It's 38 degrees here in Lemoore, California or, 100f, if you're that way inclined - and the first ever CT event at Kelly Slater's wonder park has been firing up.
Day two is currently winding down with Gabriel Medina sitting atop the men's event leader board (at the time of writing) and Carissa Moore, Lakey Peterson, Caroline Marks and Steph G are likely all qualified to the final round of the women's event. Since Slater unveiled his marvellous wave-making machine a few years back, there's been a busy team tweaking and dialling it all in, finally settling on what you've been watching today – Surf Ranch 3.0.
And, in terms of shape, size – comparing it to an actual ocean wave, this thing is legit. After spending a day scoping out the competition, here are some first-hand impressions.
It's heavier than you think
That's the first thing that struck home when seeing the wave in action. The webcasts, and footage that have been slowly emerging over the past few years, do it little justice. The tube section, while you've gotta squat to cram into it, actually looks pretty heavy. And it's surprisingly bigger than what you expect. The take off is no hassle.
The right is better than the left
Oh don't get me wrong, both are technical and mechanical marvels, hell, it's even becoming cliché to write that sentence. But the right looks... crisper, more groomed than the left. Now, one of pool's purposes is to play down the idea of elements impacting the near-constant action. But today, the wind certainly favoured the right. Perhaps part of the issue here too is the bathymetry, with the lay of the land favouring the right? It can't really be too perfect both ways.
It's genuinely fascinating
The crowd are hyped. Surfers have grins etched ear-to-ear. There's little negativity on the ground about the wave. Nor about the format, the vibes are high. And there's something oddly compelling about watching the ranch's own Tommy Tank fire up (it's got some volume to it) and plough waves in the direction of waiting surfers, a strange dichotomy from the open ocean.
That's not to say the repetitive nature is the golden nugget of surfing's future – it's interesting as a solo event. Would a pool in every major city add to surf culture? Or can we classify this as pure novelty? Also, at the event, the average punter gets better access to their surfing heroes. The athletes' area is adjoined to the VIP bar, so expect the pros to be milling around.
The scoring seems on point
The one major concern heading into this event was that the judges would award a 10-point ride after day 1. What that could have meant is competition would be stunted because once a surfer dials in how to nail a 10, there's no room for progression and little room for innovation. Now, that's not an unusual aspect of surf competitions, but it would feel exacerbated in a wave pool setting.
One observation is – how does the barrel score now? Usually, the oh-so-sacred cover up is the throne of pro surfing. When it's on tap like at the ranch, it somewhat trivialises the tube. So, would a fairer way to score the barrel be to begin stacking points after a set amount of time inside it? For example, once in, the tube only gets scored after it's been ridden for 10 or so seconds – or is that further trivialisation of hallowed turf? It's a part of scoring that may need tweaking in the future.
It's four minutes between waves but the wave could be shorter
The issue here is that it feels as if the wave could be a little shorter, and you'd still capture a lot of the action. But the arena is so long that it currently makes sense to utilise it all. Unless if you had more than one person per wave...
It's a hefty walk from one end to the other
Want to get from north to south of the ranch? Set aside 10-15 minutes for a jaunt along the tree-lined edge – conveniently where most of the spectators are watching the event. When your feet are pounding that beat from north to south, three, four, five times a day in the heat, it makes for sweaty work. Woe is me.
Kelly's foot looks...fine
The champ's been nursing this ongoing injury for some time – since last season's Jbay snapped him. Slater's missed a couplea events because of that injury but that didn't stop him taking the numero uno spot after the first day of competition.