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Kelly Slater Surf Ranch Part One

Words By Jeff Mollencop. Photos by Sean Fagan & Mattie Starr

My parents taught me to always tell the truth. That nothing bad comes from being honest. So here it goes….

Two years ago, I saw on social media that another shop here in the NW went to the Kelly Slater Surf Ranch, and I was jealous. How in the world did they get the invite to go or could afford to pay the rumored tens of thousands of dollars it cost to rent it? After doing my due diligence (lots of stalking on social media) I noticed they were there along with Kelly’s clothing brand, Outerknown. I am a fan of the 11 time World Champ’s surfing and his dedication to making a change in the Surf Industry to more environmentally friendly practices. I was hesitant however to bring the brand into the shop because of it’s higher retail price point. As luck would have it, I was scheduled to attend a trade show later that month, and thought it was a good time to take another look at it. There must be a connection between that shop and Outerknown both being at the Ranch at the same time. I was determined to get to the bottom of it. I wanted to surf this perfect wave, and needed to figure out a way to make it happen. Within the first five minutes of the meeting, I learned that every Outerknown dealer is invited to the Ranch during their annual “Brand” day. The best part, it was free! All I needed to do was open an account and I was on my way! I didn’t really hear the rest of what he was telling me, as my mind floated off to images of the perfect barrels I had been seeing all over the web. Something about minimum orders, dollar amounts, and brand representation, I honestly don’t remember. I was conscious enough to mark what clothing I liked and exchanged contact information, but that’s about it. I had discovered the secret to getting invited to the most desired playground in the surfing world, and was ready to order whatever was necessary to get me there!

It was early spring when our first Outerknown clothing arrived and we weren’t scheduled to go to the Ranch until June. Plenty of time to figure out if I had made a mistake bringing it in for just the chance to surf a wave. But again, I didn’t really care a whole bunch. It’s amazing what we surfers will do to ride a wave. To my pleasant surprise, the brand sold extremely well despite the higher price point. We quickly sold everything in our initial order, and it wasn’t even our busy season yet. I ordered some personal items to try for myself, and was blown away with the quality and comfort. The product is fantastic and continues to be a top seller in the shop. Well done Mr. Slater!

Then the email came welcoming me along with 2 shop employees to the Outerknown Brand Day at the Surf Ranch! This is actually going to happen, plus I can bring a couple of my staff, unreal! I decided to invite Mattie who runs our website and Sean who was heading up the shop. We turned it into a longer surf trip and stopped at a couple of our favorite spots on the way down. We found small but fun surf, but our focus was solely on getting to the wave pool. Pulling up to its gate and having it swing open is a stoke I won’t forget. A few seconds later however, seeing all the cars and hundreds of people running around, is a buzz kill like I hadn’t felt before. The reality of what was about to go down was evident when we noticed that my name was on the list of surfers, but Mattie’s and Sean’s were not. Too many people had come in hopes of riding the wave and only shop owners or VIP’s were going to be able to surf. There simply wasn’t enough time in the day to get everybody a turn. In fact, those that made the cut were only going to be allowed 2 waves total. All of this was rather disappointing, until they fired up the machine and the first wave fired down the pool. Just seeing it almost made the trip worthwhile, almost!

I wasn’t about to take both of my waves and leave the boys just to watch. I worked out a deal with the water patrol to give away one of them and let the guys decide who was going to get it. I’m not sure if it was Rock Paper Scissors, exchange of money, or pledging of first born, but Mattie got the nod and quickly suited up. I can’t describe how nerve wracking it is to know you are only getting one shot at a wave you’ve driven a thousand miles for, that has very limited access, and considered by many to be perfect. To calm myself down, I talked with a surf industry veteran and former pro surfer who has spent several days riding the wave. He said: “do 3 set up turns and get ready for the barrel. Don’t do anything special. When the wave starts to throw over your head, be ready for the wave to suck up hard and keep your board pointed down the line. It’s really easy for it to pull you up the face and send you over the falls.” This was helpful but didn’t relax me very much….

Mattie quickly got a “poach” wave after someone had fallen and then followed it up immediately with his scheduled wave. He had two solid rides before I even got my chance. I was stoked for him, but this seemed to only increase my stress level. No way could I afford to miss catching my wave now, I would be subject to years of endless heckling from the boys. As the machine fired up, and I sat alone at the peak, the pure fear of blowing it almost made me freeze up. But then the wave starts to roll towards me, and it’s very familiar looking. I relax suddenly because I have done this a thousand times before. I think this is what separates Kelly’s wave from so many others that are currently being built, it looks and feels like a real wave. Not a man-made attempt at what a wave should be, but is limited by technology, and doesn’t feel like an ocean wave. The only difference with this wave is that its perfect, and not affected by tides and swell like the natural environment. It’s a wave that countless surfers have spent a lifetime searching for and never found. Waves have come close, like Kirra and Snapper, Jeffrey’s Bay, Rincon, and Skeleton Bay just to name a few. But they are still scheduled by Mother Nature and not by a push of a button. This calms me and I stroke into a head high perfect wave.

As I get to my feet, I start to think 3 turns then set up for the barrel. Instinct takes over and I quickly find myself positioning into the pocket of the wave. My mind goes blank as I prepare for the barrel that I’ve been dreaming about for so long. Here it comes, just like I was told it would and had seen in the videos. All the fear and stress wasn’t necessary, I’ve totally got this. Then boom……

The next thing I remember is paddling over to the edge of the pool. I forgot what my friend had told me about the barrel. How quick it is and if I’m not careful it will pick me up and send me flying. I spent so much energy thinking about getting to it, I lost focus when I actually got there. I had learned that it’s possible, now I need another wave to make it happen. Unfortunately, that wasn’t a possibility on this day. No more waves...

This became the topic of conversation for the next 13 hours on our drive home. How can we get back to the Ranch and get redemption? The wave is as good as advertised, it’s worth all the effort and time to get there, but how are we going to make it happen?

Part 2, Second Chances... (Coming Soon)


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