The day started super early in LA on the way to the Kelly Slater Wave Pool.
I had been invited by Mick Fanning to tag a long on a road trip up to the Founders Cup which was being held at the Kelly Slater Wave Pool.
Reconnecting With Old Friends
Mick is a close friend and since I retired from the tour in 2009 we really hadn’t hung out all that much. I was super excited to catch up with him and see how retirement was treating him. I was also super interested to see just how good the Kelly Slater Wave Pool was.
I meet Mick at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood around 5.30am. There was a bunch of us making the three hour road trip up to Lemoore, including Joel Parkinson who was a late inclusion to the Founders Cup after Julian Wilson pulled out.
I hadn’t caught up with Parko either for a long time, so this was an added bonus. I was a little older then both Mick and Joel. We had all qualified for the World Tour the same year and we spent many years together traveling and growing up on tour together. This was going to be another good trip.
Also on the trip was Joel’s brother in law Skinney, the newly appointed president of Rip Curl USA Dylan Slater and Paul Fisher’s manager Brett. We all piled into Mick’s Mercedes and departed Hollywood for Lemoore.
The Drive To Lemoore From LA
The boys were surfing for Team Australia and needed to be in Lemoore by 9am for the allocated Australian practice session. Lemoore is about three hours north of LA and is basically in the middle of nowhere. For a surfer it’s the last place on earth you would be heading to for a surf, let a lone to watch the best surfers in the world compete.
Starbucks was our first stop. Nothing like a big cup of coffee to get the morning started. After pleasing all our coffee addictions, we jumped back into the Mercedes and made our way out of Hollywood on to the freeway north.
To my surprise the road north was quite pretty. (Well for the 1st hour anyway). The freeway wound its way up through these large mountains which had large canyons either side. It had been raining a little bit in LA the past month, so the mountains has turned green from its usual desert looking colour.
Once out of the mountains it becomes extremely flat and you are basically in the middle of a desert, surrounded by huge almond farms that some how survive in these harsh conditions.
Lemoore is a funny little town with the main industry and entertainment being the Tachi Palace Hotel and Casino. This casino would be our home and entertainment for the next 2 nights.
Driving into the Kelly Slater Wave Pool, the two timber gates open up into a surfers playground. I have to give it to Kelly, he has done an amazing job of producing not only a crazy wave, but facilities to really enjoy it.
Once the car had pulled up, we all jumped out and ventured into the athlete’s room where the boys had to check in and connect with Team Australia.
The Athletes Room
The Athletes room consists of two rooms; one with lockers for the surfers gear, plus a ping pong table in the middle, and the other a large lounge room with sofas, TV screen to watch the live surfing and plenty of delicious food to keep the world’s best fueled up.
My first view of the wave was of Kanoa Igarashi. Taking off way up the other end of the pool, Kanoa came screaming towards me belting the lip over ten times, before pulling into a neat little barrel and exiting just as the wave started to fade out. He finished up literally 10 metres from.
Being a natural footer it was the right I really wanted to see. Both Mick and Joel had metioned the right was much better, so after watching the left I was pretty excited to see just how good the right was.
Team Australia were due for their practice session in 20 minutes, so I decided to walk half way down the pool and watch the boys and girls attack the right.
Steph Gilmore was first up for Team Australia in the practice session. I had heard she was one of the best on right and she did not disappoint. On her first wave she produced some crazy arks up the top section, before pulling into a 14 second barrel. I was tripping.
Next up was Mick, followed by Joel. I was just tripping out watching this perfect right barrel in the middle of the desert. The boys went to town on the right and were really pushing each other, going deeper and staying longer in the barrel with each wave they surfed.
The Team Australia practice session was for two hours, so after the boys had finished we ventured back to the casino to check in and recharge the batteries.
Tachi Palace Hotel and Casino
The Tachi Palace Hotel and Casino lies on an Indian reserve and this is the only reason they are allowed to run a casino in the state of California, where casino are usually illegal.
That night I explored the casino in high hopes of bringing some extra bucks back home to LA. I never really gamble and if I do its usually for a bit of fun, but tonight I was feeling that luck was on my side.
The only card game I kind of know how to play is Black Jack. So I found the table with the lowest buy in, and started trying to build my fortune.
Five hours and ten drinks later I was down $400! My night wasn’t going as planned. I was super tired and over it, so I threw $100 down on the last hand hoping at least to peg back my losses……lucky for me I won the hand and retired for the night only $300 down. Unfortunately for me I wasn’t going to be a millionaire driving back to LA.
The Founders Cup
The day started with a true American style breakfast. Bagels with cream cheese washed down with a giant coffee, which must of taken half the morning to finish.
Once we had loaded our bodies with over 1000 calories we jumped into the Mercedes and started the 5 minute drive through Lemoore back to the Kelly Slater Wave Pool, or as the boys called it “Jimmy’s Wave”.
On approach to the pool I felt like we were heading into a football event. Thousands of people were trying to squeeze themselves through the gates, while another few thousand were trying to find a car park amongst the heat and dust. A few people had even set up a tail gate and were already BBQ’ing in the car park. This was going to be a different surfing event.
Walking into the VIP area which was a large covered deck at the end of the left hander, I found it hard to get a view of the wave due to the crowd. So I resorted to watching the first two sessions via the live TV appropriately located near the bar.
Team Australia were competing against four other teams, Europe, Brasil, USA and World. In the Australian team was Mick, Joel, Steph Gilmore, Tyler Wright and Matt Wilko and they were surfing in the third session.
Once their session started I was able to jump into the competitors area right behind where they entered the pool. This gave me a great view of the left, but meant I could only see the right from the back. I had to watch the right from one of the many screens along the pool.
Tyler was first up and she tore her first right apart with some huge hacks and a long 10 second barrel. This set the bar high for team Australia and all the following members performed relatively strong.
The format for the event was the three highest scoring teams in the first session would advance to the final, while the bottom two would be going home early.
Team Brasil dominated the first session with Gab Medina and Filipe Toledo producing some huge airs that were going to be hard to match. These kids are just next level.
Team USA came in second lead by the pool’s owner and creator Kelly Slater and the 2 x World Champ, John John Florence.
Third position was actually a tie between Australia and World, and this meant a surf off to fill the final spot in the finals. On paper team Australia had to be favorite, but with a big start from Jordy Smith, World held the early lead.
With Steph and Mick locking in big scores the lead swung back in Australia’s favour, but only just. Matt Wilko was up last for team Australia and needed a seven on his last wave for the win. Catching a rail half way through, he fell and was only able to post a three point ride.
Kanoa Igarashi only had to complete his last ride for the win and he did that and more with an eight point ride. World advanced and would eventually take out the inaugural Founders Cup, just beating the highly fancied favorites Brasil.
The Trip Home
The decision was made to split that afternoon back to LA. Mick had some obligations back in Huntington Beach, while myself and Brett needed to be back at work the next day.
The 3 hour drive provided lots of laughs and a good chance to catch up with Mick. Retirement seemed to be treating Mick well, and it was great to see him relaxed and enjoying new challenges outside of competing.
No road trip in California is complete unless you stop at In and Out Burger. As we approached each town myself and Brett were on the look out for the famous sign.
It took us until we got all the way back to Hollywood to locate one and by this time Mick’s craving for the famous Double Double burger was gone.
Myself and Brett jumped out, said our goodbye’s to Mick and continued our mission to fill our bellies full of Double Double burgers, fries and milkshakes.
With our bellies loaded, we said our goodbyes and I jumped in and Uber and headed back home to Santa Monica.
Is the Kelly Slater Wave Pool that good?
I have seen a lot written and spoken about the Kelly Slater Wave Pool, both good and bad. Some people say its just not surfing, its boring, its too predictable, while others think its amazing and will revolutionize the sport.
My personal opinion is that it is amazing. Just picture having a forty five second right and left at your home beach knowing everyday you wake up it will be pumping. I would take it everyday of the year.
Sure there is a large cost to use the pool if you are not invited, but the actual wave is pretty mind blowing. Imagine when they can pump it up to 6 feet…..14 second six foot barrels sounds pretty good to me!
I now just need an invitation from Kelly to really test it out….
Want to find out what it’s is like to be a pro surfer? Click here