Photo: WSL/Cestari

Lemoore Will Be Allentown: Surf Ranch Pro Finals Day – Sean Doherty Reports

The words “man-made perfection” were barely out of Joe Turpel’s mouth when we were being informed of an “irregularity” in the left. The waves were coming out deformed, malnourished, half the size. I’d understand a half-size left more if someone needed it to beat Kelly, but no, the machine was malfunctioning at the critical moment, during the first wavepool tour event, right in the middle of final’s day, live on CBS. “Olympics bound?” harrumphed Matt Warshaw via email.

While engineers scrambled for a 7/16” spanner and we waited for some kind of resolution, I imagined instead of the machine losing power, the machine going fucking haywire. Some kind of power spike, some kind of programming glitch, the hydrofoil speeding at 10 times the recommended speed down the pool before spastically changing direction, back and forth, huge tsunami waves going in all directions, hot dog stands being washed away, things exploding, smoke everywhere, people running for their lives, a scene from a wavepool disaster movie.

Sorry… where were we again? Oh yeah, those lefts.

The malfunction happened just as they’d announced Carissa Moore as the women’s winner. They were forced to un-announce it then send all the women back out for another wave. With my imagination already running hot, I pictured Carissa going all Serena on some hapless WSL official, but that was a stretch too far. She’s too much of a sweetheart for that. In this modern enlightened era of women’s surfing controversy no longer exists on tour, whereas a generation ago it was all controversy. Today everything is just super fun, all the time. There’s no friction, no collisions, no beef. What I’d give to have Lynette McKenzie back on the women’s tour for just one year, just to shake it up a bit.

With my imagination already running hot, I pictured Carissa going all Serena on some hapless WSL official, but that was a stretch too far.

What the L’Amour event highlighted is that Carissa remains the most technically gifted all-round surfer on the women’s tour, despite being in season two of an unexplained form slump. Heats have been problematic for her, so an event without heats saw her freed up and surfing great. She had the final won on her opening two waves. The battle for second however would be crucial for the world title. Steph rode the tube, Lakey Peterson went to the air on her last turn and fell. Steph finished second, but the fact Lakey went for it was some kind of moral victory at least. The women needed someone to go there.

They ran an exhibition air demo last night and apparently it was quite good. Chippa, Layer… Archie! It never made the broadcast however. Maybe they could have held it off and ran it today, just to, you know, break the day a little. By lunchtime on day four, the same wave was getting a little… similar… and anything to break it up was a relief. The most entertaining moment today might have been Strider commentating his own wave during a break.

I think we knew, deep down, that it would be either Medina or Toledo winning this thing. Medina would own the left, Toledo would own the right, and it would then be a matter of who did better on their backhand. The right is the better backhand wave, so I ran with Medina.

And that’s pretty much the way it turned out. Toledo’s triple-air 9.80 threatened to swing it his way, but his backhand couldn’t back it up. Toledo’s backhand visibly changed during the event; smoothing out, becoming less frantic, losing that jinky 90-degree recovery bottom turn. Medina’s backhand meanwhile was merciless.

The energy heading into Medina’s moment of victory was flat. Julian Wilson was the last surfer with a chance of overtaking him, and when he fell Medina was suddenly the winner. Medina won standing on the edge of the pool. Carissa won sitting under a tree. Dirk Ziff has stated he wants the surfers in his League to win in the water, and yet his League’s new leaderboard format will, more often than not, prevent this from happening.

Even from a distance, watching Kelly has been a fun psychological study. This was a big moment for his pool, a proof on concept rolling out live, but for the most part he seemed pretty chilled. He even joked on Instagram about people leaving empty toilet rolls in the executive washroom floor. (Or was he joking? It’s generally hard to tell). He surfed great… maybe a little too great for a guy who’s missed the whole season with a busted foot, and certainly too great for a guy who after getting third announced he wouldn’t be surfing the next events in Europe due to injury.

In Lemoore – if not everywhere else this tour goes – Kelly is King, however, I often wonder if the seemingly endless stream of people coming up to him fawning over this pool, thanking him effusively for the wave they surfed that morning etc. makes him uncomfortable. The broadcast laid it on pretty thick. It was making me uncomfortable. It’s a wavepool after all, not a particle collider.

“Welcome to the Seven Hundred Yard Miracle.” That’s how the Lemoore Surf Ranch was described on the broadcast yesterday. Think back three years ago to the first time we saw it and indeed how miraculous it seemed. The question would be how long would it stay miraculous? After four days of watching it, I drove down the beach after the final and a three-foot closeout suddenly looked miraculous. This was a test of the pool, sure, but it was also a test of whether people would jazz on four days of the same wave on rinse repeat.

This was a test of the pool, sure, but it was also a test of whether people would jazz on four days of the same wave on rinse repeat.

What did we learn?

It felt a day too long, and even with a dedicated final day it seemed to have peaked the other afternoon with Medina and Toledo doing their thing. I think we’re fairly unanimous that while this is a great pool to surf, it’s not a great pool to progress surfing to another dimension. The pool needs to be tinkered with for that. The event showed the surfing of half the field – men’s and women’s – isn’t suited to this kind of event. There were maybe a half dozen truly compelling waves ridden over the four days, tops and it felt in many ways like a specialty event for an elite field more than a sprawling tour contest.

But like we said from the outset, it has to start somewhere and Lemoore will one day be Allentown. The gold rush is on. The Surf Lakes wavepool opens in Queensland in a week or two. Things will change quickly. With skin in the game the WSL will see to that. In summing up, Kelly hinted they’ve just begun… while at the same time hinting he’s probably spent too much time out there and the chlorine’s getting to him. “The pool just wants to be the best version of itself it can be.”