How to get into and enjoy the Kelly Slater Surf Ranch

We get so many queries about the Kelly Slater Wave Co. Readers want to know how to get in, how much does it cost and why isn’t the company returning phone calls and emails? The short answer is that Kelly’s is so busy that landing new clients is not a priority – a wonderful problem for any business.

But it makes sense. Situated smack-dab between the wealth of San Francisco and Los Angeles, there’s no shortage of full-fare clients looking for a lux surfing experience from a marquee wave pool brand. It’s simple, The Kelly Slater Surf Ranch can charge a premium because people are willing and ready to pay.

So how much does it cost to surf at the Kelly Slater Surf Ranch?
Full-day rental with 4-hour night surf before the main day, accommodations for 20 guests, site tour, concierge, video, advisors, equipment, high-end cuisine and 120 waves:

$85K – May through October
$65-75K – November through April
$22K-$25K – For special 4-hour night surf

How many waves can I expect at the Kelly Slater Surf Ranch?
The wave pool runs hour-long heats. Each heat offers 15 waves. There are 8 heats each day. So one wave every 4 minutes or 120 waves for the entire day. If you solo the session you will get 120 waves. Should you bring 120 close, personal friends and you will get one wave. 95% of the rentable days see groups numbered between 8-12 surfers, but you can go higher or lower depending on budget and desired wave count.

How do I get into the Kelly Slater Surf Ranch?
You must book as part of a group that has booking access, most likely because they are a repeat customer. This is how Sunshine Makarow got into the Kelly Slater Surf Ranch. We wanted to share her story so that you, dear reader, have an idea of what the whole process is like, warts (barrels) and all…

Sunshine makarow at kelly slater surf ranch
The surfers on the left can poach a wave if the surfer up and riding falls. In the case of a split wave format, there are two priority surfers on each wave and someone waiting by the track will paddle into this wave at the midway point. It’s a little weird dropping in on a mate, but very efficient.

“I was lucky enough to join a group with my paddle coach Rob Case. A pricey package, yet a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The package with Rob included multiple pre-trip videos explaining how the wave works, the priority system, how to paddle in, as well as his paddle technique and training videos. We also had two Zoom call meetings before the trip so everyone could properly prepare and knew exactly what to expect during our time there.

When the day finally arrived, it felt crazy to pull up to the big gate out front to check-in. Each guest is greeted by a concierge who takes them to the main area and gives a run down on the facilities. Arrive with plenty of time to check out the main lodge which is set up as a locker room from a WSL event. Each guest has their own locker with a name tag and a welcome gift.

My group was having dinner at 5pm, before the first of three heats hit the water at 7pm to surf under the lights. Being the middle of February, the temps were dropping fast and many of us looked more ready to hit the slopes than the waves.

Sunshine makarow at kelly slater surf ranch
To get into the KS Surf Ranch, Sunshine went with her paddling coach Rob Case who was running a special performance camp.

We had opted for a split wave format meaning there are two priority surfers on each wave. This format cuts the wave in half, which also means you get twice as many waves during your heat. We had heats with six surfers total – 3 on each side of the pool. During the heat you were guaranteed 5 priority waves, with poaching options should someone fall (you just need to kick out before the next priority surfer goes). You can also catch the pro-wave at the very top of the pool. Most heats I caught 7-8 waves.

My first wave was a left – backside just like at my home break. I anxiously waited and paddled as hard as I could at the angle the water coach advised (I was the second priority surfer and watching and waiting was a bit nerve-wracking – I wanted to paddle out to meet the wave). Dropping in autopilot took over and I cracked two turns off the top before trying a hands-free barrel tuck at which time I was promptly pitched forward.

Sunshine makarow at kelly slater surf ranch
Sunshine blew a barrel, went in, and had surf coach Brooke Baldassare critique her approach. In under 10 minutes, she went back out and got the tube of her life.

The first priority surfer gets to make the call as to the wave setting – CT-2 or CT-3. The jet ski driver radios to the train operator and about 3 minutes later you hear “CT-2 in 30 seconds.” (Or CT-3 depending on the setting.) From there a small wave starts, and a poacher can catch the small wave at the top of the pool, which grows as it moves down the line. Good for a quick barrel tuck, or about two turns. This surfer must then straighten out or pull out as the first priority surfer takes off. If the priority surfer misses it or falls early, the poacher in the middle can take the wave to the flag for the next priority surfer. If the wave is a left as the train gets to the other end of the pool it comes back as a right and vice versa.

With about 3 mins between waves, there is an opportunity to jump out and change boards between waves.
I opted to stick with my everyday board – a 5’7 quad to minimize distraction factors. My goal with the trip was to work on my frontside barrel riding. I had four total heats, so 20 priority waves, but all said and done I caught around 25 waves. (Heartbreakingly I missed two of my priority waves when my paddle angle wasn’t strong enough.)

Sunshine makarow at the kelly slater wave pool
Although less expensive than summer peak season, winter sessions are quite cold with near-freezing temps. But by mid-day things warm up and the hoods and gloves come off.

After each heat, the hot tub was essential. The water temp in the pool was about 54 degrees, and the air for my 8am session was 34F (1C) – the edges of the pool had a layer of crunchy frost. I was wearing a 5/4 or 4/3 for each session. KS Wave Co has a full arsenal of Rip Curl wetsuits, so if yours isn’t dry, or you just want to wear one of theirs you can ask for your size and thickness desired at any time. There are ample drying racks and plenty of suits available. After the hot tub, there are also large (and hot) outdoor showers stocked with Sun Bum shampoo and conditioner to rinse off before grabbing food – which is all farm-to-table by an incredible chef. The coffee bar keeps you warm and caffeinated all day.

Each heat is 1 hour. My sessions were at 7pm, 8am, 11am, and 3pm. Between heats, you can grab a surf coach and review your footage and get pointers. After not figuring out the barrel during my first two heats (no surprise, this area has always been a struggle for me), one of the coaches (Brooke Baldassare) broke down my footage showing me what I was doing wrong, and showing me how to adjust, practicing the proper positioning on dry land. During my next heat, she rode with the jet ski driver and coached me live on the wave while also filming on her phone.

With the KS Wave Co, there is not a shortage of staff going the extra mile to help with anything you need. During each heat, there are at least two coaches in the water – one at each end of the pool, and the jet ski driver – all giving you advice on how to get the waves of your life. On my first frontside wave of that heat I set up for the barrel doing exactly what coach Brooke had said – and it worked! I was barreled! For the first time ever, I was getting the view I had seen so many times on GoPro videos from Alex Gray and Mason Ho. I was in for about 5 seconds (it is about a 15-second barrel for people that have it dialed) and when I came out my paddle coach and the next surfer were both cheering with arms up. I threw mine up in a claim too – worth every penny right there!”

sunshine makarow
You’d be smiling too after getting the best barrel of your life.

All Photos by Derrick Tuskan Photography