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

10 Sep 2018 1 Share

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

Photo: WSL/Cestari

Photo: WSL/Cestari


WHO BUTTERS YOUR BREAD? The last qualifying round draws a crowd, sorta.

By Nick Carroll

Saturday here started out sharp, then kinda drifted.

Country club or not, there is a golf vibe to this format. You do what you do, try to jump the qualifying bar, then come back in and wait to see if some bastard can one-up ya.

The men hammered away at this transaction all morning. Twenty-eight of them were gonna be ejected, and I am not totally sure all those 28 minded.

They rode their lefts and rode their rights, and came up on to the apron — not a beach, but a thick plastic/fabric mat laid over concrete, tapering off on to said concrete — in varying states of elation and disconsolation.

OK, only Miggy Pupes was truly elated. Everybody has been claiming Miguel’s practice sessions here, thus it was kind of a puzzle that he ended two rounds stuck way back in the high 20s. It made me wonder about the point of practice at this joint, even though all my instincts told me it mattered here in ways it doesn’t quite matter in an ocean environment. After all, the surf spots where conventional wisdom says you need time are places like Pipe and Chopes: places where “practice” is a euphemism for overcoming fear. There’s no fear in the Surf Ranch pool. There’s just raw technique.

Anyway, Miggy just blew it apart and leapfrogged 15 places, briefly pushing aside Kelly Slater for third place on the board, and that was the sharp edge for a while.

The rest of the 28 faced their fates, whatever they were. Many of them had had very limited practice time in the pool: maybe six or eight waves over a couple of the prep days set aside for the CT pros in the lead-up to the event. All were convinced that practice time was the big key to success here. All were very aware of the numerous small changes in waves and how these could undermine direct comparison — indeed, Willian Cardoso got the first “faulty” wave of the event, a left that tapered back and shrank on to the bottom contour, giving Panda no chance to produce big moves. ( He got a re-run, but it changed nothing.) Most were dubious about the judging panel’s ability to stay consistent over three days. Many missed the direct heat of man-on-man, saying they felt the lack of battle and its natural drama was missing, and the only person you were really at war with under this system was yourself — a discomfiting notion.

Some were going home, some to the 10,000 QS in Portugal. Almost all were very much looking forward to their next actual surf. To “get my feet into some sand,” as Ace Buchan put it.

To a surfer, though, all toed the line on the pool’s CT status. Parko being the sole exception — after all, he doesn’t have to. He didn’t diss it, mind, not in so many words, but when I asked him if he could imagine coaching someone in an event here down the track some time, he shook his head, “Nup! I can’t. At all.”

Everyone else said a version of what Adriano de Souza told me, in his classically serious tone: “This is the future. This is how more money will come into the sport.” Or a version of the Conner Coffin line: “I’m happy to do this event, if it allows me to continue my surf bum life.”

Conner seized himself then: “Not even that!” he said. “It’s fun as it is. And it’s on CBS today, it’s an opportunity for our sport.”

I thought, but didn’t tell him, CBS: the first US TV network to become involved with surfing. CBS broadcast one of the most extraordinary surf movies ever made, the original Duke Classic from 1965, at cloud-breaking 15 foot Sunset Beach, shot in 16mm film from beach and helicopter. Jock Sutherland, Mike, Doyle, Rick Grigg, the fucking Pantheon, etc. Post-heat interviews, the lot. I have a copy at home on DVD, I’d show it to you here if I could. One day 53 years ago, and it had everything pro surfing needs right now.

But it didn’t have Kelly Slater. Kelly did his laps today but he didn’t just walk up the apron, oh hell no. He put his board down and did a full hip flexor stretch, right there on the plastic, onlookers and all.

The surfers know who butters their bread, but Kelly makes the damn bread. I asked him the same few questions I’d asked everyone else and he replied in crazy detail. 22 waves at the Pool including and since the Founders Cup, for instance. How the big feature of qualifying was that the cream rises to the top, with precise descriptions of that cream’s whipped up peaks. How he’d expected Miggy to come good, having watched him in training, of course.  

On the question of why this event seems better live, though — why all my acquaintances elsewhere are saying “Boring! Who cares?”, while here, I’m a bit transfixed — he had to think. “Well, a lot of them are probably good surfers, and they’re thinking they’ll never get a chance to surf here, so they’re already kind of on a negative tone about it. But a part of me knows exactly what you’re saying. We’ve gotta work on the timing.” And he rattled off about a dozen different ideas in a row.

Kelly in hyper-reality mode, the way he gets after a good performance. He can’t surf like Gabriel or Filipe or Julian any more and he knows it, but my god, does it even matter.

Meanwhile there was the heat. The ever-present heat. And the arrival of the People. They arrived suddenly, around 9.30am, and streamed in until there were maybe 1200 of them clustered under the trees along the Pool’s perimeter wall, around 200 more than who appeared to be watched remotely on Facebook at the time.

I swam with the People. In the Lake, the one next door. The most polluted swim of my life. A hundred or more of the People were in there, and nobody minded the foulness arising from the lake bottom as the water was stirred into a terrible stew of Lemoore farm-mud and heavy metals. A spring-break vibe pervaded Perkins Lake, thanks to Hurley’s paddleboards and inflatable toys, yet without the drunkenness, violence, and what I can only imagine must be the near-rape atmosphere of a college hoedown, thank whomever. Instead, it was just fun. Social Distortion did a soundcheck in the background, though mostly you only picked up the bass.

Who pays to attend these gigs? I almost swam into a couple of men in mid-lake. They turned out to be father and son, the O’Boyles. I can’t recall their first names, Allah forgive me; my notebook was elsewhere. Dad O’Boyle was greying and distinguished, son O’Boyle was thirty-something and fantastically good looking, black Irish to the core. “We came up for the Founder’s Cup too,” said Dad. “WAY more people at that one.”

Freakishly it turned out that young O’Boyle had been in Sydney the week before, on “business”, and had surfed Deadman’s outside Fairy Bower on the Thursday of that last banging southerly swell. “What a wave!” he said. “All those boils!”

The bar in the women’s round was infeasibly high. Carissa, Lakey, Marksy and Steph were eights and nines out and I didn’t expect anyone to get there; only Sally Fitz got close. I watched in glimpses, wandering down the Pool perimeter and occasionally talking with the People. These were not the vividly engaged surf fans of Bells and Snapper and J-Bay, but a People enervated by late summer Central Valley heat. They scanned and talked on phones, sat on towels out of view of the wave, drank beers if they were bros and some kind of brightly coloured shit in plastic containers if they were girls, and while many politely watched the waves when waves happened, very few seemed INTO IT, if you get my drift. It was only half the point. “I don’t know,” one girl, a happy-seeming person from Santa Barbara told me, “it’s a Saturday!”

I reckon. And tomorrow’s a Sunday. And maybe we’ll see if this really is worth it.

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