The only man-made wave on WSL Championship Tour, the Surf Ranch in Lemoore, California, offers a competitive environment unlike any other in the world.
Located more than 100 miles from the Pacific Ocean, in the heart of California's agriculture-rich Central Valley, the area is known more for producing country western stars like Merle Haggard than it is surf stars, but that's the beauty of it all. Located three hours north of Los Angeles and three hours south of San Francisco, it's introducing surfing to people that never thought they'd be riding waves.
The wave itself--which offers both a left and a right -- is a 600-meter long swell offering spinning tube sections, open canvases for full-rail power maneuvers, as well as puntable sections for lofting airs.
The manifestation of the dream of 11x World Champion Kelly Slater, in 2006 he shared his vision with Adam Fincham, PhD., a Professor at the Viterbi School of Engineering (USC) and an expert in fluid dynamics. The two jumped into the deep end, seeking to develop a man-made wave the likes of which the world had never seen.
For decades the idea of holding surfing competitions in man-made waves has been toyed with, and in 1985 at the Wildwater Kingdom amusement park in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Tom Carroll defeated Derek Ho in the first-ever Championship Tour contest held in artificial waves.
It was no small feat of engineering, but by 2014 the first incarnation of what would become the Surf Ranch was born. In 2017, the facility got an overhaul and the wave quality and capabilities were improved. The following year the first-ever Championship Tour contest was held in Lemoore--won by Gabriel Medina and Carissa Moore.
Today, the Freshwater Pro is a pivotal stop in the race for the 2019 World Title. Moore currently sits atop the Jeep Leaderboard and will be looking to defend last year's win. She's looked amazing in the warm-up sessions and has a real affinity for the wave. Shining at breaks like Honolua Bay and Trestles throughout her career, the right at the Surf Ranch shares characteristics of both breaks.
For the men, Brazil's Filipe Toledo holds a slim lead over a hungry pack of rivals. Last year he posted the highest score of the event, a 9.80, but was bested in the final by Medina. It was that win in Lemoore for Medina that launched into the second World Title of his career, which he clinched in dramatic fashion at the Billabong Pipe Masters.
The format of the Freshwater Pro presented by Outerknown is as unique as the wave itself. The only contest on tour that features a leaderboard format, it's a departure from the regular bracketed surfer-on-surfer format.
The Freshwater Pro presented by Outerknown runs from September 19-21. Tune into WorldSurfLeague.com to watch live or on demand.