In the debut of what WSL CEO Sophie Goldschmidt has dubbed “Stadium Surfing,” where an actual world title is on the line, it will be interesting to see all previous heat strategy thrown out the window. Since the foundation of competitive surfing was previously built on challenges of man vs. nature and man vs. man, the pool washes away both previous conflicts to something Stephanie Gilmore-arguably the best Surf Ranch surfer around-has alluded to be being the most difficult aspect of pool surfing–man vs. self.
All weekend long, rehearsed high-performance pirouettes will be performed down a flawless, predictable line. In years to come, do you think surfers will eventually pick their own songs to pool-surf to? Maybe a flare-heavy outfit that adds tone to their choreography, not unlike surfing’s fellow Olympic sport of figure skating. So as this experiment of competitive surfing in a controlled environment-wish they could control the forecasted 100 degree temperature in Lemoore as well as they do the waves-unfolds over the weekend, while Trestles fires, here’re SURFER’s keystone Fantasy Surfer team members who are predicted to win the Surf Ranch Pro.
Some people are just naturally better suited to certain waves than others, and in the case of Slater's wave pond, nobody makes it look better than M. Feb. The only reason you might doubt this pick is if you haven't seen February's recent Instagram posts (which you can find here), showing him flowing through gorgeous turns and airs, all devoid of the weird bobbles and mistimed sections that many of his peers seem to suffer there. The biggest test will be whether or not Feb can maintain that cool, composed approach even when there's streaming cameras pointed at him and throngs of fans poolside. – Todd Prodanovich, editor
This was a tricky one, because honestly, anyone could win this event. But if I had to choose, I'd put my money on Griffin Colapinto. Or maybe I'd just like to see the kid win something. Regardless, out of all the edits that have come out of Lemoore, his was the most exciting to watch. He just seemed to put an extra bit of flair into his maneuvers and made a fairly boring-to-watch wave look exciting. We didn't get the chance to see what the young buck could do at the Founders' Cup, so it'll be interesting to find out what he'll pull out of his hat this weekend. – Ashtyn Douglas, managing editor
I wouldn't bet against Filipe in small, perfect waves anywhere on earth, even if they're made by a train hundreds of miles from the ocean. He's number one in the world and gotta be supremely motivated to take home the title, so he knows he must capitalize on waves that suit his strengths when he can. If the Surf Ranch's dial is set to "perfect" he'll build a home for himself in the tube, then come out and launch full rotations like a sparkling ice skater. If they program odd little baubles into the wave, he'll use sections as coping to launch even higher, using his rubber-used bones to absorb impacts that would de-board his only real competition, the wave's (unfair) owner, Kelly Slater. – Justin Housman, features editor
What little nuance exists in his tarp-bottomed tank, Kelly Slater has mastered and will use to his benefit at the contest. He's got the most pool time and experience, hell, he owns the wave and will probably own the contest, yes, unfair. He's like the Man in Black in HBO's "Westworld," he'll be extremely difficult to take down in his backyard at his own game. Speaking of games, Slater has stated his intentions to qualify for the U.S.A Olympic Surfing Team, he’ll really have to perform at this event to keep his dream alive. You know he’s itching to steal some thunder from a top-ranked seed, which will be extremely hard because Filipe’s got more pop than blink-182’s brand of punk. As long as Slater’s glass feet don’t crack, especially if he hits that new air section-oof those landings look rough-he'll lasso himself a win at the Surfer Dude Ranch Pro. – Ben Waldron, online editor
Filipe has a repertoire of nutty tricks that can all be used at the Surf Ranch, and he’ll likely come out swinging. His skill-level and unpredictability are going to be a huge threat to the others and since he's riding the high of being #1 on the rankings at the moment, I wouldn't be surprised if Filipe pulls out all the stops during this contest. Filipe is a showman, and given the scoring format, he's going to do exactly that. If Gabby or Italo do something crazy, he's going to attempt to one-up the situation. There are a lot of worthy contenders to win this thing, but Filipe just keeps creeping into my mind as the winner. – Adam Jara, Social Media Manager
Tachi Palace Casino/Filipe Toledo:
Unfortunately, the event isn't running through "Latino night" which, in all honesty, is the hottest/funnest night to be staying down the street from Surf Ranch. But Tachi Palace is the undisputed king of Lemoore regardless. If I had to pick a human to win this event, I would pick Filipe Toledo. He's the best wake surfer I've seen out there. – Pete Taras, digital director
Hamilton's performance in her last Surf Ranch edit was an absolute tour de force. Aside from maybe Tyler Wright, I don't think any of the women have brought that kind of power to their turns at the pool. Hamilton has always been extremely confident in her abilities, and for good reason, but has herself admitted that she's struggled competing in unruly conditions at breaks without defined channels to paddle back out. In a controlled environment like Surf Ranch, I could think of no setting more conducive to a Hamilton 'CT event win. – Todd Prodanovich, editor
After watching the Founders’ Cup, I'm convinced the person who surfs Kelly's Wave the best, hands down, is Stephanie Gilmore. And I don't even think it's because of her upbringing at a flawless righthand point. It's her innate sense of style, grace and flow that makes her the most poised for artificial-wave greatness. The only area in which she might have a hard time with is the end air section—if rumors are true that they've "changed" the wave for the event. – Ashtyn Douglas, managing editor
I've watched more footage of Steph at the Surf Ranch than of anyone else—she surfs it better than anyone. They're a sublime pairing, even though I'm no fan of the wave. She's actually probably the only other 'CT surfer who could beat Filipe at the place. Granted, I can't remember ever seeing her go left there, but I have to imagine it's a mirror-image of her smooth approach at the right. She makes the wave look like an honest-to-god wave, with an actual trough and a crest that behave according to rational, oceanic sense. Gimme Steph in a cakewalk. – Justin Housman, features editor
Lakey Peterson has been neck-in-neck for the yellow jersey with Steph Gilmore all year long and currently lurks within striking distance right behind her. A venue like Surf Ranch allows Peterson to plan and perfect a winning run, which I'm sure Peterson will be spending all week doing. In "Art of War," Sun Tzu councils to "avoid what is strong and strike what is weak." If Peterson puts something jaw-dropping together on that new ramp, she'll edge out Gilmore with her air game. Regardless, Peterson's task will not be easy because Gilmore's lines across the chlorinated walls have been the most beautiful out of every man, women and child to ever cop a wave at Surf Ranch. – Ben Waldron, online editor
She's got a fever, and the only prescription, is another title! Steph has spent more time at the pool than most of the surfers on the women's roster, and possesses arguably the best style at the pool we've ever seen. She'll put on a graceful, powerful, jaw-dropping performance and it'll put her that much closer to clinching to the world title. Go Steph. – Adam Jara, Social Media Manager