Just Gabs and Morgs. Two peas in a pod! The Casino wouldn't allow photog Lyon Herron to bring his camera; the following images are shot on iPhone 6s and will not be coming to billboards near you.
We Showed Up Uninvited The Night Before Kelly Slater's Wave Pool Event
A congregation of the world's best surfers at an Indian Casino in Lemoore...and Stab!
“Hey! HEY!” yelled a security guard, or maybe a maintenance guy at Kelly Slater’s Wavepool. The term ‘we’ referring to Michael Ciaramella, photographer, Lyon Herron and myself, who had just scouted the perimeter of “The Ranch” on the night before its inaugural competition. Having arrived just past sunset, we found no surfers in the water but instead Bob Machado performing Rob Marley ballads for a crowd of none (which we witnessed through gaps in the fence surrounding Kelly’s fortress). After enjoying a few songs, we scamperd to our car sidled against a chainlink fence on a dirt road: we'd been spotted. And so we ran. Started the car engine and burnt out in a cloud of dust. But no amount of Heeeey's or You run like girls! were gonna stop us. We were on a mission.
This evening there was a WSL party somewhere in Lemoore, CA, but Gabriel Medina opted for a family dinner at the Tachi Casino instead; I know this because we — Michael, Lyon and I — just so happened to be eating there, after following competitor's clues (thanks Ricardinho!) to the most likely location they'd end up in this sleepy little town of less than 30,000.
Naturally, I wanted a selfie with the Champ. I walked up and asked, “Wait, are you Gabriel Medina?”, as if at one point I didn’t have five of his posters on my bedroom wall (or hadn't just published an article questioning his right as the world's most famous surfer to snake any man, woman or child he wants). He was sweet as peach cobbler. Gabby smiled next to me, threw a shaka, and when I accidentally clicked my phone on lock, he shouted “Oh no!” and laughed. Then we took another. It came out a little blurry, but glorious all the same.
Our spirits were peaking, it was all uphill from here, we thought. Then, the World Surf League’s best firefighter and all around gentleman, Dave Prodan, told us we would not be granted access into tomorrow’s event, no matter how much we begged or pleaded. He did, however, allow us to throw a few beers on his tab and invited us to enjoy the event, from behind a chain link fence and through a security force that we’ll probably attempt to swindle in the morning.
But who are we kidding? Media was never going to be allowed to witness the event. This we knew before we hopped in a car and played 21st-century cowboys, scrambling from Los Angeles to Lemoore, CA, home of the wave machine that has had the internet stirring since we forgot all about Adriano de Souza’s world title in 2015.
At the casino, all was dandy. We drank five dollar beers and mingled with surfing’s finest. Then we saw the man of the hour. That's right! Kelly ‘Fucking’ Slater was behind a blackjack table where Wilko, Mick and Ace were playing, I'd like to think adding to their man-made fortunes, at a minimum of $10 a hand.
We asked Kelly how his foot was doing, so he slipped it out of his sandal, made a Frankenstein reference, and proceeded to answer our inane questions. “Oh, so are you guys just prodding?” he asked with an amused smile.
“Yeah, can you get us in?”
“Hmm, you’ll have to talk to Dave about that.”
“But Dave told us no. You’re our last hope.”
Dave’s ears were burning... Actually, he was right behind us and joined the conversation. “It’s a non-media event,” he smiled. “But, we respect your efforts.”
Oh dear David, our efforts haven’t yet begun!
From here we proceeded to drink, hit the ATM and play blackjack. After a dozen $10 hands, less than two more drinks, we promise, and 100 measly dollars squandered, I opted away from punching my pin back into the ATM and losing much, much more - as I tend to do when liquor, cards and colored chips are involved. Michael, who was up 50 measly dollars handed me a chip worth 25. I put it on the next hand and was cursed with a nasty 17. The dealer showed a queen, flipped a king and swiped my chip. My head fell heavy. Michael and Lyon laughed.
But, it was pushing midnight and our efforts were still stirring! Michael took his last 25 dollar chip to the roulette table and won back what I’d just lost him.
Luck's a cunning mistress, and tomorrow she'll be on, well, someone's side. Surely.
Tune in tomorrow for a running blog of our fully-fledged, completely idiotic attempts to gain access to this historic surf event!