SAN DIEGO (AP) — Kelly Slater claims he has no "home wave" advantage at the Surf Ranch he co-founded in California's Central Valley, where many of the world's top surfers will compete Thursday through Saturday in the Freshwater Pro presented by Outerknown, the penultimate U.S. contest before the sport makes its Olympic debut next summer.
All the surfers will be catching the same wave at the manmade lake in Lemoore, some 100 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The Freshwater Pro is a stop on the World Surf League's Championship Tour, whose men's and women's rankings are used for Olympic qualification.
Slater said it's not necessarily an advantage that he helped develop the technology used at the Surf Ranch, which was purchased by the WSL in 2016.
"You would think so, but it's really not," Slater said by phone Wednesday. "It's not a hard wave for anyone to figure out, if they surf to their potential. It's a wave that's very repetitive. There's no anomalous stuff. It comes down to skill level and how you perform. That's the idea behind the technology of the repeatable wave, is everyone has the capability to perform, whereas in the ocean, whoever gets the best wave wins."
The U.S. Olympic team will include the top two men and top two women in the WSL rankings at the conclusion of the 2019 tour.
Slater of Cocoa Beach, Florida, is ranked 10th overall and fourth among American men. John John Florence of Oahu's North Shore, ranked No. 5 overall and second among the Americans, is injured and his return is uncertain. If Florence doesn't return, Slater would need to pass Seth Moniz of Honolulu, who is No. 9 overall, for an Olympic berth. The top American, Kolohe Andino of San Clemente, is No. 3 overall.
"I'm right there kind of on the bubble," Slater said. "I've only had a couple of events that were good this year, where everything clicked for me. I've been underperforming. I just got my worst result at one of my best waves."
He finished 17th in Tahiti, an event he's won five times. He missed most of the 2018 tour while recovering from a broken foot.
Slater, an 11-time WSL champion, said it's "pretty wild to think about" having a shot at surfing in the Olympics. "I'm 47, would be 48 when the Olympics come around. A lot of people think your prime is in your 20s. I know I'm a better surfer than when I was in my 20s. For me, it's like the martial arts. You don't get worse. You might get hurt, but your knowledge is greater the longer you've done something."
Slater said it's yet to be seen how being in the Olympics might change surfing.
"There's been a lot of talk about that. Do we belong? Is that our thing? Whatever, surfers didn't grow up with the dream of being in the Olympics because it wasn't a reality. Now that will change."
Competition for the two U.S. women's Olympic spots will be tight. American women hold four of the top six spots in the WSL rankings.
Carissa Moore of Honolulu, the defending Freshwater Pro champion, is ranked No. 1 overall.
"If I can maintain it, that would be awesome," she said. "Everything is very close. The American women's team is probably the most competitive. There are a lot of girls competing for those two spots. I definitely don't want to get ahead of myself because anything can happen."
After this weekend, the final WSL contests of 2019 will be in France, Portugal and Hawaii.
Lakey Peterson of Santa Barbara is ranked No. 4 overall and No. 2 among American women.
"I feel like I'm in a really nice spot," she said. "Last year I was No. 1 in the world, and it's kind of nice not to be there because there's a lot of pressure that comes with that. But I'm in a place where I can get into that position with a couple of good results."
Peterson said the Surf Ranch provides "a predictable wave. With surfing, you've got to be super adaptable in the ocean because every wave breaks differently. In a wave pool, you know exactly what do. You can plan your run out like a snowboarder in a halfpipe. It's different in that regard. It brings out the best in the performers for sure."
Moore said the Surf Ranch is "definitely really cool. It's in middle of the desert and we're surfing legitimate waves. Not everyone gets to surf this place, so getting to surf here is special."
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