Team USA Leads Trials of WSL Founders’ Cup After Day 1

Here's what went down at the Surf Ranch on Saturday.

When the train began to spin, everyone had their phones out. Photo: Jon Perino

Whether you were blissfully poolside, washing down your peanuts and cracker jacks with Michelob Ultra or you’re a strictly sea-going purist scoffing at a surf contest in a man-made wave, there can be no doubt, surfing history was made today some 100 miles from the coast at the Kelly Slater Wave Co. Surf Ranch in Lemoore, California.

The shaded bleachers were a very nice touch. Photo: Jon Perino

It was day one of the World Surf League's Founders’ Cup, a WSL specialty team event to present the fascinating new wave to the world. (Surfers have already been mentally surfing it via video for three years.)

Team USA, which includes Lakey Peterson, Kolohe Andino, Carissa Moore, John John Florence, and Kelly Slater finished the trial day in first place.

John John looked just oh-so comfy on his frontside attack. Photo: Jon Perino

Any way you look at it, the Surf Ranch is a modern marvel of hydrodynamic ingenuity in an 15-acre pool.

There were five teams of five surfers, three men and two women. Each surfer got to ride two lefts and two rights. Each surfer’s top right and top left went into their personal scoreline. Those were then combined for a team total. With one more trial round, the top three teams will surf in the final on Sunday.

John John giving Kelly some pointers. Photo: Jon Perino

The Founders’ Cup was sold out and unlike most surf events, the crowd was right on top of the athletes.

“It’s kind of like those first tee jitters in golf, times a thousand,” Slater told CBS sports reporter, Jamie Ehrdahl, in surfing’s first live network broadcast.

Kelly getting his flow rolling on this left-hander. Photo: Jon Perino

As one might expect from engineered peeling perfection, there were some phenomenally long tubes and countless lip bashes through the day. The early highlights included Team World’s Jordy Smith of South Africa. Smith came out of one of those Lemoore drainers and lofted a textbook alley-oop to earn himself a 9.08 and a 16.34 total.

Mick Fanning was as precise as ever. Photo: Jon Perino

Team Australia was somewhat carried by its female contingent with Tyler Wright nailing a 9.33 on her forehand and five-time Womens World Champ boasting Steph Gilmore’s first-round numbers.

Tyler Wright. Like a hot knife through butter. Photo: Jon Perino

Team Brazil got stronger as the day wore on, and 2014 World Champ Gabriel Medina kept up his end of the bargain with a 9.17 in Round 2. But Felipe Toledo stole the show with his Round Two right, smacking an air reverse early on, getting as deep as anyone in the tube, executing a series of critical snaps and then letting loose a massive alley-oop before putting an exclamatory slash on the end for the first ever 10-point ride at the Surf Ranch.

Most eyes were on Team USA, with current WSL World Champ, John John Florence, three-time Womens World Champ, Moore, and Slater (who not only has 11 world titles, but developed this facility that may change the direction of pro surfing forever). The heat was televised live on major networks around the world.

It was apparent that riding the 40-second, 700-yard wave was fairly exhausting, even for these top athletes.

“It feels like a pretty quick three minutes between waves,” Peterson said. “But we train for it. You have to breath a lot in that time.”

Medina keeping with the speed, power and flow. Photo: Jon Perino

Carissa Moore posted an early 9.27, the highest ride of Round One and then bettered that with her right in Round Two, where she collected a 9.43 for her frontside tube riding.

Florence, of the North Shore of Oahu, had an uncharacteristically rough start. His aggressive approach led to catching a rail early and the lefts haunted him all day. But in the second round, he exited the barrel into a huge inverted, no-handed air reverse and rode out.

And Slater clearly knows this wave … He created it.

“I only surfed four waves today and I’m beat,” Slater admitted at the end of the day. “It was intense but it was super fun. I’ve never been to a surf contest where everyone was smiling the whole time.”

He went for an alley-oop in Round One and tried a barrel roll in Round Two. He didn’t make either, but he didn’t need to. At 46 years old and ever the showman, he was a model of consistency, just as dangerous on his fore and backhand. His first round 8.8 and 8.47 proved the highest total of the day.

The WSL Founders Cup Round Three will start at 1:30 PST. The final round, with the top three teams will follow.

The first half of Toledo’s perfect 10. Photo: Jon Perino

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