What is a wave really worth? This question was at the front of my mind as Grant Ellis (SURFER photo editor) and I were driving past sprawling cow pastures on our way home from a session at Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch in Lemoore, California. Just a few hours earlier, we’d been trading incomprehensibly good waves, generated by the most state-of-the-art wave-making tech in the world, and our brains were able to do little more than replay every ride in our heads and scrutinize every aspect of our performance: could we have been deeper in the barrel? Did we surf too conservatively? Should we have even bothered with turns? Now that we’ve experienced a mathematically-perfect wave, is it all downhill from here?
Armed with the clarity of hindsight, we were suddenly experts on Slater’s wave with full comprehension of the nuances of how it should be ridden. Now, all we could think about was when we’d actually get a chance to put that knowledge to use at the wave again. We started to talk cost: what would we pay to go back for one day? One session? One wave?
It wasn’t a novel question. Every surfer has emerged from a session after a stellar wave that they made or blew and thought, “What would I give for another shot?” The biggest difference, of course, is that in the ocean it’s purely hypothetical; even if you were prepared to fork over some serious coin, the exact same wave will never break again. In the case of Slater’s wave, however, you can ride the exact same wave a hundred times over (if Slater was cool with you hogging the peak, that is).
Whether we acknowledge it or not, whether it’s created by a storm a thousand miles away or a team of engineers in an office somewhere, there is a price for every wave we ride. Sometimes that cost is slight, like when I dawn patrol it before work and it takes me twice as long for my surf-cooked brain to come up with a decent intro. Other times, the cost of waves can be much more significant.
In this issue, writer Jon Coen examines the cost of surf on the East Coast and in the Caribbean, where perfect waves and devastation arrived hand-in-hand amid one of the most active hurricane seasons ever recorded (“Dark Horizons,” pg. 40). Managing editor Ashtyn Douglas spoke with Chilean charger Ramón Navarro and friends after they discovered one of the best left-hand points ever surfed in the region, only to watch it vanish as quickly as it came (“Object Impermanence,” pg. 60). And staff photographer Todd Glaser takes us on a visual journey with certified-goat Kelly Slater and mega-famous musician Jack Johnson as they embark on the kind of exclusive surf adventure most of us would be forced to empty our bank accounts many times over to afford (“Barrel Envy,” pg. 82).
Even when Slater is making perfect waves of his own, he still wants to go hunt down barrels the old fashioned way, and it will be interesting to see how the cultural push-and-pull of natural and artificial surf unfolds in the future. If you believe senior writer Sean Doherty, you’d be hard-pressed to overestimate just how much of an impact Slater’s wave will have on surfing, from the way it affects competition to the way the surfing lifestyle is marketed to the masses (for more on that, turn to “God from the Machine” on pg. 70).
There’s no doubt that Slater’s tech is revolutionary. For the first time in history, with a push of a button, a surfer can experience an honest-to-god perfect wave. So what is that worth, exactly? $10 per wave? $100? $1,000? After experiencing the wave firsthand, all I can say is that for my own financial wellbeing, I’m very glad that at least for now, booking a return trip isn’t an option.
The Surf Ranch.