Entertainment

Photos: Inside the making of ABC’s ‘The Ultimate Surfer’ with Kelly Slater

Normally, Lemoore, Calif., might seem a strange place to set a surfing competition. After all, the Kings County burg is 100 miles from the Pacific Ocean.

But as it turns out, “normal” is not “The Ultimate Surfer’s” style.

ABC’s new reality competition grew out of a meeting of the minds in early 2019 between world-famous professional surfer Kelly Slater and World Surf League CEO Erik Logan at Surf Ranch, Slater’s artificial-wave oasis in the Central Valley. Production began in early 2020, only to be shut down by the coronavirus pandemic. When shooting resumed last summer, it was in a COVID-19 “bubble” at the ranch. Now the series’ long-awaited debut has arrived, with a two-night premiere beginning Monday.

An aerial view Kelly Slater’s 700-yard long Surf Ranch.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

And despite the long road, the timing is auspicious. Surfing just made its buzzy Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games, and Slater recently told The Times that the event could one day turn to wave pools — including, perhaps, his own, when the Olympics come to L.A. in 2028.

“The Ultimate Surfer,” hosted by former NFL player and “Bachelor” Jesse Palmer, features 14 men and women — including six Californians — vying for the title while living and training together at the ranch. Sports anchor Erin Coscarelli and “the voice of professional surfing” Joe Turpel will provide the color commentary, and Slater is on hand as lead consultant and special correspondent.

Surfer and Times photographer Allen J. Schaben captured exclusive images of the making of “The Ultimate Surfer” last March, before the shutdown, and returned to the ranch earlier this summer to photograph the action at the WSL’s Jeep Surf Ranch Pro, where athletes from around the globe showed off what the ranch can do.

— Meet the champion —

Kelly Slater raises his arm toward his wave pool during production.

11-time World Surf League world champion surfer Kelly Slater is interviewed during production on “The Ultimate Surfer” reality show. As the Surf Ranch Creator, Slater offered information on how to compete well in each of the surf challenges through video messages.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

ABC's “The Ultimate Surfer" has a two-night premiere on Aug. 23 and Aug. 24.

ABC’s “The Ultimate Surfer” has a two-night premiere on Aug. 23 and Aug. 24.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Kelly Slater rides a wave on his surfboard

Surfer Kelly Slater turns off the top of a wave during production.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Kelly Slater waxes his board on the set of “The Ultimate Surfer."

Kelly Slater waxes his board on the set of “The Ultimate Surfer.”

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

A video monitor shows Kelly Slater as he is interviewed on camera.

A video monitor shows Kelly Slater as he is interviewed on camera.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Kelly Slater runs with surfboard in hand as a camera crew follows

Members of the crew follow Kelly Slater as he runs out to surf for the show.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Kelly Slater showers off

Kelly Slater poses for a production photographer on the set of “The Ultimate Surfer.”

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

The sun sets over Airstream campers overlooking a lake next to the wave pool

The sun sets over Airstream campers overlooking a lake next to the wave pool on “The Ultimate Surfer.”

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Carissa Moore does a slashing turn off of a wave

Carissa Moore, who became the first American female to qualify for surfing’s Olympic debut while clinching her fourth surfing world title in Hawaii, does a slashing turn off of a wave.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

— Inside the ranch —

Gabriel Medina does a few stretches at the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro

Gabriel Medina, two-time WSL world champion from Brazil, stretches alone at the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro presented by Adobe.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Four-time world champion Carissa Moore does a slashing turn.

Four-time world champion Carissa Moore, of Hawaii, who became the first American female to qualify for surfing’s Olympic debut, does a slashing turn.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Tsutomu Igarashi clasps his hands before his son's competition

Tsutomu Igarashi folds his hands during a quiet moment before his son, Kanoa Igarashi of Huntington Beach, competes.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

A surfer does a slashing turn off the top of a wave

A surfer does a slashing turn off the top of a wave while competing in the women’s qualifying rounds at the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Friends carry surfer Adriano de Souza into the water.

Brazilian surfers and friends prepare to throw 2015 WSL world champion Adriano de Souza, who is retiring at the end of the season, into the water after countryman Filipe Toledo won the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Caroline Marks, 19, of San Clemente, does a slashing turn while competing.

Caroline Marks, 19, of San Clemente, does a slashing turn while competing. She is a member of Team USA Women’s Olympic Surf Team, a multiple national champion, the youngest female to compete in a World Surf League event and the youngest surfer to qualify for the women’s Championship Tour.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Ricardo Toledo and friends raise their hands in celebration after his son's victory

Ricardo Toledo, center, joins fellow countrymen, friends and family erupting in celebration as his son, Filipe Toledo of Brazil, wins the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro over Gabriel Modena.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Filipe Toledo pushes his child around on his surfboard

Amid triple-digit heat, Filipe Toledo celebrates his Jeep Surf Ranch Pro win by pushing his child around on his surfboard.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Italo Ferreira hugs his coach Mike Parsons

Italo Ferreira, 2019 WSL world champion from Brazil, hugs his coach, Mike Parsons, left, while competing in the men’s qualifying rounds.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Kelly Slater does a slashing turn off a wave.

Kelly Slater does a slashing turn off a wave during the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro presented by Adobe.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Johanne Defay is carried on friends' shoulders after winning the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro women’s event.

Johanne Defay of France gets a victory lift as she celebrates winning the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro women’s event at the Surf Ranch in Lemoore, Calif.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Gabriel Medina, front, two-time WSL world champion from Brazil, and Seth Muniz, of Hawaii, sit in the ice tub.

Gabriel Medina, front, two-time WSL world champion from Brazil, and Seth Muniz, of Hawaii, sit in the ice tub while watching the action on a big screen.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Ricardo Toledo hugs his son, Filipe Toledo of Brazil

Ricardo Toledo hugs his son, Filipe Toledo of Brazil, after he won the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro over Gabriel Modena.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Johanne Defay raises her arm in victory while riding a wave

Johanne Defay of France celebrates defeating reigning Surf Ranch champion and four-time world champion Carissa Moore of Hawaii.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)




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