Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch in Lemoore
Feb 27, 2019 11:00AM
By Melissa Mendonca
Catch A Wave
Story by Melissa Mendonca
Photos courtesy of WSL Surf Ranch
EASTERN CAPE, South Africa. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Landes, France. Lemoore, California. The average person might struggle to understand what they all have in common. It would stand to reason, because the fact that they are all stops on both the men’s and women’s World Surf League Championship Tours is mind boggling. Lemoore is around 100 miles inland, a far cry from any of the state’s famous surfing beaches.
And yet, the waves produced at Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch in Lemoore, a human-made phenomenon of the Central Valley, are challenging enough to warrant a stop on the tours. The Australian Olympic surf team has even traveled out to the facility for training. “Several days here compared to a year in the ocean,” says Sam Ramirez, general manager of Surf Ranch.
“It’s the only technology that exists in the world,” he adds, noting that a wave can be created every four minutes
on the property’s surf lake. “It was always designed as a research and development facility. It was a desire of Kelly Slater to see if it was possible.”
After testing the technology on a small scale in Southern California, 11-time World Champion surfer Slater and his team of scientists and engineers realized, according to Ramirez, that “The only way we could see if it could work was to build it.”
There are a few stories out there about how Lemoore was chosen for the Surf Ranch. The most official is that the 160-acre property was the home of a former water ski training facility that came with a water source and supportive infrastructure conducive to the project. Then there’s the fact, also in Ramirez’s telling, that “they didn’t know if it was going to be successful or not. If it was going to fail, it was going to fail in the privacy of a sleepy Central California town.”
The project has not failed, however. In fact, it quickly became clear that the facility should be developed beyond research and development and has become a resort environment with full amenities, as well as a home to championship and exhibition tours, bringing in guests and competitors from the world over.
Now Lemoore is much less sleepy and is finding itself invigorated by the economic opportunities surrounding the ranch, not only within the facility but outside. “There’s a whole micro-economy around Surf Ranch,” says Ramirez. “Lyft and Uber are more popular. Hotels are selling out. Barbecue gets sold on the side of the road during events. Being able to drive some of that has been exciting, too.” Downtown Lemoore now sports a thriving surf and board shop.
“Now, when our team travels the world and they mention they’re from Lemoore, people say, ‘That’s where Kelly’s Surf Ranch is,’” he adds. “It’s an under-told story of what this place means to the community.”
Surf Ranch opened in May 2018 with a three-day Founders Cup of Surfing exhibition that pitted teams of four men and two women competing country by country. The event had a capacity of 5,000 and sold out each day a week before it began. Also dubbed a lifestyle festival, the event featured food, music and conservation efforts important to the surfing community. “We didn’t know what it would be like,” says Ramirez. “Most surf events take place in the ocean and you don’t sell tickets. But we had a lot of local folks.”
That local connection is a source of great pride. “There are some kids out here who have never seen the ocean before,” he adds. “It’s really something to have them see a wave for the first time outside their own back door.” Through select field trip opportunities developed in cooperation with local nonprofits and school programs, the team gets to “share the stoke of Surf Ranch and surfing.”
This extends to adaptive and veterans’ programs that bring the joy of surfing to those who need additional assistance to brave the waves. “Even now I get goosebumps,” says Ramirez, noting that these opportunities have been even more gratifying than seeing Chris Hemsworth catch a wave or Drew Brees throw a football, both of which have happened at Surf Ranch.
Ramirez credits Slater’s team for its commitment to developing locally, including hiring him from within the community to manage the operation, as well as the Lemoore community for fully embracing the project. “Everyone from the Chamber to the electeds have just been incredibly supportive,” he says. “The attitude is, ‘How can we get to yes?’” People realize, he says, “how unique this is and how it can be exported to other places.” In fact, the Surf Ranch concept is now being replicated in Florida by Slater’s team.
“It’s about people who are passionate about something and want to share it with the world,” adds Ramirez. It also shows, “You can do amazing, big things out here.” •
WSL Surf Ranch • www.kswaveco.com
Find them on Facebook and Instagram