The Surf Ranch in 35mm

By now you’ve heard of the goings on at Mr. Slater’s wonderous wave pool this weekend. Our own Alyssa Eurell put on her spurs, picked up her camera, and headed out to the Surf Ranch.

Photos by Alyssa Eurell

I spent the day Saturday 100 miles off the coast in California watching a surf contest. Typically when I notate that sort of location, it means lost somewhere at sea. This past Saturday was rather different. Instead of heading across the open ocean, we traveled inland, up the I-5, to a previously lightly trafficked farming town of Leemore, CA between Bakersfield and Fresno.

The destination was Kelly Slater’s Wave Pool that up until recently rivaled being as difficult to get into as Fort Knox. But May 5–6, if you carried a Golden Ticket, you could cross the gilded gates.

Checking into the event felt more like wading into a golf tournament than a surf contest. Boys in neon vests waved you down and directed you to park. VIPs to the right, regular spectators to the left. The appropriate colored wristband slapped on your wrist.

Freight train

Whether you’re into the wave pool hype or not, upon first glance in-person, that wave is really impressive: 45 seconds of perfectly peeling perfection with hardly a drop of water out of place.

Basically, a moving train pushes water that breaks along the concrete floor.

I’m not an engineer and can’t explain to you any more about how it works than the guy who was next to me in the cowboy hat, but basically, a moving train pushes water that breaks along the concrete floor of the Surf Ranch. Depending on which way the train moves, you either surf a right or a left.

Unfortunately, from where we were standing, the right was the only direction we could watch not from a big screen. A weird weather phenomenon picked up, where the wind blew onshore for the left and offshore for the right.

We watched every surfer (on a team based on country of origin) surf two waves per round, across two rounds. Each person, throwing down similar tricks to the guy or gal right before him, due to the extreme similarities in each wave. There were some lulls in between waves, which a surfer should be used to, but because you were witnessing man-made perfection, it felt boring. It felt like it should carry the same intensity as any other sporting event, based on the set up of food trucks, bars and places to spend your money on frivolous gifts. From the sidelines, the vibe is a bit more day hanging out on the LA River (the completely paved waterway that runs through Los Angeles) than the beach.

I’m not here to throw any shade at the WSL or the genius that is Kelly Slater, but rather tell you about my day in the 90-degree heat in the Central Valley.

I’m an old soul, preferring the simpler things life has to offer, so maybe I’m a bit biased. But I do think contests should stick to the ocean. Again, biased, but surfing might be the only sport that is SOLELY dependent on good ol’ Mother Nature. Lay days, sharks, wind, geographic location and sunburns are all what make our sport so incredibly unique. Perhaps, these factors are what make surfing carry the largest unemployment rate among users.

Lastly, let me be the first to say, I give it until the end of the year until Kelly can surf that thing blindfolded.