Waves That Mattered: Kelly’s First Wave At The Surf Ranch.

We all know that the 2020 year’s worth of competing is done and dusted, and there is no chance of the JBay Open event happening. This event, when cancelled, (shortly) will be the 6th event on an 11-event tour to be called off, and the Championship Tour competitive year will be a case of ‘that’s all she wrote’.

It’s a pity, and we are all starved for something fresh. The endless reels of historical footage being poured out of the WSL media machine don’t help at all, instead, they start to become irritating after a while.

That said, no one is forced to watch the old footage, no one can complain, and no one can find fault with the WSL for wanting to keep their audience entertained and their clicks pouring through.

It’s shit, though. The thrill of contest surfing is all about the ‘now’ and the live feed. The highlights regurgitation is repetitive, vapid, and witless and does little to excite.

Looking back, however, one of the most exciting moments in the history of our sport, and one certainly worthy of revisiting, was when Kelly revealed the Wave Pool in all its glory. It was such a ‘what-the-f%$k?’ moment when a single, artificial wave landed on the net and delivered surfers around the world a whole new kind of dream.      

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That single, dirty-brown wave, with Slater booted and gloved-up, changed our sport forever in December of 2015. Adriano De Souza had won the world title the day before Kelly’s pool-clip dropped, but poor Adriano’s monumental victory was forgotten faster than the spread of COVID in New York. Kelly still claims that the timing was coincidental, but he has never been one to let someone else enjoy the limelight for too long.

After the initial, somewhat choreographed set-up, with Slater witnessing the first wave rolling through while bouncing around like a grom, it was time for him to paddle out. The wave represented a culmination of a 10-year project that had consumed so much of his time and energy.

When it miraculously manifested, the wave was initially a little chunky and wobbly, and the dark hue of the water detracted from the aesthetic appeal – it almost resembled a bore wave in a dirty river. It was only when Kelly took off that we all started to realise just what was going on.

It looked slinky and solid at first, a muscular coil with more grunt than any artificial wave we’d seen before. After a few carves and check turns, the greatest surfer in the world lined up the greatest man-made barrel in the world. He crouched down tight in his rubber armour and tucked in to the sound of uproarious cheers from the onlookers.

Then it was a long swooping cutback into the pocket before he went back into the tube and sat there. Another 4 seconds or so in the barrel before he emerged into another cutback and the wave was over.

The claim was justified at the time. That single wave and that moment was the surfing equivalent of the Wright Brothers taking flight for the first time, Roger Bannister getting a sub-four-minute mile and Apollo 11 landing on the moon – one small barrel for a surfer, one giant step for surfing kind. The wave pool space race had arrived for real.

Now the Surf Ranch is owned by the World Surf League, and it is blue and warm and sunny and presentable. A CT event takes place there every year, and there are several wave pools springing up all over the place.

The Urbn Surf model, the original Wave Garden model, The Waco BSR Surf Resort, and their American Wave Machine technology model and the Five Waves model and more. They all bring something to the table, and most importantly, they’re all stoking out surfers the world over.

There are more stories out there, of better waves than the Ranch wave, of bigger faces, of longer barrels and of more variety, but it’s all talk, and the Surf Ranch is the one wave to rule all waves right now. The much talked about Webber Wave Pools seem to have slipped from surfing consciousness in the mad rush to get artificial waves to surfers. Still, one wonders if they were ever part of reality or just a series of stunning ideas hatched from Webber’s beautiful mind. Maybe he does have the best model for a wave pool but no money to make it real.

Arriving at a wave pool of any sort is always mind-blowing, and it takes a little bit of dull comprehension at first. Surfers, however, soon acclimatize and we soon get down to the business of catching our allocated rides. Nothing, however, will ever eclipse that moment when Kelly paddled into that man-made wave all those years ago.

An interesting footnote was that after this ground-breaking wave pool session, Kelly flew to Hawaii to surf in the Pipe Masters without telling anyone what had happened until the video was released two weeks later. He was knocked out of the contest by Mick Fanning in the quarterfinals.




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