Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Mike Meares
We’re geeked over this weekend’s Surf Ranch Pro—the eighth stop on the 2018 WSL Surfing Championship Tour and the first time the tour has ever been held at a wave ranch.
That’s right—it’s no longer man vs. nature. Read on to hear how WSL Surf Ranch Pro 2018 is set to change professional competition and who’s prepped to make a splash this weekend.
Machine-produced perfect (and imperfect) waves? The future is now.
The Surf Ranch is the brainchild of all-timer Kelly Slater. A wave system that has been dubbed the “world’s longest open-barrel artificial wave,” it calls the unassuming farm town of Lemoore, California home—population 26,355. The installation was a decade in the making, is powered by renewable energy, and took a $30 million investment.
Now, this “wave pool” concept is moving beyond recreation and into the professional realm. This weekend, the Surf Ranch hosts a WSL Championship Tour event for both the finest male and female pro surfers on Earth. It will be unlike any other WSL event before it, arguably changing the face of pro surfing. Instead of 30-minute competitions in open water where surfers wait around for waves to develop, the Surf Ranch Pro surfers get three left waves and three right waves. There are no surfer vs. surfer heats—instead, everyone completes their waves solo with the Top 8 in men’s and Top 4 in women’s advancing to the final round on Sunday.
Although there have been misgivings about the homogenizing effect of such a ranch, a test event held at the Surf Ranch this past fall and attended by many icons of the sport was met with such approval that the WSL went ahead with this weekend’s official festivities.
It’s a brave new world for surfing. And no matter which side of the fence you stand on, it’ll be hard not to drink it all in this weekend.
We might as well begin at the most obvious starting point—Brazil’s Filipe Toledo. He’s #1 in the dang world for a reason. Already with two wins this year, he’s a showman that may be tempted to pull out all the stops in a controlled setting such as this. If so, he’s likely to be freakishly hard to beat.
Well, scratch that—there’s lil ‘ole Kelly Slater to consider. Yes, he’s “old” now. Yes, he’s coming off injury. But the 11-time WSL champion owns the dang park. Talk about a built-in advantage—he’s spent more time carving these waves than any other human alive! If you don’t give Slater decent odds in this event, you’re being foolish.
Important note: Sadly, John John Florence, Tyler Wright, and Caio Ibelli have withdrawn from Surf Ranch Pro 2018 due to injury / illness.
Wildcard pick: The stylish up-and-comer with the cool name, Michael February. Because why not? This guy is poised to break through.
Bethany Hamilton is on record as saying that, albeit supremely talented, she struggles in some conditions. The Surf Ranch offers a controlled environment… might it present an ideal setting for her abilities?
Hamilton aside, many believe that six-time world champion and current #1 on the Women’s ASP Tour, Stephanie Gilmore, is poised to take top honors this weekend. It’s difficult to disagree with her as a top pick—she has all the momentum and, in trial runs, has arguably barreled through the Surf Ranch as good or better than anyone else. However, Steph’s Australian, so if not Hamilton, our hearts lie with fellow American Lakey Peterson. She’s ranked No. 2 in the world and, while the odds may seem against it the way Gilmore has been surfing at the venue, her air game could be a decider.
We'll have answers to all these unknowns come next week!