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Kelly Slater Will Have A 'Disneyland For Surfers' In Both California And Florida

Kelly Slater made history this week when his man-made surfing facility, the Surf Ranch, in Lemoore, California — 100 miles from a beach — hosted its first open-to-the-public professional surfing competition, the Surf Ranch Pro. The event was one of 12 competitions on an around-the-world circuit that determines surfing's world champion. 

A sister project to Surf Ranch, with a similar artificial wave pool, is planned in Palm Beach County, Florida, and changes approved this week will make it even bigger than originally planned.

Kelly Slater winning his surfing world title in 2011.

Slater, the 11-time world champion of surfing, and a team of engineers worked for years to create a machine that would produce a reliable and consistent wave. It has the potential to revolutionize the sport of competitive surfing, because it would level the playing field for athletes who typically perform on unpredictable waves in oceans.

Surfing will debut as an Olympic sport in 2020. Reliable waves could also build the spectator aspect of the sport, and help monetize it. 

In Lemoore, Slater's team built a 100-ton hydrofoil that moves like a train alongside the edge of a pool, creating a hollow wave in which the surfer can get "barrelled." Such waves are rare in nature. Slater's $30M Surf Ranch has been called a "Disneyland for surfers," but the project has come with criticisms from some who don't want the sport commercialized or who think that the predictability of the wave makes competition boring. (See video of the wave pool in action here.) 

Last year, Palm Beach County officials approved plans for Slater's team to build a Surf Ranch Florida in the northern part of the county on a $6.5M site at the Palm Beach Park of Commerce. Plans called for a 13-acre lagoon/wave pool and 71K SF of buildings. Modifications approved this week by the zoning board add a boardwalk over the lagoon for viewing and 39K SF of building space, according to the Palm Beach Post.

Slater's partner in the project is Dirk Ziff, a North Palm Beach resident and heir to a publishing fortune, who is majority owner of pro surfing's governing body, the World Surf League. He has spoken about the difficulty of making surfing a profitable competitive sport because broadcasting deals depend on reliable start times and at beaches, spectators can watch competitions for free. 

Both Surf Ranches will primarily serve as training facilities for pro athletes, though Slater's team has said the Florida facility would also offer some lessons and youth programs. The California facility has offered private, one-hour sessions (with other perks) for $9,788.