At the inaugural WSL Founders' Cup this weekend, vaunted professional athletes at the top of their game are pushing the limits in the powerful inland wave.
But one person you won't see much of is the man behind those performances: Raimana Van Bastolaer, the Tahitian waterman who now also serves as the Surf Ranch coach. For anyone who has visited or even surfed the wave in Lemoore, Calif., Bastolaer is one part coach, one part sage, and 100 percent heart. From his permanent perch on the Surf Ranch ski, his guidance starts at the launch ramp, and includes everything from board picks to where to wait for the wave to -- most importantly of all -- instilling confidence in each surfer. If you listen closely, you might even hear his shouts to each surfer as they take off: "Go braddah! ...Go babe! ...I love you."
Before the Founders' Cup got underway, Bastolaer took a few minutes by the fire pit to talk Surf Ranch, roots, and why he'd rather coach than surf the wave in Lemoore.
What did you think the first time you saw it?
The first time I saw it, mostly I've been surfing Teahupo'o so much, so this is another wave. But you get somebody surfing in it, it's like, woooow, it's insane. Kelly [Slater] surfing it -- it's another thing.
I've surfed this twice. It's insane….it's really powerful. But I don't really care about surfing the wave. What I do care about is watching people smiling, watching people surfing the wave, watching people raise their hands afterwards. That's what I'm really happy about, more than me surfing.
You might be the only person ever to feel that way. Why is that?
That's what I've been doing in Tahiti, too. I've been giving so much for Tahitian surfers, or for foreign surfers who surf Tahiti. And when I'm here, that's what I'm doing. This is the only place I think that, when people get in the water, they're super stoked. Before they get in the water they're anxious, they're panicking, they don't know what to do. My job is to make sure they're relaxed, they have confidence, they're ready for what's coming.
This wave, when we had an event here, this is first time I've seen a contest surfer, when one comes out and the other one goes in, they high-five each other. They're so stoked to see the other one catch an insane wave.
At Teahupo'o, or in Australia, when someone comes out of the water and someone else goes in, they never high-five. They're so focused, they don't even smile. Here [at the Surf Ranch], I see people super happy about each other. In the Final, those guys are hanging around watching, high-fiving. I've never seen this.
What do you think engenders such warm fuzzies?
Coming inland and surfing and having this wave coming at you here, we never thought this would be happening -- and a barrel? Never thought it would happen. This is Christmas, inland. I think the locals are super-stoked, too. From the hotels, the restaurants, the stores, and the people around it, the farmers. You're bringing a wave here -- what?! Crazy.
Where does your desire to give come from?
I got this from my grandparents -- give to people and don't expect to get it back. Because we grew up with nothing. And I'm lucky to be here, to be able to share all of this with you guys. So might as well give it to you guys. We're just here for -- we call this in French, le passage -- we're just here for a little bit, so we might as well share what we have.
The only thing I'm not going to share is my wife.
How do you know how to coach people in this wave -- from the pros to those who have never surfed before, and everyone in between?
From doing this in Tahiti, I know a lot. Before they even go in the water, I ask them, what is their weakness, how long have they been surfing. If somebody who's really big brings a thinner board, it's just not going to work, no way. So it's about seeing people for so many years and you know already when you see how they paddle, and move -- you can see right away.
I've been coaching some big-name people, too. I know what I'm looking at. Kelly taught me a lot, too.
Did your parents surf when you were growing up in Tahiti? What did they do? My parents put me with my grandparents when I was like, two, three years old. My dad was working on an island, Maruru, and my mom was a nurse. So they went to go working and I grew up with my grandparents. And when I lost them -- ooh. That was the heaviest thing ever.
Is it hard to be away from Tahiti?
Yes, it's hard. [I missed] the second birthday of my boy.
What does your wife think?
She's mad. But I told her, it's work. It's not a vacation. But she came last time and saw me, after she saw what I do, [she understood]. She's tried surfing, I got her a board. We'll see.
Watch Run 3 and the Final of the WSL Founders' Cup of Surfing live on the WSL and Bleacher Report (US) May 6.