After parking at a nearby college and being shuttled to the WSL Surf Ranch, the first thing I said was, “Wow, this wave looks way nicer in person.” Not that I haven’t been amazed by its perfection on Instagram clips – it’s just that seeing the man-made wave in real life was a whole new experience. In fact, I was pretty blown away … As was everyone else.
Overall, this past weekend’s event served as a spectacle that showcased the world’s best surfers on what is arguably the world’s best manufactured wave. Entering the venue felt like entering a traditional professional sporting event and the crowd demographic was eclectic: filled with surfers, surf families and people from around the area who have probably never surfed before.
Beyond the surfing, the atmosphere was awesome. Everyone was enjoying themselves while the announcers were sharp, the music was good (playing at a perfect volume must I say), the pool-side bars had couches and mist fans, there was even a small lake that everyone was welcome to enjoy and above all – the perfect amount of people were there. Not too crowded, not too empty.
This was largely because ticket prices were steep and before they canceled, Blink 182 was scheduled to play on Saturday night. However, they were replaced by Social Distortion who still played a great show.
Guests were also able to enjoy free paddleboard rentals, courtesy of event sponsor Hurley, at the small lake located right next to the wave pool. Considering the weather was a little over 100-degrees at times, this was an ideal to way to escape the pervasive heat and still enjoy the spirit of the event.
On Saturday, after a brief intermission following the men’s competition, the women’s began and it was easy to feel the energy go back into the surfing. The crowd for the women’s event was just as packed as the men’s: people leaned against the railings to watch the ladies get after it and also gave Bethany Hamilton an ovation just as loud as they did for Kelly Slater.
Following every heat, each surfer had to walk by fans who were itching and scratching to get an autograph or photo – like at any other WSL event. What made this cooler than the other events was watching fans that may not have access to the beach or most likely haven’t been to a surfing event before, looking at each pro with the same admiration that we all did when we were kids.
We even noticed a local high school water polo team running around the venue with merchandise bags and huge smiles. The locals have embraced the ranch.
Imagine living in a lightly-populated farmland such as Lemoore, California and then all of a sudden Kelly Slater builds a wave pool down your street and just a year later, all the world’s best pros are competing there. The locals are stoked and our Airbnb hosts said they had a great time watching the event on the webcast while we were there. The least we could do was leave them a couple SURFER Magazines that we happened to have with us.
For or against wave pools, they’ve spread the stoke of surfing to a whole new audience and that’s something we should all enjoy.
Towards the end of the women’s competition on Saturday, the wave generator malfunctioned and was under maintenance so it had to get cut short. All of the missed heats were made up the next day, because by the time they had fixed the problem, it was time for the Air Show Exhibition.
For me, that was the coolest part of the weekend …
Surfers that are known to push the free-surfing and aerial limits such as Chippa Wilson, Filipe Toledo, Mikey Wright, Albee Layer and more got to showcase their skills on the same spectacle that the ‘CT surfers did for once.
Seeing as it was an exhibition for the Air Invitational that’s coming up in France soon, it was a much more laid-back environment – surfers shared each wave and politely dropped in on each other.
Shortly after the Air Show fun ended, Social Distortion took the stage to wrap up the most eventful day this three-day event had to offer. With a mosh pit forming near the front and the music pulsing through the venue, it’s safe to say the day, and the WSL Surf Ranch Pro as a whole, ended on a high note.
All photos by Matt Leontis.
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