But as it turns out, “normal” is not “The Ultimate Surfer’s” style.
ABC’s new reality competition grew out of a meeting of the minds in early 2019 between world-famous professional surfer Kelly Slater, World Surf League CEO Erik Logan, Pilgrim Media Group CEO and Chair Craig Piligian and UFC President Dana White at Surf Ranch, Slater’s artificial-wave oasis in the Central Valley. Production began in early 2020, only to be shut down by the coronavirus pandemic. When shooting resumed last summer, it was in a COVID-19 “bubble” at the ranch. Now the series’ long-awaited debut has arrived, with a two-night premiere beginning Monday.
And despite the long road, the timing is auspicious. Surfing just made its buzzy Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games, and Slater recently told The Times that the event could one day turn to wave pools — including, perhaps, his own, when the Olympics come to L.A. in 2028.
“The Ultimate Surfer,” hosted by former NFL player and “Bachelor” Jesse Palmer, features 14 men and women — including six Californians — vying for the title while living and training together at the ranch. Sports anchor Erin Coscarelli and “the voice of professional surfing” Joe Turpel will provide the color commentary, and Slater is on hand as lead consultant and special correspondent.
Surfer and Times photographer Allen J. Schaben captured exclusive images of the making of “The Ultimate Surfer” last March, before the shutdown, and returned to the ranch earlier this summer to photograph the action at the WSL’s Jeep Surf Ranch Pro, where athletes from around the globe showed off what the ranch can do.
Photojournalist Allen J. Schaben began his career at the Los Angeles Times shortly after he earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism with minors in art and psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1994.