Gallery: Crashing Kelly Slater’s "Top Secret" Pool Party
Apparently utter idiocy and persistence pay off.
9:55 AM The Irwin Street Inn. Hanford, CA
Before we dive into a quick synopsis of the past 48 hours, first thing’s first: WSL owner and ex-interim CEO Dirk Ziff is an axeman! Last night at the after party at Lemoore’s very best Indian Casino, Dirk jumped on stage, grabbed a Fender Strat and belted out Black Sabbath’s Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" with a cover band, the clever name of which has been erased from my memory. Yesterday: bright eyes and machine-made miracles. Today: Red eyes and waves of nausea. Yay, drinking!
We arrived in Lemoore on Monday evening, with the sun setting and no clue what we were doing. During the drive, we—Michael Ciaramella, photog Lyon Herron and I —threw around some ideas. It was getting dark, so we decided to scope the joint, case the little inland town and find where the world’s best might be fraternizing amongst the shiny happy people of Lemoore (you can read about that here). We pondered how to get in, our plan of attack, if we needed a big ladder. A cherry picker? A helicopter? At that point, all we had set was a drone guy, our Editor in Chief's ace bird-man, Matt Kurvin.
We were just trying to get as close to this as possible.
Yesterday, we woke up early and documented every dusty move from either just outside the gates of Kelly’s Wonderland, or over beers in a smoke-filled hall of geriatric poker sharks (you can read about that here). After we’d exhausted every (legal) resource to penetrate the fortress—simultaneously covering the event while making a mockery of this whole “test event not open to the media” idea, while genuinely wanting to get inside—we made one final strike. We announced, "We’re storming the castle" on our live blog and when we arrived at Kelly Slater’s Futuristic Olympic Wave Riding Facility, we were greeted at the door.
“I heard you guys posted you were gonna ‘Storm the Castle’” smiled head of security, Big Tony.
Well, we've never won any awards for being discreet.
“Uh, Everlasting Gobstopper,” I said.
“We were told that was the password.”
No, that isn't our cherry picker in the corner of the frame.
The event was over; Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam was playing, to no one’s surprise, and at that point we just wanted a peek, another drink and to see what the whole goddamned surf world was either fawning over or writing off entirely. Big Tony respected our determination, our steely-nerved grit in the face of total and utter embarrassment. He said he would see what he could do. We thanked him kindly and sincerely and returned to the side of the road where mosquitoes continued to suck my ankles raw. 100 bites later, Tony rolled up in his cart and said we were good to go. We asked him to say it again, you know, for the Instagram story… and after a nerdy, yet well connected high five, we—being Michael, Lyon and I—were in.*
And good god, the Surf Ranch is huge. Like, you need binoculars to see the wave from the takeoff. It spans four football fields. And the wave itself is truly amazing - "a specimen of technology" as I told a news reporter from atop our cherry picker while spewing nonsense in an awkward interview (we, unfortunately, can’t embed it but you can watch it here).
Slater's wave, from the comfort of a mobile device, is easy to write off as a fun novelty. In the flesh, however, it looks hard to surf. The world’s best were struggling with it throughout the day—falling on the takeoff, missing sections. But Steph got a 14-second barrel. We watched Pottz try and fail to scrape into one. Shaun Tomson pulled in, but the tube easily outran him.
We learned that the bottom is hard concrete and John Florence was one of two people to break a board out there. There are spots that grow, spots that are heavy, and it has proper power. The danger factor of the wave is surprisingly respectable.
After Thomas The Tank turned off and the sun set, Eddie Vedder played for the small crowd still gathered, joined by the musical talents of Kelly and Rob Machado. We thanked Kelly after the event. Steph Gilmore came by and smiled, “Oh, the Stab boys finally got in.” We blushed. Kelly said, “Steph we should have had you play,” then turned to me and Michael and explained her musical talents. We talked a bit about the wave, the event, he was clearly on a high. His little science experiment was officially, uh, "contestable".
Kelly's finalists. Any surprises here?
Everyone returned to the Casino. There was an after party going on. We joined. We danced. We watched Kelly Slater sing "Blister in the sun" and "Don’t stop believing" with the band. We watched Joey Turpel and Jordy Smith share a mic and duet "Jessie’s Girl". Eddie Vedder got on stage in a funny hat, did a funny dance and sang a song I don’t remember. He sprayed his beer all over the crowd and hurled it into the air. Mick Fanning let Eugene out of his cage. The party got loose. It suited surfing. It was refreshing. We returned to the casino. We gambled. We won! We stumbled out a little after 2 AM feeling like we’d done something. Like we were a part of history. Like we had fucking Wheaties for breakfast!
While surfing may look like its headed for the corpo slaughterhouse, after last night, I don't think you could call it a tennis tour. Not yet.
We arrived at our hotel around 2:30; they had cancelled our online reservation without our knowledge, due to, of course, sudden overbooking. We ended up in Hanford, in a building from the 1800’s around 3 AM. The ceilings are high. The wallpaper is floral. Stanley Kubrick would adore the carpets. And as I type this from a faded maroon couch, I can't help but think, "What a beautiful scene for a murder."
Big thanks to Big Tony and the rest of his security team! He told me to say that, and as sweet as he is, he also looks like the type of dude that rips phone books in half. Thanks for letting us have some fun.*