Inside the making of ABC’s epic new surfing competition 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, World Surf League CEO Erik Logan, Pilgrim Media Group CEO and Chair Craig Piligian and UFC President Dana White 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.

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.

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