Can't believe a week has already gone by since the Surf Ranch Pro wrapped up in Lemoore, California last weekend. I am currently reminiscing on the event from our house in Molokai. A complete contrast from the dry heat in Lemoore. The Hawaiian Islands have been abundant with rain with all the hurricanes passing through the Pacific. Our valley is lush, green and thriving. Luke and I hiked to the waterfall this morning and then took a nice two hour mid morning nap in the cool island trades. A perfect lazy Sunday spent in paradise.
The Surf Ranch Pro was the first ever Championship Tour event held in a wave pool. I have competed in a few exhibition events there over the past year but this one had extra pressure with points and ranking implications. Too far out of the title race, the only pressure for me was wanting to perform well and gain some competitive confidence. I was feeling really good going into the weekend. I prepared well and checked all my boxes. All that was left to do was let go, focus on myself and enjoy.
With all the tour competitors at the venue, there wasn't much time to warm up in the days prior. The day before the contest started, each athlete got to surf two waves. That's only a total of ten minutes in the water! In the ocean, we can warm up as long as we want either at the main site or down the beach. If we wake up early enough, there is usually about forty five minutes to an hour before the first horn blows to paddle around, catch waves and make sure our bodies are ready to go. At the Ranch it was a completely different game. Ten minutes and then all we could do was sit, wait and ponder in the middle of the desert...
Having a good support crew always makes the time in between heats a little more enjoyable. Dad and Luke flew up from home, my sister drove from school, family from San Fran made the trek south, and our friends from Fiji, Stu, Malia and little Noa, rented an RV and camped for the weekend festivities. I felt so much love. We swam in the pool, ran around the Ranch, watched Netflix, worked out in our hotel room, and played a marathon of Sequence. Sequence is my favorite board game. I am currently holding a one point lead over Luke in Molokai.
My first wave was at 9:56 am on Friday morning. At most competitions, I like to wake up at the butt crack of dawn and jump in the water before anyone else gets out to warm up. There was no reason to wake up early in Lemoore. No waves to watch or lineup to study. I knew exactly what I was going to get.
My main goal for the event was to not stress and to have fun. There was a lot going on, people walking around, replays on the big screens, the commentators on the loud speaker, the wave itself was distracting. I found a quiet place in the back locker room to listen to my music, warm up and center myself.
Even though every wave is supposed to be the same there are slight differences caused by the way the water settles in the pool from the wave before or the wind that day. I had a routine in mind, how I wanted to surf the wave, but knew that I still had to surf it. I had to stop thinking and flow with it, just like in the ocean. My sister sent me this really silly video of her as a thumb that I replayed in my mind right before every run. It was just what I needed to lighten the mood and stay present.
I started off the qualifying rounds with two high eights on my left and right consecutively and shot to the top of the leader board. I wasn't sure what the judges would think and was so stoked with their approval! All I had to do from then on was go bigger to improve. At the end of the next day, I hadn't improved on my scores but did enough to maintain the lead and qualify for finals.
Finals day! For me I was already winning. There was nothing to lose and everything to gain. I felt so much love and support from everyone around me. I didn't care what any of my competitors were doing. I just wanted to perform my best and soak in every minute of it.
I was the last to surf out the women. I removed my earphones, prayed, kissed my husband and walked down the ramp with a giant smile on my face. As I sat in the water and waited for the machine to run, I replayed the thumb video, giggled to myself and exhaled any last nerves. I surfed the left hard, pushed my turns, flowed between maneuvers, and weaved through the end barrel section. It felt good. I closed my eyes and slowed down my heart rate. The burn in my legs started to fade as I positioned myself for the next wave coming.
"CT Two. Thirty seconds."
"Carissa. Your left was an 8.33"
Nice! Great way to start! Let's do this...
I got to my feet and took a few high line speed pumps before dropping to the bottom to set up for the first turn section on the right. Forty seven seconds later I was at the other end of the pool, slowing down my breathing and watching the replay on the big screen.
"Carissa your right was 8.9."
Whoohooo! I'll take it!
I ended up improving both my scores on my second run but it didn't get exciting until our final run. All the women had to improve in order to take the lead. I was really nervous. My first win of the season was in reach but everyone still had one more chance. I was trying my best to keep my blinders on and stay in the zone. Then all of a sudden someone announced that I won. Everyone started crowding around me and trying to ask me questions. But wait, not yet! They took it back. Every so often a left comes in that is significantly smaller than the other ones. Both Caroline and Lakey were given another wave. Ahhhh! The anticipation was so intense. The win wasn't official until just before I started my last run.
The best part wasn't so much standing on the podium at the end of the day but looking back on all the moments that got me there. It was a team effort by many. My husband and I had a really special moment in the locker room after it all went down. It was just us, quietly celebrating the journey. He was with me at JBay when I was a mess and in a very dark place. He got in the emotional trenches with me and felt all the anger, disappointment, and frustration. Over the past month, he made the climb with me and there we were on the other side enjoying the view.
I never dreamed of competing in wave pools in my career. I saw pictures and videos of pools that were made in the past but nothing that ever really made sense logistically or was good enough to get excited about. In 2018, here we are surfing perfect waves in the middle of California. Some people like it. Some people don't. For me, nothing beats competing in the ocean and having to deal with all the variables. You never know what you're going to get and that's what makes it exciting. The wave pool is a great addition. A different kind of challenge and arena. Having the same canvas over and over again encourages progression and learning new maneuvers that can translate to the ocean. Wave pools will bring surfing to a brand new audience and people that don't live near the ocean can still enjoy riding waves.
I believe that surfing can change the world. It invokes joy, positivity and self empowerment. In a world that is so fast paced and has so many distractions, surfing slows things down, keeps you grounded and present. "In a time where the world needs it more than ever, the ocean is what ties us all and the love for the sport is what connects us." - Kanoa Igarashi
As I left the Ranch, I walked past a little girl holding a sign that said, "We love Moore in Lemoore." I asked her name and where she was from.
"I live just up the road," she said.
"Do you surf?" I asked out of curiosity.
"No," she shook her head shyly.
"Next time I come to the Ranch, let's learn together," I suggested with excitement.
Photos: Ryan Miller and Trevor Moran