- Associated Press - Thursday, May 3, 2018

SAN DIEGO (AP) - Surfing star Kelly Slater has not only found what could be the perfect wave, he’s helped create it.

Slater will introduce his Surf Ranch to the world this weekend, when the two-day Founders’ Cup of Surfing is held in a nondescript patch of California’s Central Valley, some 100 miles from the Pacific Ocean.

With the push of a button, a hydrofoil will begin moving along a track in a man-made lake to form waves for top international surfers to ride in a controlled environment that will allow the competition to fit neatly into a live TV window as well as a livestream.

“That this exists is pretty incredible, I believe,” Slater said in a recent phone interview.

The Surf Ranch has been somewhat of a mystery until recently, when word got out of test event hosted by the World Surf League. It was built at an existing ski lake that’s about a half-mile long and came with permits, water rights and electricity. The relative remoteness outside Lemoore was a bonus as Slater and his company worked to develop the technology. The Founder’s Cup of Surfing will be the first public event.

Slater, an 11-time WSL champion, said he surfed wave pools as a teenager, finding many of them to be nothing more than a novelty.

He said he’s had the idea for the Surf Ranch for more than a decade, and it all came together within the last few years.

“The dream or idea was to make a real powerful ocean-feeling wave that offered a challenge for a high-level guy, not just for the novice surfer,” Slater said.

Slater and World Surf League CEO Sophie Goldschmidt stress that the Surf Ranch isn’t meant to supplant natural waves.

“Myself being a lifelong surfer, I wanted to remain true to the purity or essence of what our sport is,” Slater said, adding that he was mindful of traditionalists who might question the concept of the giant wave pool.

“The amount of joy and fun it brings to people who come surf it just so much outweighs that,” he said. “This isn’t replacing surfing, this isn’t trying to necessarily introduce a different culture, or anything like that. It’s really an addition to the culture we have hopefully in the long run. It’s just something that doesn’t exist and could have existed. We felt like making it was a pretty great, lofty goal. The detractors are very minimal. It’s probably less than 1 percent, really, but you do hear those things. It’s good to be questioned, good to keep things in check and at least acknowledge and understand those things.”

Unlike surfing contests on the ocean, competitors in the Founder’s Cup of Surfing, presented by Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold, won’t have to wait hours or even days for the right waves.

“Of course that came into mind, during the development,” Slater said. “When dreaming how this was going to play out, and what I envisioned it looking like, I definitely thought that it made sense, that you could schedule those things for competition … If you’re going to bring in sponsorship and have it on TV, you got to be able to call the time slots and that sort of thing. It’s funny because surfers don’t live on that kind of schedule. We don’t live by a time schedule, we live by conditions. This somewhat eliminates that problem, if that’s a problem.”

Slater said surfers first rode waves at the Surf Ranch on Dec. 5, 2015. The WSL bought Kelly Slater Wave Co. in 2016 for an undisclosed amount.

“To have the WSL come in and have the vision to back us financially, to allow us to build this, and to support all the testing it’s taken for these couple of years, I think it’s been outstanding,” Slater said. “I know there’s a whole bunch of upside to go on it.”

The Founder’s Cup on Saturday and Sunday will feature surfers from the WSL Championship Tour forming teams from the United States, Brazil, Australia, Europe and the World. Each team will have three men and two women. Slater will lead the American team.

CBS will do a live broadcast from 11 a.m. to noon PDT Saturday. The entire competition will be streamed via Bleacher Report and WSL’s social channels.

The 46-year-old Slater said he’s mostly recovered from a shattered foot suffered on July 16 that required surgery to have 15 screws and three plates inserted.

Surfing will make its Olympic debut in 2020. Slater wouldn’t mind giving it a shot, if he can qualify.

“If I can surf the Olympics and then retire, that would be perfect,” he said.


Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson

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