It should go without saying, but the Surf Ranch is unlike any other stop on the Championship Tour. Perhaps the most pressure-filled event of the season due to the fact that there's no room for mistakes and on no other wave is a surfer's talents and limitations so exposed. So, how does one go about winning in Lemoore? Kelly Slater, Gabriel Medina, Filipe Toledo, Carissa Moore and Lakey Peterson were kind enough to explain:
To Fall Is To Fail
"It's not hard to get a mid-six-ranger on the left, but it's easy to fall," said Slater, who knows a little bit about surfing the wave. "That's where the pressure is. To win here you need to know how much to push it, and when to bank a score."
As an example, on Day 2 of the 2019 event of the 72 waves ridden just over half were completed. One simple mistake can have a surfer playing catch up, which in turn ratchets up the pressure.
The Right and The Left
"The thing about here is that you have to surf both ways good, backhand and forehand. And you don't get many chances to get it right," Medina said after winning the 2018 event.
To win at the Surf Ranch, as Gabriel has down twice, surfers need to be able to post high scores on backside and forehand.
The waves aren't identical either, the left offering a slower pace and more wall, the right being faster with more power. Medina has a different model surfboard for each one, and his shaper Johny Cabianca told the WSL Gabriel will opt for epoxy construction for the left.
To win at the Surf Ranch surfers will need to be equally strong on backside and frontside, and have a well-thought-out strategy for both waves.
"Here you have to be able to switch it up on-demand," said Slater, "and I think Medina does that the best."
Winning Will Need Clutch Surfing
In the 2019 Women's event, it came down to the last two waves, as Peterson and Johanne Defay battled it out on bonus waves to the winner. In the end, Peterson landed an incredible air-reverse, earning a 9.33 when needing an excellent score, on her final attempt to capture the win.
"That was a clutch as it gets," said Peterson afterward. "This wave, and this format, means that it can come down to surfing for 50 seconds, under intense pressure, and unlike the ocean, you have plenty of time to think about it." Peterson won't be able to defend her title due to injury, but whoever wins the event will have to replicate her high-stakes surfing.
You Need To Go Big
As Peterson showed you can only win at the Ranch by going big. Progression, and its associated risks, are rewarded. Toledo has been one of the main recipients of this approach, consistently posting the highest wave scores, as he's finished runner-up twice, and won last year's specialty Rumble At The Ranch event.
In 2018 he landed three massive airs on the right, scoring a 9.80 to move to the front of the leaderboard.
"They want more? I'll give them more," he said afterwards, reacting to the fact that the judges withheld what would have been the event's first, and only, 10-point ride from him. Medina too isn't afraid of going to the air, and in the Women, Caroline Marks and Peterson have benefited from a go-for-broke approach.
You Can Still Build House
While moments of intense magic under pressure can get you over the line, there is also an argument that starting strong, building form, and getting the work done early can be just as effective.
In 2018, Moore finished first in the preliminary rounds earlier in the week and grabbed the lead and never let go. She stayed in the top spot for three straight days and her opponents couldn't handle the pressure. "I've felt great from the start, and just concentrated on bettering my wave scores," Moore said then. "It's meant I've had an element of control, which makes life easier."
"Everyone just came out swinging on the first waves which I was not expecting," Toledo said afterwards. "A good start here is as important as any other event, if not more."