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How one person created access to the world’s most exclusive wave pool

Simple word of mouth and chit chat around the world’s most famous golf course has led to a cottage industry that provides access to the Kelly Slater Surf Ranch

Pebble Beach golf course is widely acknowledged to be the one of, if not the premier public golf destination in the world. To play it you have to book a room at their lodge for two nights, pay for your round, a caddy, exorbitant food and drink charges, and tip at least 20%. So a day at Pebble starts at around $2000. Interestingly enough, that is just a fraction of what many surfers pay for a day at Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch. That’s right – a surf community that celebrates bohemian poverty in pursuit of waves, also has a sub sector that lives larger than the elite of the golf world. Not many people get to the Surf Ranch – it is expensive, hyper exclusive, and they don’t need to advertise – it is always sold out. But, if you find 50 – 60k tucked under your couch cushions you might get there with 12 of your best (financially solvent) friends. Here is how one surfer unlocked the code.

Kelly Sorensen, owner of On The Beach Surf Shop in Monterey has been surfing and running trips to the Ranch since they became publicly available in 2018. How do they work? How much does it cost? How do I get to go?

What was your initial introduction to the wave pool world?

Well, obviously that everybody saw that first wave hit on the Internet and then it just went bonkers from there. First, I got invited to the Outerknown Dealer Day in 2018. And it was just mind-boggling. Too many people there that particular day, but it was fun. And I blew both my waves. Shortly after that, I got taken by another friend, because I told him all about it, and I finally caught a couple waves. Then I got into it and it was just like, oh my God, this is insane. 

The second time I went, I was watching how the whole process worked. I started thinking I can do this, as I have been running snow trips and skate jams for my surf shop for many years, so I do have the experience. This is what surf shops do; they bring people in, talk about the waves, and this and that. After 30 years of other OTB surf shop trips, I wanted to get stoked again. 

It wasn’t that the stoke was gone, it was just different. It’s a surf ranch! I mean, you get grom status again – how excited you are to be there – butterflies, everything. It really brings you back to a full grom again. I don’t care how old you are, you’re smiling the whole way and excited to be there. So I wanted to get that feeling, and as a surf shop, that’s what you’re supposed to provide your people coming in – is that stoke factor. I call these trips “Kelly Sorensen’s Day of Stoke.” I threw my name on it because I couldn’t really call it Kelly’s Day of Stoke, because of the association with Slater. I’m up to 30 trips now.

 

Kelly sorenson at the surf ranch
Some readers would question why a surfer would repeatedly put tens of thousands of dollars of their own money on the line to visit the Surf Ranch. However, barrels like this will do strange things to a person and this is exactly how “Kelly Sorensen’s Day of Stoke” began.

At what point did you develop your current working relationship with the Surf Ranch?

After the second trip, I reached out to the Surf Ranch, saying “I’d like to put this on.”And then I just threw it out there on social media, that hey, we got trips to the Surf Ranch. And it just blossomed and took off. One day went to two days. Two days went to three days. Three days went to four days in a row. And it just went crazy. You’re able to go to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, and people want to buy the Golden Ticket.

 Speaking of Golden Tickets, how much do those Golden tickets cost? 

It definitely is expensive. Basically my trips are $4750 for the day, winter rate, and up to $6500 or more during the summer. And that’s just an all-day surf. We have night surfing that is a separate charge. Staying on property is more as well. But, they’re serving you breakfast, lunch and dinner and drinks. You are surfing the best artificial wave on the planet, getting video and photo proof, and then reliving it with your friends in the hot tub afterwards. It’s a VIP, premium service at all times.

As the organizer, you pay up front? 

I put a deposit down of around half the total amount for a day of surfing. (Math sidebar: half works out to roughly 20-35k. A 4 day trip during the summer would need a deposit of 140k!) Surf Ranch has worked with me now that I’m up to 30 days, and all these trips have sold out. But I’m on the hook for the whole thing. And so it’s the stress level of gathering everybody, their deposits, answering questions,  etc. Again, it’s on me. So if I don’t fill the trip, it’s a lot of money. 

The prices have gone up over the years. A lot of celebrities. There are people coming in, with two people and paying for the whole day. Crazy amount of people flying in on their jets. 

You don’t necessarily have to divide up by 10 people. 

I run it as a 12-person spot, and I’m number 12. So I have a great format: half waves, full waves. It’s all formatted out. 12 is a great number to have, because it works. It is still pretty costly even with 12 individuals. But this way, it’s probably the cheapest way it can get, without lessening the wave count. 

So if I was coming off the street and I wanted to surf it, can I divide that up and bring a friend? 

We used to do that. We’re trying to not do that anymore as it throws off the way our heats are run. It’s just much easier to run them as individuals, and everyone gets the full experience. So I don’t really do that anymore. 

Do people do full waves or half waves? 

Full waves are 60 seconds, half waves about 30 seconds. With half waves there is a spot that you are at on the fence, it has a flag where the person who started the wave kicks out or straightens off, and you drop in. In the morning we do half wave heats where you get 10 half waves. The reason why we divide it into half heats or half waves is because this way allows you to kind of feel out the wave, because if you blow a full wave, you’re bummed. Half waves let you get used to it – especially with first-timers. It definitely breaks differently, and there is pressure. You have the wave machine coming at you down the fence line, there is a jetski right next to you, a guide giving you directions from the water, and you are in the spot. Even today I’m nervous, after 30 trips and hundreds of waves.

What percentage of people blow their waves? 

Hard to put a number on it, but everyone does at some point. I blew my first two waves, but even the top pros miss waves. You’re so used to the ocean waves that break very differently. It’s a different mindset and a different approach. You have to paddle left to go right, and right to go left. 

And it hurts to blow a wave. A very painful feeling in the pool. But there is poaching, so your wave count can come back up. Your buddy is out there catching a wave and you’re stoked for them. And also stoked that they just fell right in front of you so you can poach it off of them, turn and go! We all blow our waves sometimes because we’re pushing it or something. Happens even to the best guys. Many times you get your best waves when you poach, you don’t have time to think, you are just reacting. 

Marcel Soros, Viktor, (the other) Kelly and Santa Cruz photographer Nelly.

How do you fill these trips?

I throw it up on my social media and through the network of guys who have gone before. Word of mouth is a large part of it- people who have been are telling their friends. 

There are no individual spots at all. It’s just a one group day. So I go in and buy a day or two. So I have trips planned out, one coming up, November 29th and 30th, and I still have some spots left. 

Is it open to anyone who knows you?

Everybody’s my clientele. I have people from Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Costa Rica, all over California, the East Coast, all coming on  my trips through word of mouth. People whose friends have been, or they perhaps saw an Instagram hit that’s out there. And I’ve pulled off every trip so far. 

Is is profitable for you?

No. Well, profitable in the sense that I get to surf it. That’s my number one motivation. But there’s a lot of pressure and it is on me. There’s a lot of sleepless nights of knowing how much the trip is and how many slots I need to fill, but it always comes together. Very stressful but I get my reward by surfing and seeing how stoked these people are that come on my trip. And it is the best day ever, because you there’s nothing like it and it’s guaranteed. Yeah, you’re gonna score. The very definition of a bucket list item and then it now becomes an obsession. You’ve got to go back!

Kelly can be reached through his Monterey surf shop at [email protected]


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