© 2022 KVPR | Valley Public Radio - White Ash Broadcasting, Inc. :: 89.3 Fresno / 89.1 Bakersfield
NPR For Central California
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Business & Economy

Catching Waves In Lemoore? Pro Surfers Ride The Perfect Wave

Kelly Slater Wave Company
A surfer riding a wave at the Kelly Slater Wave Company site in Lemoore, Calif.

Late last year a world famous surfer announced he created the perfect manmade wave. At this point no one knows exactly how he did it and the site where he built it isn’t open to the public. But Valley Public Radio’s Ezra David Romero found that wave site in the most unlikely of places.

Eleven time world champion surfer Kelly Slater dropped a bomb last December when he released a video of an 8-foot manmade wave in what looks like an old ski pond nowhere near an ocean.  

"You'd go anywhere around the world to catch a wave like that." - Michael Willis
Credit Google Maps
Kelly Slater Wave Company from Google maps.

“This is our little secret spot about 110 miles from the coast,” says Slater in the video.

In the video Slater sees the wave in its perfection for the first time and freaks out saying, “Oh, my God. No way."

Later Slater surfs down this long skinny lake on what seems like an endless perfect wave. His friends go wild, just like the rest of the surfing community has over the last seven months.  

“Seeing that I’m 100 percent positive our team built the best wave anyone has ever made,” Slater says. “It’s a freak of technology.”

The video’s gone viral and in the aftermath the wave’s location was found through public permit records for a fish pond about an hour south of Fresno right outside Lemoore. 

It’s in the middle of the Central Valley. 

I’m not a surfer, but my friends Graham Brock and Kyle Millward are. So we drove to Kings County to find this perfect wave.

MILLWARD: “I honestly expect to see a flat pond, but I hope to see Kelly Slater surfing it. That’d be awesome."
ROMERO: “Well, let’s go figure this out.
BROCK: “Here we go!”

We used the video to find the wave but the property is surrounded by an 8-foot tall fence on one side and a row of tall trees on the other.

BROCK: “Kyle fangirled out and took a picture already.”
MILLWARD: “I did.”
BROCK: “Of a fence and a security guard person.”
MILLWARD: “Of a fence. I was here.”
BROCK: “Oh, you can see more when you jump.”

Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio
Kelly Slater Wave Company from the street. The security guard there says lots of people have come by to try and get a glimpse of the wave.

Since we couldn’t see much we talked to neighbors. Sonjia May, who lives next door, says construction on this project has been going on for two years.

“The people that owned it originally put that lake in,” says May. “They sold it and moved to New Mexico. He drained it. It’s all cement, probably a million bucks in cement.”

But unlike our disappointment of not getting in surfers from around the world have passed through the red gate to give the wave a go.  In a new video on the Kelly Slater Website Pro Surfer Kieren Perrow visited the site.

“Coming here was a total unknown,” Perrow says. “It’s so surprising to come and see how powerful the wave is. It’s got so much push behind it.”

Perrow is one of the lucky few. Others surfers like Michael Willis are interested in riding the wave.

"Anywhere that has these installations is going to become a tourist destination in and of itself." - Jess Ponting, Center For Surf Research

“You’d go anywhere around the world to catch a wave like that,” says Willis. “It looks sort of like Kirra a surfing spot in Australia that peals across the beach.”

Michael and his brother Milton are sort of legends in the surf world. Michael was a world record holder for successfully catching some of the largest waves ever surfed. He’s concerned that this artificial wave may be too controlled and may lack some of the spiritual factors that surfers feel.

“I like wiping out, I like getting caught inside by waves, I like losing my board and having to swim to shore,” says Willis. “Ocean surfing is an extremely difficult art to master.”

Willis also wants to know how this perfect wave works. The wave company says a very precise geometrical object is pulled through the water creating the wave. There’s a bunch more science to it, but that info is proprietary. In that same video from earlier pro surfer Stephanie Gilmore surfed in the murky water.

“You know you dream of this stuff as a kid,” Gillmore says. “Imagine. When you talk about it with your friends imagine if we had a wave pool that pumped out perfect waves all day long. And to sit here and see it within my lifetime is like the coolest thing ever.”

Credit Kelly Slater Wave Company
A surfer riding a longboard at the secret wave spot.

Jess Ponting with the Center for Surf Research in San Diego thinks the perfect wave could make Gilmore’s childhood wishes come true in surf parks around the world.

“Anywhere that has these installations is going to become a tourist destination in and of itself,” Ponting says. “There’s one in the United Arab Emirates that’s right in the middle of the desert and it’s booked out eight months in advance.”

And that’s exactly what the perfect wave is going to do.  The World Surf League, the governing body for professional surfers, is acquiring the rights to the perfect wave.  The groups CEO Paul Speaker says the technology will also create a new way to hold surf competitions.  Imagine a perfect wave for every surfer.

“We see in the future, two or three or four years out that there would be a hybrid tour,” Speaker says. “Ocean locations but also complementing that with a wave pool experience and something that allows us to move into markets that maybe aren’t coastal markets.”

Speaker says the wave will never replace the feeling that a person gets while surfing out on the open water, but this advancement in wave technology is going to open a whole new chapter for the surf industry.  The acquisition is expected to go through sometime in August.

Related Content