Driving out Highway 41, north along an irrigation canal, farm trucks are on their way to the fields. Traffic moves at an ambling pace. The air is soft and warm. It's a typical Indian summer Wednesday in the California Valley.
Except it's not.
Tucked behind a eucalyptus grove and cedar fence, the Surf Ranch is abuzz with activity. Surfers nervously fiddle with their fins and sip coffee, waiting for their scheduled practice session.
Courtney Conlogue stretches on the deck. Carissa Moore chats with her dad. Bethany Hamilton chases after her son on a skateboard. All the while, the whir of the hydrofoil wave machine and the steady drumbeat of lefts and rights keep a consistent stream of activity going in the water.
The news of the day is equality.
CEO Sophie Goldschmidt announced equal pay for men and women across all WSL controlled events, something that six-time World Champ Stephanie Gilmore described as, "Incredible, and I am thrilled. The prize money is fantastic, but the message means even more."
"From the moment current ownership became involved, the situation for the women surfers has been transformed for the better in every way," continued Gilmore. "We have been so appreciative, but this takes it to another level. I hope this serves as a model for other sports, global organizations and society as a whole. My fellow women athletes and I are honored and inspired to reward this decision with even higher levels of surfing."
Eleven-time world champion Kelly Slater said, "The women on the Tour deserve this change. I'm so proud that surfing is choosing to lead sports in equality and fairness. The female WSL athletes are equally committed to their craft as the male athletes and should be paid the same. Surfing has always been a pioneering sport, and this serves as an example of that."
"Being a father myself, trying to raise two strong, independent girls, to be able to send them out into the world knowing that they'll be on equal footing and that surfing is a legitimate career path for them is really exciting," added WSL Surfer's Rep Buchan.
Then athletes took hold of the prospect of the Surf Ranch's equal playing field for the first time in modern surfing.
"Everyone is going to have a very equal playing field," explained Wilson. "Who can stomp their best waves, runs, whatever you want to call it, hopefully we're going to see the level rise. Not a lot of opportunity, so we can all capitalize on them and put in a really good show. The platform is there to raise the roof and show something that hasn't been seen."
"It's definitely a perfect wave. It's a mix of the Gold Coast with J-Bay, and Cloudbreak with Macaroni's," described current World No. 1 Toledo. "It's that wave that we draw and dream about. It's definitely one of the most perfect waves in the world."
"I quickly realized when I got here it was like getting ready for perfect, small J-Bay, then backing it up with getting ready for perfect, small Cloudbreak," added current World No. 3 Wilson. "You go right, you go left, you get all the opportunities. Those are basically two waves that I cherish on Tour and really enjoy going to. And it's kind of like having both of them on demand. It's an exciting opportunity."
At one point in the press conference Slater was asked about who he thought the favorites to win at the Surf Ranch are.
"I think we all know the wave pretty well now. I think intensity is going to be each persons approach, whether their aggressive or conservative right away," said Slater. "Somebody is going to set that bar at a certain point and everyone after that is going to have to match that. That's where the pressure is going to come in."
He quickly pointed to Gilmore on the ladies side of the draw an obvious, but allowed room for surfers such as Peterson and Moore, who also perform remarkably well on the wave.
"I saw Lakey come out of a barrel and land an air at the end this morning, so there's the potential for something like that," he said.
"For the men, if Filipe doesn't win he loses," he grinned. "I think anything besides a first for Filipe is like getting last."
And if that's not enough, the 2019 CT calendar was announced amidst the equality buzz at the Ranch. Highlights include a new women's CT event in Portugal, a later start to the season, a more streamlined calendar, and once again, the CT season will end in Hawaii. For the men it will come down to Pipeline and for the women it will come down to Honolua Bay.
The Surf Ranch Pro gets underway in earnest Thursday morning at 8:00am with the first of the two-day preliminary rounds. Watch live on the Worldsurfleague.com, App and Facebook.