Photo Series: Moody moments at Kelly’s from lensman Miles Jackler

Kelly’s wave pool sits smack dab between Los Angeles and San Francisco. In the SoCal vs NorCal surf culture wars it’s as neutral as Switzerland. Bright wetsuits are welcome as are stickerless DIY shapes. The genius of Surf Ranch is that it attracts clientele from the financial hot zones of two Californias. A while back, Lemoore’s favorite wave secured three of San Francisco’s best photographers, Sachi Cunningham, Adam Warmington and Miles Jackler. Over the course of two trips Miles shot stills for a video production and worked another as a support photographer (a great way to get into the Surf Ranch and also get paid.) His images from both trips captured an understated class at Kelly’s that is the signature of NorCal’s low-key ocean surf photography. Miles was kind enough to share his wave pool photos and stories with WavePoolMag.

How did you land the gig to shoot at the Surf Ranch?
I accompanied Sachi Cunningham from Ocean Beach on the initial trip as a backup still guy for her video shoot. Essentially I just sat at the end section barrel all day and nabbed the money shots for a few pros and some other semi-celebrity and rich folks. Hot Tub was a godsend as it was mid-winter. The second trip was put together by Adam Warmington and he got everyone to hire me to shoot for the day, so I paddled back and forth between barrel sections on a 12-foot softy with my housing which made for a cool vantage point. Even got a wave at the end of the day from Adam. It was beyond anything I could have expected. I’ll never forget it, Going back someday for sure.

wave pool Adam Warmington Calf Demo
Adam Warmington brought Miles along on the trip to do water photography. It’s always good to get a photo of your boss.

Share with our readers what the vibe is like. I mean, does it feel like a Central Valley cow ranch?
The vibe is surreal. At all times the overall feeling is one of an alternate reality. From the endless flatness of the central valley topography to the omnipresent smell of cow shit. It’s a strange landscape. The only place to stay is also a giant Indian casino, straight out of Las Vegas, glowing alone in an otherwise black night. Amongst that landscape, tucked away behind fences and trees is the pool. You go from gas station snacks and the bleakness of slot machine zombies to a bright and tastefully designed surf amusement park. You’re greeted by fresh-faced young men and women of coastal pedigree with Whole Foods snacks and fresh breakfast treats from a commercial kitchen. It feels authentic. It feels special and the amount of work that goes into and has gone into the place is obvious.

A lot of work goes into running the Surf Ranch, from driving the ski to preparing casually elegant meals for guests.

Were you nervous about shooting such a famous wave?   
I wouldn’t say I was nervous. My role on that initial trip was super simple. I was there to get stills of the guests and pros in attendance from a single vantage point. At the advice of Pat Stacy who was shooting video, I posted up at the end bowl where people get to pull into a very slabby and technical tube. As soon as I got in the water and that first wave rolled by I fell into my comfort zone. I kept thinking to myself that it was all too easy like I was a kid in a candy store. Just hang at the right flagpole and Kelly Slater will get barreled right THERE in front of you. Ten times.
What was the most difficult thing about shooting the Surf Ranch?
The most difficult thing would have to be a toss-up between the cold (both my trips were in winter) and watching people fall on the waves. They have giant wood hot tubs on either end of the pool which really take the sting out of a 10-hour-day in the water, but there is no remedy for watching empty thousand-dollar tubes roll by as of yet. On my second trip, in order to get each guest on the end barrel sections on both the rights and the lefts, I utilized a 10-foot soft top. After a full day of running sprints up and down the length of the pool to get the “shot,” I was totally exhausted.

There’s no way you can miss the shot when both Kelly and the wave deliver a barrel shot repeatedly. Compared to the cold waters of Ocean Beach, Miles admits it was all too easy.

How was the crew for the shoot? Giddy, like people get on a surf trip or super professional?
For the Bros trip, everyone was pretty excited. It was a mostly salty and accomplished crew of surfers and bodyboarders from the North Bay. It felt like what I’d imagine an Indo boat trip feels like. You know you’re gonna score, the wave is right there and you can watch your buddies get shacked in person or on a live video feed playing in the surf lounge snack zone. There’s definitely some energy management that needs to come into play. A few guys came in hot, forcing the issue and missed sections on their first couple of waves. The naturally laid-back cruisers and low-key tacticians did the best off the bat. By the end of the day everyone was stoked and feeling loose thanks to the complimentary margaritas and beers. The Pros trip was very mellow with a sprinkling of corporate video shoot vibes. Kai Lenny and Kelly Slater kinda just emerged from the ether for their “heats” and they surfed the wave impeccably. I believe it was Bianca Valenti’s first time and she was fully frothing. She knew her game plan though and had her eyes on the end barrel prize, nabbing several gems.
Share with us something most people don’t know about the Surf Ranch.
I’m not sure there are many secrets left at the Surf Ranch. I will say something I hadn’t anticipated was just how heavy and fast the (tier 2) wave is. My wipeout reel is crazy, it’s a good thing the bottom of the pool is padded.

You can find more of Miles’ work on his website and on Instagram

The wave also dishes out severe poundings.
Marin County’s Nate McCarthy
San Francisco’s Bianca Valenti