by Steven Sanchez
For the second year, the best professional surfers from all the over the world came together to compete against each other in the most unlikely place for one to catch a wave…Lemoore. Kelly Slater, arguably the greatest surfer of all time, brought his idea of a wave pool to the Central Valley with the help of his most trusted engineers that was twelve years in the making to bring it to life. It is considered to be the world’s longest open-barrel artificial wave, equipped with different wave shapes and sizes, and now it’s home to the Surf Ranch and for future competitions.
This year Lemoore hosted the Freshwater Pro 2019 from September 19-21, marking it the second consecutive year that the international and televised competition took place at Kelly’s constructed surfing haven. Brazil’s Gabriel Medina and Hawaii’s Carissa Moore were last year’s title winners for the Men’s and Women’s. There was more excitement for the tour this time around because history is being made in the sport right now and Lemoore was able to be a part of that. New upgrades to the wave pool were installed, new vendors and areas for entertainment were implemented, but most importantly, surfing will make its debut at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, and the World Surf League (WSL) announced equal prize money across all owned and operated events, becoming the first US-based global sports league to do so. The sport has grown to insurmountable heights to earning a spot on the Olympic global stage and making an impact when it comes to diversity and equality in sports.
To celebrate this milestone, at the press conference there was a panel where all the best female surfers including Moore, America’s Caroline Marks with Lakey Peterson and Courtney Conlogue, Australia’s Stephanie Gilmore and Sally Fitzgibbons, came together to discuss this new diversity initiative.
“Wow!” is what Marks had to say when she won the first equal prize check a while ago. “It’s incredible, and insane. It’s cool to see where women’s surfing is going, and I’m glad to be a part of it,” she celebrated while thanking her idols and peers.
And for some, money was never the issue but more so them being an inspiration to young girls to take up the sport. “Money was never a driving force for me. I felt like I got a lot of compliments for being a driving force behind the equal prize pay, but there were so many generations ahead of me that inspired this, and for me it was about being at the right place and right time,” Gilmore says. “I understood that fighting for something powerful such as equal money was much bigger than myself, and winning is awesome, but doing something like this was a chance for me to do something bigger and made me want to stand up for it.”
Her other objective is to make sure that the visibility of their accomplishments is being witnessed. “The biggest change in moving forward is telling our stories, showing us on primetime TV. When I was online looking for old footage of female surfers, you can’t find anything; it’s like the history is missing, and it’s sad. But it needs to be told, and that’s what’s needed to inspire the next generation.”
And so far, it’s working, as the Surf Ranch will see a continuation of a global beachside engagement program for girls called Rising Tides, where the program offers clinics with the world’s best surfers at each CT stop in an effort to inspire the next generation to take up surfing. “It’s great to see this boom of girls in the water. When I first started surfing, it was only me and maybe one other girl in the water…it’s great to see these girls have a career path to look forward to, and the coverage the WSL is providing for young girls to watch and inspire to be is awesome,” announces Moore.
Last year’s champ Medina and Filipe Toledo, who came into the event as the number one ranked surfer in the world, are Brazil’s pride and joy. Not only are they the most popular and top surfers in the sport, they are bringing much needed cultural diversity to the sport which has helped them put their country’s surfing scene on the map and why talents from there now occupy one-third of the Championship Tour roster. “I feel it’s amazing. For many years, it comprised of just Americans, Australians, and Hawaiians, but now you have Brazilians and others, so I’m humbled to be a part of the breakout stars of what we call the ‘Brazilian storm,’” Toledo proudly expresses. But does the competition get in the way of their brotherhood? “Once you’re on tour you want to do your thing, but it’s clear between all of us that when the heat starts, it’s game on, but when it’s over we hang out and get along, and people are inspired by us sticking with each other, and it’s been working really good.”
Needless to say, featuring surfing in the Olympics is big news, and one can say that the increasing popularity of the sport more than likely contributed to its inclusion. “That was maybe part of it, and the acceptance you get from people helps. When I was a kid asking for days off from school, my principal would give me a look; but when you say I play football, baseball, or soccer, then they’d give you liberties. Each step of the way, the last two decades the sport has had to prove itself in its presence. In this day and age of social media, it’s more interesting for a person who doesn’t surf or play football will see surfing as more visually appealing,” Kelly believes.
Well the popularity of the sport has made an impact on the culture since these surfers have become mainstream and are becoming household names. As of December 2017, the WSL had more than 6.5 million Facebook fans, surpassing more established sports such as the National Hockey League, the Association of Tennis Professionals, and Major League Soccer. and 28 million hours of WSL digital video content were consumed during the 2017 season, making WSL the third most watched sport online, behind NFL and NBA. Peterson made this year’s ESPN The Body Issue, while Conlogue graced it back in 2016, and recently Gilmore was featured in Rolling Stone magazine highlighting her career and her involvement with music since she just got to jam with Jimmy Buffett. “I’ve loved the magazine for a very long time. They shape cultures. And when you’re a kid you learn about music through them, so being in it was great. I’d like to be a rock star so I can be on the cover someday (laughs), but there are parallels between musicians and surfers: surfers play music and musicians love surfing. There’s moments where I feel my surfing and my music go hand-in–hand which makes the magazine a great place to introduce surfing to a new audience,” Gilmore preaches. That impact was made evident by the upgrades and enmities that the Surf Ranch offered during that weekend.
First – the wave pool: “We’re doing a different format. We have different names for different waves. With the wind behind the wave we’re running a slower one, so it’ll be the same in both directions. Our scientists have been working hard on the software and seeing how the waves work and getting it right. You’re going to see “more” better waves this time around and improving it from last year,” elaborates Slater.
It seems to make sense, but since this is the first of its kind and this is the only second year of competition, how do these waves feel in comparison to the real ones? Did the surfers have to change their game and make adjustments in order to perform well?
Toledo: “When in the ocean, you have to wait for the wave to hit, but here it’s all about performance and making it happen, and relying on your training to keep up with the wave here since it’s longer than the average wave.”
Gilmore: “Fitness for sure. You can ride any board on here. Fitness is a big thing for these waves. Not many waves are out there where you surf for fifty seconds, take a minute break, and surf another fifty-second wave. Keeping the cardio up is a big deal when it comes to conditioning and technique.”
Medina: “We didn’t know what to expect. Last year was our first time competing here, but I felt good because everybody had the same equal wave, perfect for everybody, and whoever makes the less mistakes wins. I like this wave.”
Second – the entertainment variety: for the fans and the programs directed towards the kids made the event more fun for the attendees. There’s a huge swimming hole called Perkins Lake for those that want to take a dip. At the North End of Perkins Lake there was the Grom Zone, according to the WSL Freshwater PRO website, “We’ve teamed with the awesome people at The Wahine Project and Urban Surf 4 Kids to build a Grom Zone packed with fun throughout the day!” equipped with beach games, arts and crafts, and surf lessons. Then there was the WSL Pure Village where its purpose was “to learn about sustainable surfing programs, meet your favorite athlete, engage with art installations, and even enter to win a board shaped by Ryan Harris!”
Adding to what Stephanie said about the relationship between surfing and music, on the 20th there was an acoustic performance by Swedish pop/folk group, Smith and Thell, and on the 21, the day of championships, when all the festivities were done, The Raconteurs took the stage. Jack White, the singer and lead guitarist of the band, known famously for one half of the power rock duo, The White Stripes, and his bandmates came together for a rockin’ show after a ten-year hiatus to entertain the surfing crowd as they continue to embark on their North American tour.
Lakey Peterson took the women’s title with the French surfer Johanne Defay as the runner-up. Medina repeated as the men’s champion while Toledo again for the second year was runner-up. Medina now graces the number one spot as the best in the world. Either way, the Brazilian storm has thunderstruck the men’s division. He can thank his preparation for his repeat victory. “To be the defending champion, people are coming after you, but for me it was all about improving every day, and while competing with the best you learn from the best.” Or he can thank his goofy footer technique. For those of you that don’t understand surfing terminology, a goofy footer is someone, either in surfing, skateboarding, and snowboarding, who rides with his or her left foot in back, toward the tail of the board. That could be his advantage but after back to back victories who can dispute that.
This contest had a little more at stake because, in order for those to represent their countries in next year’s Olympics, it all depends on their rankings, so their standings in order to compete leading up to Tokyo really started at the Surf Ranch.
Surfing, music, food, merchandise, entertainment, is this the future of surfing? Yes, not only in terms of its popularity value but also for the safety of the athletes. Articles have been published this year saying that last year, nearly 60% of 4,523 beaches tested across the United States demonstrated unsafe water pollution levels on at least one day, according to a report released by the nonprofits Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group. Whatever reason to keep the world of surfing coming to this farming town will be accepted, and with its rising fame and impact on the local economy, don’t be surprised when the next great surfer comes out of Lemoore.
18556 Jackson Ave.
Lemoore, CA 93245
Additional photos of the event: instagram.com/stevensanchez5807