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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa

Sat, 18 November 2017

The future just came true with the announcement by the World Surf League that Kelly's wave pool is going to host a Championship Tour event in 2018. Spike discovers some sad ironies.


SAME LEVEL: Cloudbreaks to the left of me, jokers to the right. Stuck in the middle with you.

Lemoore will always be known as the home of Kelly's wave pool of course, even though the WSL own the Surf Ranch that just became a concrete part of the 2018 plan for the best surfers on the planet.

From the bright blue-fringed green of Tahiti and the thundering waves of Chopes, we go to gentle fresh water slides surrounded by conifer trees and perhaps concrete seats so the townsfolk, and all manner of other people besides, will get a ringside view. Surfer feedback, test contests and refinements have led to the move, which surely blasts the WSL Prospective Sponsor Deck into the stratosphere of fiscal potential.

Lemoore is a city in Kings County in California almost equidistant from San Francisco to the NW and Los Angeles to the SW. It has a population of 26,199. Named after a Frenchman, Dr Lovern Lee Moore, who made his home here in 1871, Lemoore has an elevation of 70m and is almost 200km from the ocean.


DEAD POOL: To the south lies a mysterious basin where fertile farms nestle. Click pic to reveal.

However, and here's where irony inexorably advances upon the picture, particularly when we delve not into the future, but into the past. Lemoore lies almost on the northern shore of a giant body of water. In Dr Lee Moore's day, Tulare Lake was the biggest freshwater lake west of the Great Lakes. In those days, strong winds would have created wind-waves you could have surfed, it was so big.

The thing is. The lake has vanished. It's gone. All 1,800 square kilometres of it. And for us water-sensitive Capetonians, that's one helluva waste of water. According to this article by Steve Haze, a resident in the broader San Joaquin Valley, the lake held more freshwater than the collective total held by reservoirs in California today. So what happened?

Today, south of Lemoore lies a vast basin of land where lush farms nestle. The soil is very fertile, and the water table is easily accessible because the farms lie on the bottom of the dried up remnants of Tulare Lake. Apart from the farms, some swamps and wetlands appear here and there. Click the Google image above to see where the lake lay.

EMOTIONAL: Kelly Slater speaks about the long, hard road he took to get here.

A quick squizz on Wiki reveals a heartwrenching story of why this is all that remains of Tulare Lake, so named for its Tule rush that the Tachi branch of the Yokut native people used to make their reed boats to enjoy the famously rich fishing in the lake, which was packed with many species of wild fish. In wet years, the lake was the terminus of the Western Hemisphere's southernmost Chinook salmon run via the San Joaquin River.

The lake was also filled with western pond turtles. Deer, elk, and antelope were numerous along the lake's shore while the waters were a significant stop for hundreds of thousands of birds migrating along the Pacific Flyway. Mark Twain even wrote about Tulare Lake. The lake is written into the lore of the American dream, but becomes a reason for its troubled sleep.

THE SCIENCE: Here is a useful scientific explanation of the mechanics behind Kelly's wave.

This rich habitat boosted the Yokut people to about 70,000 - one of the highest regional population densities in precontact North America.

Even after the settlers arrived in their hordes during the gold rush, and well after California had become a state, Tulare Lake and its vast marshes supported an important fishery. During a three month period in 1888, 73,500 pounds of fish were shipped to San Francisco. The western pond turtles also landed up as terrapin soup - a delicacy for the urban dwellers.

Lemoore will from now be forever known for something elseWell that's all gone now. Over several generations Tulare Lake slowly dried up after its tributary rivers were diverted for agricultural irrigation and municipal water use. Hastening its demise was that as the receding lake continued to open up new agricultural lands for settlement, more source streams were diverted. The lake last overflowed in 1878. The construction of dams upriver sealed its fate.

However, as Wiki records, although now dry, the lake occasionally reappears during floods following unusually high levels of rainfall or snow melt, as it did in 1983 and 1997. Jy wil mos.

Of course, according to the new freshwater pioneers of inland surfing, Lemoore will from now be forever known for something else.


SKIN DEEP: It's the end of world as we know it ... and I feel fine. Michael Stipes of REM, 1987

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