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I Learned How to Surf the “Perfect Wave”

I have always wanted to learn how to surf. A child of the Johnny Tsunami-era of Disney Channel, I’ve wanted to get on a board and rip since my early teens. But I never knew where to start. I didn’t grow up knowing anyone else who surfed or had an interest in surfing, and the older I got, the more I accepted that my window to successfully learn was firmly shut… until this summer.

And this is where my surfing genesis story begins: at the Kelly Slater Wave Co. Surf Ranch in Leemore, California, where I was invited to ride “the perfect wave” along with a diverse, intimate group of professional surfers, freesurfers, and surfers-to-be — the same world-class wave that contestants of the new reality show The Ultimate Surfer compete on.

People standing in front of lake at Surf Ranch
Matt Kolo

The brainchild of 11-time world champion professional surfer Kelly Slater, Surf Ranch is the home of a 700 yard-long wave pool. Surprisingly nestled in the farmlands of Central California, over 100 miles from the coast, the first-of-its-kind human made wave pool took ten years to develop. Designed with a contoured reef bottom that determines the shape and break of the waves and powered by a hydrofoil that creates 100,000 pounds of pressure, “the perfect wave” is a surfer’s dream — six foot, glassy, and consistent.

Once I arrived, I was assured by many that Surf Ranch was probably the safest — and coolest — place to learn how to surf. No unpredictable currents, multiple in-water surf guides and lifeguards, and of course, an opportunity to ride some of the most exclusive waves in the world. “This place is like Disney World for surfers,” someone told me. Which is exactly what makes it an ideal location for surfing competitions, both real and reality.

Two Airstream trailers at Surf Ranch

Set at Surf Ranch, The Ultimate Surfer is a new reality competition series that features 14 contestants, seven men and seven women who are considered to be some of the best surfers in the United States. The show, which airs on Mondays and Tuesdays at 10 PM on ABC, requires the surfers to live and train together as they compete in surfing challenges in the wave pool, both stylistic and technical, and vie for the highest scores.

The last two surfers standing, one man and one woman, will win a grand prize of $100,000 each and wild card entry spots on the World Surf League Championship Tour — the competition considered to be the pinnacle of professional surfing, where the best surfers in the world battle it out on the waves.

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