We recently caught wind that our comrade Jared Mell got flown up to The Surf Ranch in Lemoore, CA along with a handful of other longboarders to see what they could make of the fake wave of the west. Obviously Jared was frothing on it, so no need to ask him what he thought, we know the answer to that question... Instead, we met up with the photographer who documented it all for Surf Relik, LA's own Steven Lippman. Bursting with energy and creative juices, Lippman captured the scene beautifully and lent us his insight into what it's like to shoot surfing 3 hours away from the nearest ocean...
BANKS JOURNAL: Can you tell us a bit about your trip to the ol’ Surf Ranch?
STEVEN LIPPMAN: Surf Relik invited Taylor Jensen, Jared Mell and Soleil Errico up to surf for the day. They brought me and another photographer who was shooting motion. We documented each session with three people in the water. It was incredible. You see pictures and videos of it online then when you get there, and you see that first wave of the day come though... you're pretty much trippin', your jaw just drops. It looks so fun, so rippable. Then you get out there and you see the actual wave up close, and you realize how solid of quality it really is. It's not a soft lip, it's pretty thick, very hollow, and very shallow with the bottom being concrete.
BANKS: It's a whole new dynamic added to surfing. A lot of people surf and don't skate for that very reason, they don't have to deal with concrete. Now with these wave pools it's starting to become a whole new reality….
LIPPMAN: It's really humbling to see the whole mechanism work with this big locomotive train. You're in this playing field that feels like two football fields long and there's a few options of different styles of waves. When you're out there you feel like you're in this arena, and it's all eyes and ears are on you because you're getting filmed and photographed and watched from every corner of this place. A wave comes every 4 minutes, so you're basically on trial every wave. You don't want to fall or mess up because if you do, you're back of the line again and have to wait your turn. It's definitely trial and error, and if you think you can master this wave it's going to take some time and dedication for sure. You can see the world’s best blow it and that's so easy to do. It has components to it that aren't like a real wave, how it bypasses you and what you're used to as a surfer in the ocean. That manmade component is just a whole new world. And yeah, it's got that skateboard attribute to it as well because it's shallow with a concrete bottom.
LIPPMAN: I saw Taylor fall on one and he came up holding his shoulder that had road rash on it from scraping the bottom. Then watching Jared take his 9'6" singlefin out there, you could see at first he had to get used to the wave, trying to learn and become one with it. And it takes a lot of time and attention. You have to figure out where it's going to barrel, how fast to get through each section, but if you go too fast, you'll pass it up. That wave is really designed with two sections for the barrel and that's where everyone is trying to be.
LIPPMAN: Throughout the day it was really neat to watch Jared as he got the hang of it and started playing around with it. Going switch stance and then pulling in a barrel switch stance and coming out the opposite way or heading into the barrel backwards. He was drawing these really creative lines and I haven't seen a lot of that at the Surf Ranch. The stuff that I have seen is almost always high performance, more short board style stuff. So, to watch the crew out there that day, it really introduced a whole new approach to it. And it was slightly refreshing, you know? Watching this new style take place out there, a mix of classic and modern longboarding, both from the male and female perspective, it was really cool to see that. You could see it was challenging them as well, forcing them to adapt and really be chameleons out there.
BANKS: How was your overall experience up there?
LIPPMAN: Being there and being able to be a part of it thanks to Surf Relik was really humbling. It was nice to be able to sneak a couple waves for myself when all was said and done. The whole overall vibe, man, Surf Relik really does it right. They do nothing but topnotch events, and it was fantastic being at the Surf Ranch. Kelly really did an amazing job in designing that wave. It's his brainchild and all the years of experience really show.
LIPPMAN: Another component too was if it's not 110 degrees there in the middle of summer, they have this little section that Carver has built, looks like a little skate bowl. It was rad to see the crew up there taking a couple runs on it. Even the little media rooms and cabanas they have set up for viewing areas, the whole place is extremely well thought out. It's impressive. Todd Glaser did an epic job of documenting the place from Day One.
BANKS: Where do you see it going from here?
LIPPMAN: It's going to give an opportunity to people that live inland to develop and showcase skills they never were able to before. From skaters to wakeboarders, once these things start popping up around the world, it's really going to create its own subculture with this manmade component.
BANKS: As far as shooting the Ranch when you're in the water, did you find that your approach was much different than when you're out in the ocean? The ocean seems to be so much more unpredictable and now you've got this wave that's on a formula and coming at you. How do you approach it?
LIPPMAN: Well, it helps having friends like Todd Glaser to say, 'Hey, when you're shooting, you need to setup here and this is where the barrel will be, and this is where you need to be if you're shooting a turn.'
BANKS: They've basically got it mapped out, huh?
LIPPMAN: Yeah in a sense. All of the pillars are all numbered out there and through all their trial and error they've learned where to sit. But still, you need to learn it on your own. It is completely different, because in the ocean you're treading water. You're light metering most of the time and you're trying to get situated throughout all the currents. You also have the unpredictability of ocean swell and wind, all those attributes that Mother Nature throws at you. At the Surf Ranch, as the minutes and hours evolve through the day, you learn your place for the right and for the left. I know that if I'm sitting here and I know which lens I'm going shoot with, I know typically what kind of outcome I'll get.’ I'd say late afternoon was my favorite time to shoot the right, because of the light and how it comes through the surrounding trees it gives it a bit of an angelic feel. Todd's definitely got that placed nailed. I quickly learned that my approach needed to be very fine tuned. Part of being a photographer and an artist and working with athletes or talent, whether it's entertainment, or commercial or celebrity or surfers, it's all about communication. So, when you're shooting a free surf, you can communicate with your athlete. There has to be that trust, you need to direct and communicate because they're setting up and doing airs, but in order for you both to work together there's got to be a respect and an understanding of how you are working together. I think that's when you get the best shots, when you earn each other's trust, and you start to learn each other’s quirky attributes.
BANKS: With shooting water photography, there's a lot of chance involved, obviously you being in the right spot and currents, waves breaking in different spots, when you're shooting in a wave pool, do you feel less reward getting the shot because it's a more predictable environment?
LIPPMAN: I think, because I'm a surfer as well, there's always a stoke. I was excited every time I linked up and saw we nailed that shot. So, there's always that stoke as an artist. But also, I'm not there just to shoot for myself. I was contracted by a company to deliver, so I'm always excited when I know that I linked up and that we captured something together as a team, the athlete and myself, that is going to be rewarding. Knowing that I can deliver that and the energy that the client is going to have once they see it, I'm rewarded with their response. If I'm just out shooting for myself, I tend to be a little more loose because there's less at stake.
"You always try to use your technique and push it to a different level so that you're getting exceptional images out of an average day. You're always reinventing yourself."
Many thanks to Steven for spending the day with us and talking story (that's him above showing us some of his home breaks) and for providing some amazing images from The Surf Ranch.