The weather forecast for the Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold Rumble At The Ranch is calling for 101-degree beach temps. It's going to be hot. And for the first time in six months, when 16 of the best surfers pull a jersey back on for the first time, not only will they have to perform under the heat of the sun, but also the heat of the moment.
The kickoff event of the WSL Countdown Series, the Surf Ranch is the perfect spot for competitive surfing to take its first steps forward. Held at a location that not only provides a guaranteed world-class surf, in the current age of COVID, the Ranch also provides a safe environment for competitors and fans alike to get back to what they love.
And while technology may provide the canvas, it's the new-era format that will spark the excitement. Leaning into a mixed doubles team competition featuring one man and one woman per team, the eight squads were literally picked out of a hat and seeded into the event's bracket. Every team is loaded with talent, but here are four teams that get us really excited that pro surfing is finally back:
Carissa Moore and Seth Moniz
Carissa Moore won the first-ever Championship Tour event at the Surf Ranch back in 2018 and backed that up with third-place finish in 2019. She's consistently been the most dominant woman at this venue, the stats don't lie.
Meanwhile, Seth Moniz is unproven in Lemoore. He finished with a 17th-place result in 2019. But one of the most dynamic and explosive surfers on Tour today, all he has to do is put a couple good lines together and that narrative changes.
In 2019, Moniz's average wave score at the Surf Ranch was 5.51, compared to Moore's average of 7.47. With each surfer getting a crack at two lefts and two rights, is ability to consistently push his surfing will be the difference maker.
Sage Erickson and Kelly Slater
Facing off against Moore and Moniz in the opening round will be Kelly Slater and Sage Erickson. It's hard to bet against the guy that helped invent the wave at the Surf Ranch. Nobody's logged more time in Lemoore than Slater and his affinity for the facility, especially the right, is apparent every time he stands up. He finished third there in 2018 with a bum foot and ninth in 2019 as he was still regaining his form after said foot injury.
"I got the GOAT? That's insane!" said Erickson when she learned they'd been paired up. "I feel more pressure having him than anybody else. Kelly is the best, right? So if I'm going to be paired with the ultimate perfectionist, where I feel there is very little room for error, I think I could feel like that with Kelly. I also know that I surf better under pressure."
After battling her way back onto the Championship Tour last year, Erickson is surfing better than ever and has spent enough time in Lemoore to know her way around the basin. With Kelly in her corner, she could easily take her game to the next level.
Caroline Marks and Adriano De Souza
No team in the event packs more power than Caroline Marks and Adriano De Souza. Their combined rail game has the potential to be absolutely devastating to the competition. And because there's inherently less risk when one sticks to the open face and barrel at the Surf Ranch, their consistency could be a winning strategy.
"I haven't done many team things. Surfing's such an individual sport, so I'm very excited for that," says Marks.
Both surfers have relocated themselves to San Clemente and only live a few miles apart from one another. Given De Souza's World Title-winning mindset, and how close Marks came to winning a title of her own last year, don't be surprised if they meet up for a pre-event session to dial in their game plan.
Lakey Peterson and Griffin Colapinto
Based off of 2019 Surf Ranch results, the team of Lakey Peterson and Griffin Colapinto would appear to be the favorites. Peterson won the event, while Colapinto finished third. Both bring an arsenal of explosive, above-the-lip maneuvers to the table, which could push their scores into the excellent range if they can stick their landings. But flying high carries a lot of risk and opportunities are at a premium at the Surf Ranch.
Peterson has mainly been hunkered down at Bells Beach in Australia throughout the COVID crisis. Training away from media spotlight of California, this is also the first time she'll be competing under her new sponsor, Sistr. And as the defending winner at this venue she should have a lot of energy and excitement going into the event.
Colapinto's mainly been posted up in San Clemente running mock heats with his friends Kolohe Andino and Ian Crane. He's also made a recent trip with the ...Lost team to the BSR Resort in Waco. He's been keeping the tool sharp lately, and there's every reason to believe he has the potential to do something big in Lemoore. There's also a friendly rivalry between him, Moniz and Kanoa Igarashi, which should help raise the bar even further.