First Person Report from Kelly’s, “The build up is painful, the journey is exhilarating and when those gates open the adrenaline rush is like an explosion of stoke”
Kent Miller-Randle is a pool-stoked man-of-action. At least judging by his Insta feed that features helicopters, exotic mountains, Hong Kong skylines, selfies with Survivor celebs and other Yolo fodder. He is positively James Bondian. But whether Kent is decked out poolside in a Tux or stuffed in an Ojek in Sumatra, the one consistent in his feed are surf images and clips from the world’s premier wave pools. Kent recently went to Kelly’s and we pressured him to hear all about it.
We pictured him tucked away in his library, perched at an oak Bauhaus writing desk and banging out the story on a manual Royal Deluxe (Hemingway’s favorite, naturally) then having his personal assistant digitise it and send it off to WavePoolMag Headquarters. Regardless of how the process actually unfolded, it’s great insight into the world’s most mysterious wave pool from an international man of mystery.
I wake up to the sound of that ping on my iPhone and know it’s time to get up soon any way so I check to see my phone to see the screen highlighted with the words Surf Ranch. The email reads “Hi Kent we’ve just had two spots become available on the 9th and 10th of September plus a night session on the Friday and Saturday nights! Are you keen? let me know. Christina.” Seconds later I’m on the phone to my best friend Morts to see if I can twist his arm to drop everything and come and join me and it was with no hesitation he said let’s ******* do this.
With the dates and flights locked in it’s now time to think about equipment as having been to the Surf Ranch twice before I know that board choice is important. A quick email to Onboard Store in Mona Vale has me ordering the new custom for myself and one for Morts as well. I go for a Spinetech Channel Island rocket wide 5’10 and Anthony locks in a custom Bobby quad. The following weekend I’m in Bali and hit up the Padang Padang Onboard Store and grab the new Channel Island CI Pro 2 Pu. I’m set now with the only thing between me and the Surf Ranch being time.
A few weeks later we land in LA at around 7:00 AM catch the airport bus to the hire car area and grab ourselves a huge SUV and throw all of our boards in the back and head off. Check in time at the Surf Ranch on the Friday is at 4:00 PM so we drive to Malibu and head up the coast to Santa Barbara looking at surf along the way and go to the home of Channel Island surfboards to see where it all began back in 1969. The drive from Santa Barbara to Lemoore is about another three hours until we reach what could only be described as the timber Surf Ranch gates to heaven. It’s very hard to put in words the feeling you have when you turn up at this place. The build up is painful, the journey is exhilarating and when those gates open the adrenaline rush is like an explosion of stoke. The experience from the moment you arrive at those gates until the moment you leave is nothing short of extraordinary but we’ll get to that bit later.
We are greeted at the gates and then taken to our Airstream caravan that is our accommodation during our stay. We drop our bags, jump in a buggy with our boards and are taken down to the end of the pool to chill, have a few beers and some amazing wood fired pizzas cooked by Big Wave Dave. The first wave we get to see is torn apart by ex world tour surfer Nat young. The right hander is destroyed from start to finish ending with a six-second barrel showing us just how this place can be surfed.
Now its time for the induction from the Surf Ranch crew and are ready to hit the water under lights. Boardies on and boards ready we enter the water full of nerves. Having surfed on the rocket wide spine tech before that is my board of choice for my first session however the wind being offshore on the right and a small bit of chatter on the face I quickly swap it for my CI Pro 2 that ends up being the correct board of choice as it is like a knife through butter. Morts and I surf with Zinger, a cool cat from Malibu who has clearly surfed the pool many times and is happy to be in a heat with us as he gets to poach any wave that we fall off of. There were a few of those in our first heat. After a few waves the nerves are gone and the eyes have adapted to the lights that plays tricks and make the transition of the wave face harder to read. We trade barrels and high fives and are happy with the warm up before for tomorrow’s three sessions.
The Saturday morning we are greeted with another perfect day a blue skies and mid 30s (90F) temperatures meaning it’s board shorts and barrels. With the Friday crew having left and the Weekend crew arriving the place is alive with high fives, hugs, kisses and introductions. With the day’s heats pre planned Morts And I are heat 3 Which gives us time to chill and hang out in the tower with mate, photographer and drone guru Andy Potts. For the next two hours we get to watch Tia Blanco, Brody Jenner, Zinger and the Burch Twins tear the pool apart. Most impressive was Tia who has just had Honey her baby girl one month earlier.
Now it was my turn. Having been disappointed in the way that I had surfed the night before I was ready to make amends and hopefully redeem myself and give the performance I know I’m capable of. One of the hardest parts about surfing the ranch is that you have to hold back, you can’t surf as critically as you normally would because it’s all about the end barrel and you don’t want to fall off. If the stories are true and there’s no reason why they wouldn’t be, many a pro or even famous big wave surfers have said the Surf Ranch is one of the most intimidating waves in the world. You’re sitting in the water when you hear CT2 30 seconds and you know you’re on.
Countless hours spent watching Surf Ranch videos doesn’t prepare you or help you for that first wave as it screams down the line differently from any wave you’ve ever surfed. Having made my mistakes the night before I now had it dialled in and for my next three sessions was pretty happy with all the waves that I got and barrels that I made. The best part about being at the Surf Ranch this time was sharing it with my best mate. Even though I didn’t get to see him get barreled, Andy Potts got it on the drone for all to see over and over and over again. Every move you make in the pool is captured by Pat Stacy who’s in the pool with you, Andy Potts who’s flying the drone and the fixed video cameras.
With the Saturday sessions complete and everyone buzzing we all sit down watch as Zinger is awarded Surfer of the Day and gets to hold up the WSL world title cup that belongs to Kelly and get a Wave of the Day Surf Ranch T shirt. Dinner is served and we talk about how sick this place is, not just because of the waves but the staff and the facilities are amazing. I’m locked in for one more session on the Saturday night and I’ve psyched myself up knowing that this would be my last session at the Ranch for eight months so I had to make the most of it and that’s exactly what I did. In that final session it all clicked and I surfed every wave with more intensity and every turn flowed into the next. I struggled under lights the first night and the wise words of Pat Miller one of the Surf Ranch guides was to slow down. When a wave has a permanent lip in front of you for 55 seconds that just wants to be hit it’s hard to contain yourself. With Pat on the Ski behind me giving me tips was all I needed. Surfed out I paddled in, grabbed a beer and watched some of the session back with the Burch boys. Some more snacks are served and some more drinks consumed and more stories of waves told. A trip to the Surfranch is no different to any other surf trip I’ve ever been on.
Some what you would call traditionalists my call out wave pools for what they are with that being man made waves in a pool. I can tell you that this experience is nothing short of bucket list amazing and I’ve been lucky enough to tick this bucket three times. Kelly has made the most perfect wave on the planet that can give you a 10 second barrel on a CT1 or CT2 and five minutes later help somebody that has never surfed before ride a wave for 50 seconds. What makes the Surf Ranch so unique is how long the wave is vs any other wave pool and the size of the wave from the second you take off to when you come out of the barrel.
Pretty insane if you ask me.
Seven hours sleep and an amazing breakfast serves me well for the day ahead. Andy Potts and Pat Stacy have suggested we drive to Yosemite to see El Capitan so we head off for the three hour drive having said our goodbyes to all our new friends. The car journey gives us time to reminisce and talk about the last two days and how cool that we had done this together. We’ve been lucky enough to do lots of cool stuff and surf trips together over the last 38 years and we would both agree this is easily top three. Even harder to believe that at the end of this three hour journey is another mind blowing experience as we exit a tunnel and see yes Yosemite for the first time. We hang out at Yosemite for the next couple of hours walking to the base of El Capitan and the Yosemite waterfall. We’ve travelled from what I believe is one of the coolest man made structures in the world to one of the most beautiful natural wonders of the world all in one day. A five-hour journey from Yosemite takes us back to my mate’s house in Malibu where we crash for the night and hang out the next day before we jump on a flight from LAX on the Monday night that gets us back into Melbourne 7:00 AM on Wednesday morning. A four-day strike mission that will go down as four of the best days of our lives.
A special thanks to Andy Potts firstly for making all of this happen via an intro to Michael Schwab Back in 2019. Secondly to Andy Potts again for all of your amazing drone footage and just being a cool human to hang out with. Christina for keeping me in mind when those dates became available and for all the Coordination. Pat Stacey for the Photos and all the staff at Surfranch who go above and beyond to make your time there so amazing. Last and by no means least Onboard Store in Bali and Australia for the sick boards.