and nervous. He is human after all. It was so rad.
The smaller, agile surfers seemed to do better on this wave. Felipe Toledo scored a perfect 10, and I think we’ll start to see more radical aerial manoeuvres developed for this type of event. It will reward the surfer who has the greatest movement capacity, the springy, balanced type so choose your fantasy team wisely for these events in the future.
Another area where I think the wave pool will be successful is for the people who attend the event. The activity happening away from the pool was great too. From merchandise and sponsor activations to live music and food there is a lot that can be developed to make the event really fun for everyone. It’s also predictable with only a slight technical glitch in the afternoon on the first day.
Dr Chris Prosser, one of my mentors was providing Chiropractic care to the athletes in between their heats. He was so busy I didn’t get a chance to see him. It may also be because I was lucky enough to be in the VIP area enjoying a refreshing beverage or two in the hot tub while watching the world’s best in action.
It’s here to stay.
There are plans in the pipeline for a KS wave pool on the Gold Coast and there are other companies building them in Australia and overseas.
So all in all it was a great spectacle, the traditionalists won’t like it but the wider audience being introduced to the sport that brings so much stoke to so many people can only be a good thing.