This article was produced in partnership with ABC. Be sure to check out the premiere of “The Ultimate Surfer” on Monday, Aug. 23 at 10/9c.
Surfing is mainstream.
Hot on the heels of surfing’s Olympic debut, “The Ultimate Surfer” reality TV competition is about to put surfing in front of a large non-surf audience for the second time in as many months. Millions who tune in to the series on ABC will be hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean.
Why now? And why so suddenly? While it’s a culmination of a series of things, the new wave pools of the past five or so years have played a huge role. A decade ago the barely-rideable Typhoon Lagoon in Orlando, Florida was the only artificial option. Today there are nearly a dozen legitimate wave pools open to the public around the world, with many more in development. Surfing is no longer just a coastal sport. And it’s growing fast.
Technology is always evolving, but at the moment, Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch in Lemoore, California is the gold standard for wave pools. It’s almost cartoonish by design. So perfect it appears fake. It’s already hosted two WSL Championship Tour events, and big-name sports celebrities Drew Brees and Adam Scott. But, with “The Ultimate Surfer”, The Surf Ranch will be thrust in front of its biggest audience yet. For many who tune in, it will be the first time they’ve seen ruler-edged man-made surfing perfection or experienced the pressure and anxiety of competing head-to-head with a life-changing opportunity on the line.
In advance of “The Ultimate Surfer“, we wanted to break down the five most entertaining wave pool edits of all time. Because to understand where surfing is today, it’s good to look back at how far it’s come.
The First Look At Kelly’s Wave
In December of 2015, this clip broke the internet. It spread like wildfire in the surf community, racking up hundreds of thousands of views in its first hour online. “Kelly’s Wave”, as it was called, was the best man-made wave the world had ever seen, and it changed surfing forever. “It’s a lot of pressure,” Slater says nervously, in the opening segment of this edit, against an eerie backdrop of fog and farmland in landlocked Lemoore, California. “When you’ve been working on something for ten years…I think it’s a big thing for surfing, if done the right way.”
Six years later, Lemoore has hosted three Championship Tour events, countless celebrities, and now surfing’s first reality television show. Safe to say that it was, in fact, done the right way.
Seth Moniz Backflips Into The Future
Fast-forward three years. “Kelly’s Wave” has been rebranded as “The Surf Ranch.” It’s in the middle of hosting the Future Classic, a WSL Championship Tour test event. During the last day of the contest — with no warning or fanfare — this clip drops, and the surf world collectively loses its mind. Again.
The BSR Surf Resort in Waco, Texas is totally different compared to The Surf Ranch, but it’s equally impressive. And it boasts the best artificial air section in the world, as proven by Seth Moniz’s huge frontside backflip above, which still stands as one of the best (if not the best) airs ever stomped outside of the ocean. There are now kids from Texas that can do legit airs on a surfboard, without ever surfing in saltwater. Talk about a sign of things to come.
Bethany Hamilton And Family Visit The Surf Ranch
This clip, also from 2018, was one of the first “surf trip” edits from Slater’s Ranch. Featuring Bethany Hamilton and family, it conveys just how fun it is to pre-schedule perfection. As you’ll see, The Surf Ranch is the only place on earth where Hamilton can get a Kirra-esque tube, rip into a series of radical turns, and then watch as her husband and young son ride the exact same wave together after her fall. It’s what dreams are made of. Except it’s real, and can be replicated on demand.
Australian Olympic Team Trains At UrbnSurf Melbourne
Once the floodgates opened, new-and-improved wave pools started surfacing everywhere. At UrbnSurf in Melbourne, Australia, we got our first glimpse of what’s possible with Wavegarden’s “Cove” technology. A mix of The Surf Ranch’s pointbreak perfection and BSR’s punchy bowls, UrbnSurf Melbourne operates in a swimming pool, as opposed to a basin. The result is crystal clear, see-through tubes and a visual experience unlike any other. (No clue why they turned this particular clip black and white.)
This edit, featuring Julian Wilson, Tyler Wright, Taj Burrow and more, was the first true high-performance clip from the modern wave-pool era in Oz. If you ignore the wall and machinery, you might mistake this wave for one of Australia’s epic reefs and slabs. And isn’t that the idea?
Photo Credit: Parallel Sea
John Florence And Friends Spend A Day At The Surf Ranch
This edit, filmed last winter, is the best example of how far wave pools have come. Not long ago it would have been inconceivable for John Florence and a group of his close friends from Hawaii to leave Pipeline in the middle of winter to surf a man-made wave surrounded by California farmland. But that’s exactly what happened. “We used to dream of this…as little kids,” says Eli Olson, after a 20-second tube. “Never thought we would actually be here.”
While there are plenty of choices for artificial waves these days (with many more options on the way), Slater’s Surf Ranch is still the only one where you can conceivably catch the best wave of your life. It’s a 45-second ride with two separate tube sections that both resemble a throaty, sand-sucking section at Kirra. Oh, and it has about 12 different opportunities to hammer a playful lip or carve a steep, blown-glass canvas. And that’s why “The Ultimate Surfer” and its 14 contestants attempting to ride their way to $100,000 plus a spot on the 2022 WSL Championship Tour, will be decided in Lemoore.