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Top surfers to compete in May just south of ... Fresno?

Top surfers to compete in May just south of ... Fresno?
The World Surf League announced this week it plans to hold one of its contests at Kelly Slater’s artificial wave pool in Lemoore. In this video frame grab, Slater is the first to ride his perfect wave created by a machine. (Kelly Slater Wave Company)

In May, the greatest professional surfers from Australia to Brazil will come to battle it out in some of the most pristine waves in California — in the dusty croplands of Kings County.

The World Surf League announced this week it plans to hold one of its contests at Kelly Slater's artificial wave pool in Lemoore.

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Slater, the 11-time world champion considered the best of all time, spent 10 years working with a USC aerospace engineer to design a perfect wave, peeling 700 yards along a recontoured water ski lake. Videos of the wave, with hollow barrel sections and open faces to do aerials and cutbacks, have captivated the surfing world since the first one appeared in December 2015. But only a select few have been invited to see it, much less ride it.

"A wave of that shape sits in the subconsciousness of every surfer in the world," longtime Surfer magazine editor Steve Hawk told The Times in 2016. "That wave is exactly the fantasy wave I drew on the margins of my notebooks when I was in high school."

For the first time, the facility, the Surf Ranch, will be open to the public during the contest, according to a World Surf League news release. The two-day competition on May 5-6, the Founders' Cup of Surfing, will have "a festival backdrop honoring the culture of surfing — food, music, beverage, art and special guests will all be on site for enjoyment."

In an unusual format, the wave-riders will not compete individually but in five-person teams (three men, two women) representing different parts of the world: Australia, the U.S., Europe and Brazil, and one team representing the best athletes from other surfing parts of the world, such as South Africa and Japan.

Global teams of engineers and surfers are vying to build artificial wave pools that can produce high-quality waves that come in rapid enough succession to create an economically viable surf amusement park. An obstacle has been energy use and the length of time the water needs to settle after a wave rolls through before the next one can come.

At a contest, this is less of an issue because of the small number of surfers in the water. And the bonus for contest organizers: the mood swings of nature are mostly out of the equation; no need to wait for distant storms to produce ocean swells. Barring mechanical failure, perfect waves will be coming on May 5.

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