I Flew a Kite Near Kelly Slater’s Artificial Wave and Scored Aerial Photos of Surfing’s Future
Because it was Saturday
The typical surf-trip story begins with getting there, so let’s start with Tim and me, three weeks ago, bouncing down the 5 in my beat-up Jeep.
We’re heading up to Lemoore, California, 110 miles from the coast — not exactly the place you’d expect to find good waves. The Jeep is many things, and one of them is loud, so I’m yelling our mission to Tim:
We’re going to drive up to King’s County. We’re going to attach a GoPro camera to a kite. We’re going to come back with aerial footage of a man-made lake.
Why? Because it’s Saturday. Also, that lake has the potential to change the essence of surfing forever.
Last month professional surfer Kelly Slater released a video of the perfect artificial wave, created by his wave company, and the surfing community went nuts. Online sleuths tracked down the wave pool’s possible location in a matter of days. Surfers started posting accounts of driving up to the Central Valley and hanging around the outside of the compound. They all brought boards, hopeful Slater would emerge like Willy Wonka and invite them inside.
Mostly they just got stuck in the mud.
Slater’s people remained silent when asked about the lake’s location. They were mum on the science too. Everyone assumed the lake in Lemoore was the spot, but outdated pics from Google Maps were the only aerial proof.
That’s where Tim and I came in. Tim’s from New Zealand, so he’s born to fly kites, and I like to find new ways to tell stories. We could’ve brought a drone, but that seemed much less fun.
It’s kind of hard to hate on a kite.
On the way up the 5, we kept monitoring wind speeds on our smartphones— just like we’d check a surf report when heading towards the coast. The forecast was good. We talked about surfing. We stared at the road.
After bouncing on the highway for three hours, we took a right and soon rolled past a security guard standing outside a compound with a high fence. We’d made it.
But there was no wind at all.
It was flat.
We’d driven all the way out there, and it was flat.
We weren’t going near that fence. We didn’t even want to get close enough to cause trouble. We just wanted an aerial shot from afar. But we had no wind.
Before they’d even tracked down the possible location of Slater’s perfect artificial wave, surfers were already arguing about what it meant for the sport. Would kooks in Utah never even learn how to duck-dive? Where was the magic, the sense of discovery? Without nature’s whims, was surfing even surfing?
I don’t have answers to those questions, but I can say we were inspired that day. If the world’s greatest surfer can invent his own wave, we’d have to invent our own wind.
We took a couple left turns and wound up on a muddy road behind the compound. Tim and I went to work putting down the Jeep’s top and prepping the kite, as if we’d done it a thousand times before.
I shifted the Jeep into gear, and Tim let the kite go. Mud flew in the air. So did the kite.
We were airborne, shooting video, barreling towards an unlikely place for surfing’s future.
I’m not sure when I started giggling, but it was hard to stop.
We made two passes at the compound, yanked in the kite and drove away. Fifteen minutes later we watched the footage from a parking lot in town.
We’d done it.
We’d nabbed the first aerial photo of the lake. No one was there — the lake was placid — but that didn’t matter. Our goal was to contribute just a little to the surfing community’s knowledge, and we had succeeded.
To my eyes there is no question Lemoore is the spot— all the landmarks from the video are there. But I’ll leave the final conclusions to the online detectives.
I had a great Saturday.