The GOAT, gleaming on his creation's first public day in the Central Valley('s admittedly unrelenting) sun. Photo by Sam Moody
50k To Rent For The Day And $old Out Straight Away
Revelations from behind the scenes at The Founder's Cup—which wasn't sick and depraved, just a little heat-stricken and in desperate need of a beer.
Walking into the Tatchi Palace at midnight Saturday, Stab was met by Todd Glaser, a small entourage, and just behind them, Kelly Slater, all making their exit.
Kelly greeted us warmly and wide-eyed, asked what we thought of the weekend so far. Like most everyone we’d stood alongside for the last two days of the Founder’s Cup—casually tipping back margarita’s after watching team warm ups on Friday, or nursing hangovers in the VIP cabanas on Saturday, grazing on fluffy, fresh local eggs and bacon, sweet potato hash and challah French toast, ignoring the mixed company’s varying degrees of comfort with mid-AM adult libations, while watching Kelly and Filipe and Jordy and not so much John John but very much Steph racing back and forth like true show ponies—we admitted, sincerely: “I mean, everyone we’ve talked to says the same: it’s the most fun they’ve ever had at a surf contest.”
Of course, we just knew that wasn’t the feeling online, nor from some of the 5,000 paying guests in the general admission area. We'd heard loud and clear complaints over the event’s pace, short-sighted fury over the judges' acceptance of safety surfing as the vanguard of the first real event of our New Wave Pool Age, utter disgust at the length of lines snaking out from the General Admission beer tents, total confusion over the competition format and heat structures...
But what we'd seen during surfing’s first stadium event at Kelly’s Wave was a crowd of thousands ushered in a least bovine manner into the Central Valley, where a mesmerizing wave spun off in the pool in front of them every four minutes; sunbathers lounging in the lake behind the pool, one group poking each other, pointing at a man, his face shaded beneath black bullhide Cessnock, asking one another, “Is that Tom Curren?”; a cheering, flag-waving, near-heat-stricken crowd deflating at the failure of a certain white Hawaiian to rise to the occasion; Stephanie Gilmore hammering power chords on her Gibson SG with The Alive, three adorable and prodigious little heavy metal middle schoolers; Carissa Moore and Kelly Slater belting out Fleetwood Mac with Lilly Meola while guests tipped back cocktails and ceviche; Shaun Thomson in tall Stetson and faded aloha print, breathlessly geeking out with Matt Biolos about their shared obsession with World War II-era military aircraft; a thousand pretty tan things, their sundresses undulating in the Central Valley breeze…
More than 5,000 general admission, and hundreds more VIP visitors jostled poolside for the best views of the actionl.
''People always say that you can't please everybody,” Kanye West told the Telegraph for a profile a few years back. "I think that's a cop-out. Why not attempt it? 'Cause think of all the people you will please if you try.''
As his entourage waited patiently, Kelly brushed off our enthusiasm—"Yeah? Good to hear, I think everyone had a good time today"—before quickly shifting into a breakdown of John’s performance, what the American Team could have done better, before bolting for his room.
Surely he could tell from the look in our bloodshot eyes, we were drinking Kelly's Kool-Aid.
And more than that, we’d just finished a few hours worth of cocktails out back of the casino with Jamie Brisick, Jake Howard, and Marcus Sanders, all equally dazed from the day’s events, or from the doubles being generously poured at the open bar, chatting over the warm twang of Gram Parsons and The Byrd’s version of “You ain’t going nowhere,” by a country band fronted by a Sweetheart of the Rodeo indeed, a smokey-voiced brunette with a set of legs and a vocal range that had everyone with their bare feet in soft green grass, dancing to the drifty, California ballad…
Genghis Khan, He could not keep, All his kings, Supplied with sleep.
Fans who paid for the weekend's $500 entry-level VIP experience enjoyed more than just high fives from athletes, while the 5,000 general admission ticket owners were left to decide if they were willing to spend the coin for the full wavepool monty in September.
For many, there was a great deal of expectation leading up to this event, the stake’s very high, the validity and perhaps very existence of Wavepools on the line, etc.. A weight not made any lighter by Kelly, Sophie Goldschmidt and the WSL straight up owning the fact that KS Wave Co. is gunning for the Olympic contract for Tokyo 2020.
As for the protests from online viewers, the irony is that for generations, surf fans have suffered through Sun Sports recaps of the Bud Tour, or waited patiently for contest recaps in Surfer a month after winners were crowned, or were unable to free up their schedule for the double-digit waiting periods so as to actually attend the fucking contest in person, or who, Pre-Dream Tour, endured glitchy livestreams from subpar beachbreaks in Japan, Rio, or Portugal, despite the event’s waiting period’s carefully selected window, all the best laid plans, etc.
While the complaints leveled at the event postmortem are more than valid, the solutions to all of them seem, well, easy enough. Multiple pools per location, exponentially more beer tents, better locations, and (hopefully) shooting less for an event feel between Wimbledon/Masters, but instead more Kentucky Derby/Daytona 500—i.e. something for everyone on the ground, with enough drama on the livestream to justify coals being dumped into Weber grilles, eskies topped off with ice, and perhaps even pitchers filled with event-specific cocktails...
"I mean, we're at a fuckin' ranch," Matt Wilkinson said of his bolo-and-Stetson combo. "You gotta dress the part, no?"
The weekend’s on-location experience leaves little doubt to our mind that surf contests in wavepools are part of surfing’s future, though of course, it will not be an either/or scenario.
Over the last week, we’re told that eight days at the pool were made available to the public, at a price of $50k a day. They all sold immediately.
Yesterday, there were thirty people surfing Kelly’s Wave, at $10k a pedestrian head, all having comfortably spent the weekend enjoying a damned fine view of the action from their poolside cabanas, seated on ottomans wrapped in African mud cloth, or mid-century Acapulco chairs.
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards,” wrote Kierkegaard.
Today, pro surfers are exhausting their Rolodexes to get a contact at the BSR Cable Park, scrambling to book Texas flights, debating whether to fly into Austin or DFW, both airports nearly an equidistant hour and a half from the three-wave sets from American Wave Machine’s mysterious Waco hideout, stumbling over themselves to get a crack at the next piece of artillery in the Wavepool Arms race we’re very much in the middle of.
A couple-thousand fans can't be wrong... right?