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Volume 7 No. 149
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Hangin' With ... Kelly Slater Wave Company President Nick Franklin

Nick Franklin is leading the continued innovation and evolution of the KSWC.
Photo: WORLD SURF LEAGUE

NICK FRANKLIN is president of the Kelly Slater Wave Company, which developed a system that simulates ocean waves in a man-made facility. Together with the World Surf League, which acquired the KSWC in '16, the company operates Surf Ranch in Lemoore, Calif., the first such facility in the world. Franklin was announced as KSWC's president last month and is tasked with driving the business' growth and development globally. He spoke with SBD Global about the recent Surf Ranch Pro competition, which took place at the Lemoore facility from Sept. 6-9, some of the KSWC's target markets and the impact of surfing's inclusion at the Olympics.

On what was appealing about the role ...
Nick Franklin: I was approached through a recruiting firm and started to do my research. The more I peeled it back and understood where surfing is right now and is going from the perspective of the sport competitively, both from a WSL standpoint and an Olympic standpoint -- couple that with the idea of creating these cool, location-based surf experience venues that Surf Ranch provides -- and that was a very compelling opportunity.

Brazilian Gabriel Medina won the Surf Ranch Pro, the first WSL Championship Tour event at the facility.
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

On where the KSWC wants to expand ...
Franklin: We want to take the wave technology and place it in venues with associated amenities, seating, access, all those kinds of things, that will help support more events. We are integrated as part of the WSL so a big part of our focus is where the key markets are for events. There are some obvious key markets. North America is a very key market. We continue to look at other places in North America. Australia and Brazil are key surf markets -- particularly if you look at what's happening at the top of the competitive standings, Brazil is exploding. … In Brazil, their top surfers are household name celebrities heading up toward the tier with some of their soccer stars. ... With surfing going into the Olympics, we want to be supporting the markets where the Olympics will be headed -- so, obviously Europe and L.A., Tokyo as well. ... We are looking very broadly and excited about bringing this technology to new places -- both existing surf destinations and places that don't currently have access to waves.

On surfing becoming an Olympic event ...
Franklin: We are very supportive of surfing being in the Olympics. A lot of the Olympic surfers will be WSL athletes so we're excited to support the discussions in Japan. We are also continuing to pursue a site in Japan because we believe in the long-term success of Tokyo as a surf market. We want to be part of that for the long-term legacy. As we go forward, we are very interested in continuing to support surfing. We'd love to have a wave stadium venue in the future and we will continue to have conversations in hopes that's something we can move toward.

On the Surf Ranch ...
Franklin: I think there are two different components to the surf ranch experience. There's the event experience in conjunction with the WSL -- events like the Surf Ranch Pro that we just did -- which really are about multi-faceted festival environments. People are watching the surfing and they're also just enjoying the overarching environment. ... The second piece that I think is even more interesting is the unique hospitality that we're doing in non-event usage of Surf Ranch. As we continue to build that business from a location-based experience standpoint, it’s about a group of friends, a group of families and everybody coming to surf and coming to experience everything that gets wrapped around that -- food and beverage, music, other in-water, non-surfing activities and out-of-water activities.

Surf Ranch features a 700-yard, bi-directional wave featuring barrel, maneuver and air sections.
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

On takeaways from the Surf Ranch Pro ...
Franklin: We are an athlete-first organization and the athletes really liked it. They felt that it was a legit, world-class wave and a world-class surf competition. Even some of the athletes that had some skepticism, as appropriately they would, having not had a chance to be there and this being the first event, almost unanimously walked away saying, 'That was great and we should do more of those.' The second-biggest thing I would take away is that the folks who were there had a blast. It was quite hot but everybody enjoyed the surfing, enjoyed the atmosphere. It really had a good festival feel to it.

On the broadcast component of the competition, which was aired on CBS ...
Franklin: People who hadn't necessarily had a chance to see surfing got to see it on TV because we were able to have a schedule that made it feasible to broadcasters to show it live and show it in prime sports viewing windows. I got texts from dozens of people across the country in places where surfing isn't at the forefront, including from some folks who were at a bar in Montana. It was on TV behind the bar in Montana on Saturday and Sunday. From the standpoint of broadening the exposure of these amazing athletes, that was pretty great.

On when to expect new facilities ...
Franklin: We are working hard at it. This isn't Starbucks looking for 1,500 square feet in a retail mall. These are large developments. There are lots of components around them, lots of community relationship, government relationship and other factors that go into these developments. You work on a comprehensive basis and you work on a number of projects simultaneously. We're excited and will be excited to bring more venues online as quickly as we can.

Hangin' With runs every Friday in SBD Global.