The Ranch Day One – Nick Carroll Reports from the Scene at Lemoore

7 Sep 2018 10

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

Photo: WSL/Cestari

Photo: WSL/Cestari

COASTALWATCH | NICK CARROLL

Walking on the Moon

By Nick Carroll

So at EXACTLY 9am Hiro Ohhata caught the first wave of the first real event at the Ranch – this place that seems somehow perfectly suited to pro surfing, yet at the same time so alien to everything else we think of as “surfing”, it could almost pass for our version of the Moon.

It wasn’t exactly a Neil Armstrong moment.

Hiro tried to surf it tight, but didn’t really get a grip on the thing. He had to trim-line it out into the last tube section, which doesn’t quite work here. Too deep.

No tone was set by this ride, other than it began blasting apart the myth of flawlessness in the pool. This was Day One’s big feature, bigger than any single surfer’s performance. Waves do vary here. A lot. Nowhere near as much as an ocean coast, but more than you may have suspected from all the hype.

Especially this was obvious on the left, which drove surfers mad all day. Its wobbly complexity was underscored repeatedly by a panel presented with the hardest job in pro surfing history. But more on that later.

There is a brief period of extraordinary beauty here on the Moon. It occurs around 7am, as the sun first rises, and the cool night air is yet to lift. A clear light suffuses everything, and the air smells of green growth, the way the North Coast can at times.

It doesn’t last. By 11am you’re either in the shade or you’re cooked. The cows around here don’t have trees to hide under. Instead they have vast metal shades, under which they cluster, looking mournful.

At the Ranch today, though, it was amazingly chill. No big gun seeds surfed today, just the bottom half of the rankings, and the ticket sales are well down on the Founders’ Cup thing anyway, so almost nobody was around. Maybe 300 people roamed the place, mostly pros, coaches, early stage VIPs, and WSL employees conferring in small, vaguely urgent groups.

This is not a beach scene, it’s a sports field in the middle of farmland. I had a chat to a couple of locals who’d scored jobs as parking lot attendants; they seemed fascinated by this strange incursion into a rural community’s lives. “He’s gotta build a coupla hotels here,” one of them told me. He was a big man in late middle age with a small moustache, a former DJ at a local radio station. He waved across the perhaps 15 acres of adjoining land that came with Kelly’s original purchase of the site. “$575,000 he paid! Of course he’s gonna build here!”

I almost said, Man, these people think nothing of half a million dollars, but stopped myself.

“The farmers are gonna have fits,” the DJ told me.

CTs these days always seem like two events in one. There’s the actual event, like being there, then there’s the broadcast event, the thing you see through the magic of cameras and microphones, Planet Joe Turpel, really. I think maybe today was more interesting live, watching surfers duel with a new system in this odd, quite quiet flatland so far from anything oceanic.

Kelly heads the men’s leaderboard. His performance today was unexpectedly classical. It struck me out of nowhere that KS’s surfing style now truly belongs to a time gone by, in a similar manner to Curren’s or my little brother’s — you watch him surf and it is as if 1995 has voyaged into the present. Somehow this makes it all the more delightful to watch, all those quick reflex twitchy semi-tailslide top turns and canny tube senses, but if it was worth the 8-plus the judges gave him on his second right this morning, I’m a fucken astronaut.

I almost thought, shit, should he even be in the contest? Seeing as how he’s a part owner of the pool, has been in on every phase of its development and testing, and has had numerous uninterrupted sessions in it. And hasn’t been able to compete in any other events this year without exacerbating his long term foot injury. Then I thought, all that is exactly why he SHOULD be in this contest.

Joan Duru should be on top of that board. Joan did something most unusual today – he surfed a wave in a spontaneous fashion. The pros are trying to map out this joint, get a handle on it, and that meant a lot of repetitious stuff, top turns, semi-cutbacks, a flare turn of some sort before the first tube section, and a deal of prep for the second, which meant much opportunity was surrendered. Joan, however, was gifted one of those head-fuck lefts with a slight wobble, one that produced little bits of foam where there shouldn’t have been, and it brought out a flash of instinctive response from the kid. His turns on this wave looked unrehearsed and exciting and fully connected with the unusual movement of the wave.

It was a 7.5, the highest left score to that point in the day, and I was suddenly aware of the potential in this system, because Joan could see the leaderboard as it updated, and was suddenly aware that a good right would get him into the lead. A kind of electricity filled that ride, it looked easily enough, but the panel shut it down. Maybe he tried too hard.

I mean, whatever, all events are like this, but no, they are not. In this one, a unique challenge faces the panel. To wit: during these first three days, all the surfers get six rides each, with their top left and right scoring. By Saturday night, all but eight men and four women will be booted. Harsh, right?

But this means EVERY ONE of those rides must be scored in perfect comparison with every other ride. It’s not a one-on-one heat, where scores only really need to match across a half hour. These have to match across three fucken DAYS.

Meetings have been held about this fact. Surfers have been barking. But the panel just has to get on with it. I briefly collared head judge Pritamo Ahrendt, I’ll interview him for youse at length later, but in our 30 second chat, he said: “I’m just thinking about the high points (of each ride).” Which sounded oddly like what Jack Shipley told me recently. Jack was the gun judge in the Hawaiian events of the early 1970s, when they first started trying to figure this shit out for reals. Back then it was six-man heats at places like Sunset and Haleiwa, and the very fact of so many surfers catching waves at once drove the judges to begin to focus on the high points: take-offs, moves in the steeps, big turns, finishes.

“That’s how we first got a criteria,” Jack had said. La de da, everything changes and nothing changes. It’s still surfing, whether you’re on the moon or not.

READ MORE: For more excellent reading on the Surf Ranch Pro, Sean Doherty's also covering the event on surfingworld.com.au.

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