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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa

Thu, 27 September 2018

You cannot dispute the mad skill of those who ripped the Surf Ranch Pro. The technology? Mind-bending. But for fans who went as spectators? Nooit bru. Barry Wolins chats to Spike.

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FUTURE ON TRACK: Julian Wilson takes to the pool like a duck to water. Photo WSL / Cestari

Barry-WolinsFormer head of Quiksilver SA Barry Wolins spoke to me recently from his home in Wake Forest, North Carolina, sandwiched between arriving back from the Surf Ranch Pro the previous weekend, while nature's fury was stirring off the USA East Coast with Hurricane Florence days away from arriving the next weekend.

You could call the two weekends an ironic juxtaposition. The weekend before, he had been sitting in the stifling heat of rural America watching small artificial waves wash gently across a vast, man-made edifice, shredded into spumes of spray by professional surfers.

The weekend coming, a ferocious storm was due. Hurricane Florence was already a massive virulent blot upon the earth's surface. She was forecast to bring gigantic 50 foot waves, double galeforce winds, and 400mm of rain to his home state, which she did.

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THE WRIGHT STUFF? Not for fans for whom the novelty has worn off. Photo WSL / Cestari

However, as he told me, he lived two hours inland, which would blunt the fury of the storm, although Florence was due to dump a flood-level deluge of rain, which she did.

Kelly Slater's wave pool had intrigued him ever since he had heard about it. He's been impatiently waiting to check it out. "I have been desperate to see this wave, I really have."

The vision and creativity and the technology that goes into making something like this is beyond most people's comprehension.Wolins tells me about a chat with his friend Paul Naude, a rare man fabulously wealthy from the surf industry, who raved about the wave. Naude told Wolins before the event: "After my first wave, all I was thinking was how I could stay, or how soon I could be back."

Fuelled by his friend's stoke and his own accumulated anticipation, Wolins flew west. Then he drove for three hours through monotonous flat farmlands on a road as straight as a line, in the stifling summer heat, armed with a free VIP ticket organised via Mikey February and Jordy Smith, who each had four tickets they could comp friends and family with.

Wolins arrived at Lemoore on Friday at lunchtime. He was blown away by the slick setup. In the VIP section, there was brand booths, shops, food stalls and refreshment stations. And the pool itself, well it was mindbending, and "much bigger than you think when you see the footage".

"When you see how huge this pool is, you actually can't believe it. I was fascinated. I checked how the machine starts. How it goes. It's amazing, absolutely amazing. The vision and creativity and the technology that goes into making something like this is beyond most people's comprehension."

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TALENT GALORE: Wolins does not dispute the tech and the talent. Photo WSL / Cestari

There were two ends to the arena, he say, with the VIP section sitting at one end. But he couldn't stress enough about how huge it was. He equated it to JBay. "If you sat in the water at Boneyards and looked to the other side of Point, that’s how far it is. It's ridiculous. You could hardly see people standing on the other side!

"In the VIP area we faced the left-hand wave that comes towards you. But you can only really see somebody when they are over halfway down the pool. But they've got big TV screens around. So you can watch until they're close enough to watch. By the end of it though, you're thinking, well if I am watching these TV screens why do I need to be here in the boiling hot sun?"

'It’s a mindbending thing.'"When you first arrive, the wave is insane. It’s a mindbending thing. And they can say what they like but the surfers' talent is so apparent, whether in a pool or the ocean. They are so seriously talented the way they can adapt to things."

But a key factor, after careful study, was the wave dynamic itself. "What I did notice. When you surfing an ocean wave. If you do a cutback or another big bottom turn, all the water is moving towards the beach. On this wave, the only water that is moving is the wave itself. If you go too far out into the flats, it's dead water. I saw several people bobble on this."

He was stoked on the first day, proudly watching Jordy Smith pull off his alley oop and noting Mikey February on top of the list at one stage.

But it ended there. By the next day, the novelty was wearing off fast. His takeaway after the event (won by Gabriel Medina and Carissa Moore) was summarised in a word: boring.

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ANOTHER KIND OF PERFECT: Conner Coffin makes Supertubes look easy. Photo WSL / Cestari

"Those guys rip, yes, but, well, it's just boring. When you arrive at a beach, you have anticipation. What's the tide doing? How big will it be? But at the wave pool event, when I arrived on the second day, I went straight to get a cup of coffee, without even looking at the pool.”

He got irritated with the commentary too. "They talk about the same thing. They have so little to talk about.”

Even watching the best surfers in the world began to take on the trope of tedium. “After a while, you zone out. The five minute delay between waves did not help.”

And then there is the cost. A family who had to pay for a tank of gas, pay $100 (about R1,500) for a ticket and $50 to park, without food or accommodation, would probably not return in a hurry. To corroborate his views, he noted that the Surf Ranch Pro had far fewer crowds than the The Founders Cup. Seems the novelty wears off faster for fans who've had to cough up a lot of dough.

He understood that this was built as an experiment, in a boring rural community far from an urban area. "When they build them in the cities, maybe it will change."

On Day 2, he watched only three waves. The rest of the time, he was indoors, chatting. On Day 3, he watched the finals on a smart phone driving back to LA.

“I am glad I went, but I won’t be back.”

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