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

8 Sep 2018 9 Share

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

Photo: WSL/Cestari

Photo: WSL/Cestari


AN IMPOSSIBLE TASK – Trying to judge this event? Or trying to accept it?

By Nick Carroll

This pool is how Dirk Ziff found his way into surfing.

Ziff was an early, silent investor in Kelly’s Elon Muskian adventure. He kicked down for a piece of this action, years before he ever considered underwriting the purchase and running of the old ASP.

Think about that for a second, if you dare.

And now come with me, into mid-afternoon yesterday here on the Moon, where your poor bastard correspondent, denied any chance of surfing at a CT event for the first time in my life, during the hottest conditions at a CT on record, went groping for some sorta substitute, and found the Hurley surf club tent at the base of the adjoining wakeboard lake, where they have Bark ocean racing paddleboards.

OMG, my second sport!

An hour later, sighing with relief, I was standing near the entrance to the tent thing, chatting to a couple of buddies, when a woman came charging up.

I took a look and was stunned. Backwards Fins Beth! Beth Greve, WSL’s marketing expert and “purveyor of cool”, who became an instant legend back in May after being photographed on the beach at Canggu, Bali, carrying a board with the fins in backward. A photo that now adorns a billboard hired by the horribly clever BeachGrit website, just down the road from the Surf Ranch.

Look it up for chrissake.

I wanted to say hello, but she didn’t even bother to acknowledge me — just crashed the conversation, uninvited, and began frothing at one of my buddies: “What have you got? Paddleboards? I wanna use one! Whatever!!”

Note here I did NOT say, “Can I help you make sure the fin is in right?” But I dunno if it would have mattered what I said. Backwards Fins Beth bustled off to change into whatever she wears to go paddleboarding, and I thought fuck this, let’s go watch the big guns.

This was around 3.30pm, and the clarity and beauty of the Central Valley morning had long since receded, or perhaps just been clubbed out of existence by the incredible radiating heat, which now sat unrelenting over the surrounding fields, drawing a brown haze into the lower atmosphere beyond the Pool.

In that morning light back then, by the way, the top girls humiliated the second tier boys.

It was unintentional humiliation. The girls didn’t mean it. It’s just how it fell into the eye of the spectator. If you watched the boys here yesterday, you saw them surfing in jagged incomplete lines, their fast-twitch muscle fibre masses reacting just a touch out of phase with the branded artificiality of the Ranch’s ride and with their own nervousness, causing the rail to twitch and jump in turn, so that turns and tube moves, while powerful, were also doomed to twitchiness.

No such bullshit affected Carissa Moore. Ms Moore came out and surfed with such crushing, fluid authority I almost began believing in the Pool. Like anywhere that showcases surfing of her pure magnificent Serena-Williams-type mastery, so quickly and completely, has to be of value to this sport. Right? Then came supergrommet Caroline Marks, and Caroline leaned in too. Then they both taught me a bit more about the format. To wit: once you’ve gone big, it’s hard to top it.

This was a theme for today, for men and women. Gabriel did it too, way later, when the men humiliated the men. But before all that came Stephanie Gilmore.

Steph framed the event for me today. Best wave of the contest. Marvellous subtle positioning, deeper than anyone, man, woman or farm animal. Just buried. The barrel here is overrated unless you do what Steph did to it. Suddenly it was like, great wave-riding CAN happen here.

I’m truly hoping everyone is seeing this, or a little bit of it at least. But I am a tiny bit aware that many of us have the blinkers on around the whole wacky endeavour. The big critique I keep reading is this: everything’s the same, it’s always the same. Live, I am not seeing that. Instead I am seeing surfers waiting for the right moment to tread on the accelerator. I am waiting for people to change it up, drag the judging with ‘em, and for a few minutes this arvo I thought Jordy Smith had done that exact thing. As soon as he straightened up his line behind the left barrel section, you knew Jordy was going to disrupt proceedings — use the speed instead of just piddling it away on another weeny lil tube ride. And man, he so did. Boom, rodeo flip.

Turned around on the right and did the same, but with a lovely alley oop, plus turns after it.

Got a 7.2 on the left and a 7.6 on the right. Which says it all about the great bug in the system, the real one, not the fake wave or whatever, but the judging. If both Jordy’s waves weren’t better than Kelly’s 8.5 yesterday, I’m not just an astronaut, I’m Flash Fucken Gordon. Yet they will now be held in comparison with each other, along with what Gabriel did (rule), and Filipe did (exactly what Jordy did for a fair bit extra), and what everybody does tomorrow, when they all get one more crack and either make the final eight men or four women, or get brutally benched.

Every score counts against every other score. For three days. It’s an impossible task.

“What did you think?” Jordy asked me afterward. He was standing there in his contest singlet, a bit wide-eyed but not appearing too distressed, holding his board — a shortish Tomo Sci-Fi with the deck painted up to individualise it. Everyone’s riding different stuff here. I told him what I thought and beseeched him not to change tack — that eventually the panel have to recognise disruptive risk at this weird risk-free place. “Oh, I won’t!” he said, and he seemed clear about it. I hope he is. Negativity at this place, where everything about your act is exposed, would be a killer.

This all was watched by a vaguely increased crowd. Maybe 1000 more people cycled through the Ranch today, the first “public” day, where VIP and daily tickets were sold. They pretty much vanished into the vast grounds of this place, which way outranks a football stadium in sheer size.

I talked with dozens of ‘em, but the person who struck me the most was a kid named Noah. His Dad Robert is an ex ASP legal advisor. Robert likes pro surfing, but Noah was jumping out of his skin. “He was up at 5am today,” Robert told me, as Noah raced off to find someone to give him an autograph. “He’s losing it!”

It made me think: Maybe the time is wrong for this pool thing. Maybe when pro surfing was younger and fresher, along with its core audience, people would have been more willing to run with it. They put up with a lot of nonsense back in the day. Night surfing! Five day main events, Wednesday to Sunday, at Cronulla or Niijima or Fistral Beach, Newquay, England, in whatever surf showed up! Allentown, Pennsylvania! Neon boardshorts for gods sake. It didn’t really matter. Everybody just kept going with it, falling for the heroes, the Carrolls and the Occys and the Pottzes and the Kongs and the Currens, the Wintons and the Pam Burridges and Jodie Coopers and Frieda Zambas and Kim Mearigs, making actual legends of these surfers, despite the almost farcical shenanigans in which they found themselves occasionally involved.

This whole gig needs more grommets. Take that on board, Backwards Fins B.

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

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