Surf’s up again for Slater, Olympic qualifiers at Surf Ranch

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Professional surfers will be riding the waves again on Sunday for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic shut down the sport in March.

The Surf Ranch in Lemoore, California, some 100 miles from the Pacific Ocean, will provide a perfect bubble for the World Surf League’s Rumble at the Ranch featuring 16 surfers, including 11-time world champion Kelly Slater and Olympic qualifiers Kolohe Andino, Caroline Marks and four-time reigning world champ Carissa Moore. They’ll compete in a mixed doubles event for charity.

It’s a welcome return for a sport that was set to make its Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games, which have been postponed for a year.

“It’s a specialty event, so the importance comes with, hey, athletes haven’t gotten to put on a jersey in five to eight months and the fans haven’t gotten to see live surfing in that amount of time, either,” Moore said in a phone interview. “I think it’s good for everyone to get going again. I also think it’s something positive and a good distraction for us. I’m really looking forward to it.”

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The WSL has had events the last few years at the Surf Ranch, which was developed by the Kelly Slater Wave Company and is owned by the WSL.

“It’s very fun,” Moore said. “You can imagine that every surfer’s dream is to surf a perfect wave over and over again. It’s really different. I mean, you’re surfing in the middle of nowhere. The competition is super different, too, because you don’t get much time to warm up because of the number of athletes competing.”

Moore hasn’t competed since a contest in Australia in March, just before the WSL shut down due to the pandemic. She returned to her home in Hawaii.

She qualified for the Olympics in December. The Tokyo Games were postponed in late March.

“I think it’s the best decision for everyone at this time,” Moore said. “I’m very grateful it’s being postponed and not canceled, and that I’m still part of the U.S. team. There’s a lot of positives, like getting another year to train. I just hope that it still happens.

“The goal is still there,” she said. “I surf every day. It’s part of my lifestyle. I’ll keep surfing every day. As travel restrictions start to open up, I’ll try to venture out a bit and try to do the contests that I can.”

Slater, 48, failed to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team. He was eliminated from contention at the last qualifying contest, the season-ending Pipe Masters on the North Shore of Oahu in mid-December.

The WSL’s 2021 tour is scheduled to start in November on Maui for the women and in December on Oahu for the men, subject to the approval of state and local government agencies, as well as effective protocols that allow for safe international travel.

Sunday’s contest will be broadcast live on WorldSurfLeague.com and FOX Sports starting at noon PDT.

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