In the middle of alfalfa fields more than 100 miles from the Pacific Ocean, the world’s best surfers will be honing their craft.
They will be surfing a wave created by a state-of-the-art machine that produces the perfect surfing wave each and every time on a 2,000-foot-long pond.
Known as Surf Ranch, the facility held its first professional event Tuesday when 18 of the world’s best surfers – holding 17 world championship titles among them – descended on the remote location to ride an 8-foot wave and shoot the barrel.
But the surfers and about 300 invited guests at the World Surf League’s Future Classic, billed as a “private test event,” were also there to see for themselves what many believe is the future of surfing.
Surfer Kelly Slater, perhaps the most famous surfer in the world because of his 11 world surfing championship titles and his leadership in the sport, developed the wave pool.
A few years ago, Kelly Slater Wave Co. bought an old water ski competition pond south of Lemoore and installed a wave machine designed by a fluid dynamics expert.
The company produced a video of Slater riding an eight-foot wave that was not on an ocean. It was a hit in the surfing community.
The success of the video, and the enthusiasm Tuesday at the Future Classic, means only one thing, said Renato Hickel, deputy commissioner of the men’s tour of the World Surf League, the NFL of the surfing industry.
“It will take surfing to places it has never been before,” he said. “It’s cutting edge.”
The pro surfers at Surf Ranch said they liked it.
“It’s an unbelievable wave. It’s crazy high,” said Matt Wilkinson, 28, of Australia, who took first place at the Outerknown Fiji Pro competition in June.
The regularity of the wave is appealing, he said: “It’s helpful to know when a wave is coming. It’s your turn. It takes out the guesswork. It’ll be nice getting a couple of them built in Australia.”
Pro surfer Kanoa Igarashi, 19, of Huntington Beach, said he liked the consistency of the wave.
“It’s cool to have that certainty. It’s 8:37 – you’re going to catch a wave,” he said.
Surfboards were made of balsa wood when Peff Eick of Manhattan Beach started surfing 65 years ago.
“It’s just a game changer,” he said. “The issue in surfing is the consistency of the wave. Here it’s the same conditions all the time.”
The machine that makes the wave was designed by Adam Fincham, a professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering at the University of Southern California who is an expert in geophysical fluid dynamics. He is also the chief scientist for Kelly Slater Wave Co.
He said he developed scale models in a commercial laboratory and refined them over about 10 years. The first wave machine, now called version 1.0, was installed at the pool in Lemoore. It proved what could work and has since been replaced by version 2.0.
It consists of a plow-like hydrofoil in the water that is moved quickly on a rail to create the wave. The new version can produce both a left and right wave, and is bigger and stronger than the old one.
But work continues, he said.
“This is still a prototype facility,” he said. “You can’t make it easy. You have to have some level of difficulty. More variability makes it more challenging for professional athletes.”
Turbulence was an issue, so the pool was redesigned to reduce that, he said.
Although it got its start under Slater, World Surf League Holdings based in Santa Monica now owns the wave pool in Lemoore.
“It’s definitely going to open up a few avenues for us,” said Jessi Miley-Dyer, women’s tour commissioner for the World Surf League. “For us, the fact that we can come inland and be able to show people our sport and be able to share that with anyone is a really big thing for us, and hopefully it’s going to be a game-changer for the popularity of the sport.”
At this point, the Lemoore facility is not open to the public. It’s meant to be a demonstration and training facility, but Kings County Community Development Director Greg Gatzka said the owners have inquired about holding competitions that would be open to the public.
“I love it,” said surfer Stephanie Gilmore of Australia, a six-time world champion on the women’s tour. “I can’t stop wiping the smile off my face. It’s the future.”