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Riding artificial waves in the middle of farm country

Riding artificial waves in the middle of farm country
Kanoa Igarashi, of Huntington Beach, does a turn high off the top of the 700-yard, high-performance, bi-directional wave at Kelly Slater's Surf Ranch, which is hosting its first World Surfing League competition. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

For better or worse, professional surfing will change forever this weekend. And there's no going back.

The World Surf League's Founders' Cup of Surfing takes place this weekend in Lemoore at the wave pool formerly known as the Kelly Slater Surf Ranch. Now, it's called the WSL Surf Ranch.

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It will change pro surfing forever because it will prove that a pro surfing event does not need an ocean. Just a man-made wave, and the technology to make it economically feasible.

They have done that at the Surf Ranch, and there are other companies doing it as well. Just this week I received a press release announcing that Wavegarden and the Wave are partnering to build a wave pool in Bristol, England, that will have waves that measure 1½ to 6½ feet in six surfing zones that can accommodate 80 surfers at once.

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While the wave pool in Bristol is meant to welcome surfers of all levels, the Surf Ranch is meant for a higher level of surfer, and the world's best will be there this weekend.

Five teams with five surfers each (three men and two women) will compete representing the U.S., Australia, Brazil, Europe and the World.

In the opening round, all five surfers from each team will get two waves — one right and one left. The top two scores from the 10 waves surfed per team will make up that team's score, with the top three teams moving to the final.

The final round will have all five surfers from each team surf a three-person heat, with the heat placings earning points for the team total.

And for those who don't want to fork out $99 per ticket, per day, not to mention a four-hour drive from Orange County — no worries. The WSL has announced partnerships with CBS and Turner Sports' Bleacher Report Live for the 2018 season. In fact, CBS will televise the contest live this Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon, and also air a highlight show on Sunday from 2 to 3 p.m.

The entire event can be watched at live.bleacherreport.com.

The event site at the Surf Ranch, which holds about 5,000 fans, is almost completely sold out for Saturday. Sunday is also nearing a sellout but walk-up, on-site tickets are expected to be available.

It's a funny thing, it's real easy to say, ‘Oh we don't need corporate,’ but we all make a living because there's a business behind this thing.


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The corporatization and commercialization of surfing seems to irk many, judging by comments on so many social media platforms. But even to someone like Slater, who was intimately involved with the development of the wave at the Surf Ranch but is also an environmentalist and someone enjoys the natural setting of a corporate-free surf spot, the evolution of pro surfing was inevitable.

Slater, an 11-time world champion, is the captain of the U.S. team at the Founders' Cup. I asked him about the collision of corporatism and surfing last year when I bumped into him on the North Shore of Oahu.

"In a lot of ways I think surfing now is the way we wished it was then," Slater said. "There's a give and take. For more opportunity as a career for people, you're naturally going to have more crowds and a lot less privacy, a lot fewer surfs where there's no people in the water and more of that corporate and business interest that's in the sport. It's the nature of the world, things are growing and expanding and anything that becomes viable financially people want to capitalize on that. It's a funny thing, it's real easy to say, 'Oh we don't need corporate,' but we all make a living because there's a business behind this thing. As long as we do it responsibly and in good faith towards our sport I don't see any harm in it.

"But there's a sort of purity to the grass roots of surfing that none of us wants to see disappear or taken away. So I think we all have at some level conflicted feelings inside about surfing and business mixing."

JOE HAAKENSON is a Huntington Beach-based sports writer and editor. He may be reached at joe@juvecreative.com.

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