by Steven Sanchez
Usually, when you think of the most popular hot spots in which to catch some waves, places like Hawaii, anywhere in Southern California, or the Bay Area are just a few that spring to mind. Now you can add another destination to that mix. That location is…Lemoore?
You heard that correctly. Lemoore, the home of the Naval Air Station, has become a new surfing haven, handpicked by arguably the greatest surfer of all time, Kelly Slater. That location has become the Surf Ranch. On one side of the city you can go to the Naval Air Station if you want to take to the skies. On the other side, there are those who want to go all-point-break in the water at Slater’s surfing sanctuary in the Central Valley. I know what’s on your mind. You’re thinking: but how?
The answer is: a wave pool that is considered to be the world’s longest open-barrel artificial wave, equipped with different wave shapes and sizes. In 2006, Kelly collaborated with Adam Fincham, a fluid dynamics specialist and an Associate Professor of Engineering at the University of Southern California, who became the mastermind behind bringing Kelly’s vision to life. The wave pool is 700 yards long in distance and length, it cost $30 million to construct, and it’s powered by renewable energy. A hydrofoil system that makes contact with the water is what creates the wave, using 250,000 gallons of water to make what surfers call an “off the hook” wave, meaning that it’s good. Underwater, the base is compiled of the best reefs in the world, designed by Kelly and brought here to give the waves their shapes. The World Surf League (WSL) bought the Kelly Slater Wave Company and Surf Ranch in 2016, and became instrumental in making sure the project saw the light of day. This innovative accomplishment was 12 years in the making for the 11-time world champion and his design teams, the scientists, and engineers involved.
The hard work paid off as Lemoore became the host for its first ever World Surf League Championship Tour from September 6 to 9, 2018, where the world’s best male and female surfers from around the world competed. It was a nationally-televised event. On Saturday, the 8th they had the Southern California punk rock band, Social Distortion, perform a concert. They went all out.
Lemoore is 100 miles away from the ocean, so it makes one wonder why, out of all the places they could have chosen, did they bring the surfing world here? “Kelly and his partners fell in love with Lemoore for several reasons,” says Sam Ramirez, the general manager of Surf Ranch. “They provided the privacy to conduct the experiments they needed to, the hospitality we have received has been incredible from some local businesses and partners we work with, and some of Kelly’s favorite restaurants are here.”
It’s not just a pool, it’s a family entertainment locale for those who want to view more surfing events in the future. A jumbotron is located at different parts of the wave pool to show the action up close. There are merchandise tents, snack bars, a pond where kids and adults can swim, volleyball nets, a VIP area with a bar, lounge chairs, and hot tubs to watch the surfers “smack the lip.” Carissa Moore took first place for the woman on behalf of the USA, and Brazil’s Gabriel Medina took the top spot for the men. That weekend showed that even in a non-surfing community, people will come out in droves and have a good time.
If they could pull it off in Lemoore, could they do it elsewhere? “The company’s approach is to look at other opportunities to expand the sport, to expand the ability for everyone to see surfing, [to bring] technologies from other parts of the world, to give these athletes a place to train, and for opportunities to continue to grow,” elaborates Sam.
Even though this groundbreaking addition to the sport has won over its fans, it hasn’t come without its fair share of controversy from the naysayers. Why are they taking the ocean out of the sport? Also, surfing events are tourist attractions for beach towns, and there’s a fear of taking that revenue away from them.
Kelly and his colleagues believe that whether it be at the beach or in a farming town, wherever there’s surfing people will show up. However, since this was the first event of its kind in an unproven city, and it’s only the second event overall that’s been open to the public, there were some doubts whether they could pull it off. But, in the end, their confidence never wavered. “The geography was the challenge, but it was an opportunity to create something attractive to bring people here and to make an atmosphere to offer variety,” says Laura Muma, the head of Public Relations for the WSL. “You may not be a surf fan, but you can go check out the concert, or the other things we have around. The formula has proven successful, and the plan for it is to keep growing with each event we do.” And seeing all the people who attended has been a joy for everyone involved. Laura told me that one of the highlights for her was seeing a family from Japan who flew out all the way to see Kanoa Igarashi compete, and they even got the chance to meet him.
Hearing and seeing all of this made me wonder: is this the future of surfing? “I’m not sure if it is the future but it is a part of the future. The goal was to give these athletes a place to train, and for those who weren’t close to the ocean, to get an opportunity to get out in the water, experience it, and show what they can do,” says Sam. “It’s not the be-all and end-all by any means, but it does have a place in the development of the sport.”
You can find the Surf Ranch on Facebook and they are located at:
18556 Jackson Ave
Lemoore, California 93245