It's hot at the Surf Ranch in Lemoore, California. But not like a summer heat, it is a dry desert bake – the type that catches in the back of your throat, makes you wheezy.
I'm waiting to talk with Jeremy Flores, the longest-serving Euro guy on tour and one of surfing's more... outspoken characters – be that storming judges' towers or hurling verbal hand grenades, Flores has spent years refusing to hold back, refusing the binding leash of imposed sanitisation.
Shade's a commodity at the Ranch but I manage to squeeze into a small, cool pocket between the VIP bar and athletes' area, where I see Kelly Slater causally draped over the back of a plush sofa. I'm told all your surf heroes are talking with Dirk Ziff – the owner of the World Surf League, possibly to discuss the Surf Ranch's machinations, dialling in feedback and forging plans for next year's rodeo.
After a few minutes, Jeremy emerges. He'd just fallen on his final wave at the contest, meaning Flores was out of the first-ever Championship Tour event in a pool, and I wonder, what flavour of Jeremy am I going to get? But there's a smile stretched from ear-to-ear on the 30-year-old's face – not quite the rage you may have expected after J-Flo bombs from a comp - and he bounds over.
“How are ya?” he beams. Well, I'm actually a mess from heat and exhaustion, but I ask how he's feeling, how he seems incredibly relaxed after that loss – and, in general, his surfing is looking a lot more comfortable. He smiles. “Yeah, I'm good. You know, I've been on tour 12-years, I've learned a lot about myself, about balance, about life, and how to really mellow out over the past two-years.”
And then we get into it.
What do you think has changed? Has having a kid kind of played a part in that shift?
Yeah, maybe, saying that, I've been surfing about half the amount I usually do. It's amazing, having a kid. It's so fun and you just don't want to miss out. You can go out in shitty conditions, or spend time with your kid [laughs]. That's kind of me right now [laughs].
What's your aim this season?
I don't really have one, you know? I just love surfing events. I'd love to win another event this year and of course, every time I go to an event, I go all in. I don't tell myself, ok, I'm going to get this place in this event. It's been a while since I've done that – I don't do that any more.
What made you stop thinking that way?
You know, I've been on tour like, 12-years now. And thinking like that, it just takes its toll. It's energy. You end up putting so much pressure on yourself and it's not healthy. So I just have fun, breathe.
I'm just trying to get on my own programme Go to the event and have a good time. So I'll go to Jbay, check out the animals, go on safari. I won't go and freesurf every morning, 6am, gotta be in the water. Everyone does that but I'm just trying to get on my own programme and enjoy it. I feel that's way more healthy and I feel so much happier doing that.
I think it takes something to start that path of self-reflection, you know?
Yeah, for sure. I guess it's like that in every professional sport though. You put so much effort and sacrifice into it to get a good result, you end up being super selfish. All you want is success and you forget about everything else. At one point, you look back and you realise you've been so selfish for so many years, that you end up unhappy. And, if I'm honest, I've been feeling like that. That's why last few years I've been trying to find balance.
Yeah, I think it's noticeable...
Oh, don't get me wrong, I still get angry just as much as before when I lose [laughs] But I think now, I'm more balanced. Life is all about balance and trying to be happy.
Do you still get into analysis? Looking at your waves and think, I could have done this better – in order to improve?
Yeah, I still do that. I want to improve my surfing, always. I don't want to be that guy who just hangs on tour. I've seen a lot of guys like that, the last few years where they just hold on and get bored. I don't want to be that guy [laughs]. Sometimes, you gotta do something a little bit exciting.
Exciting huh? So when you're up and riding, do you have an idea of what you're going to do, or, a new concept you want to try?
Ah, yeah, it depends who I'm surfing against. And that's what competing is all about. It's like, right, I'm against this guy, how can I win? I know he's good at this, his weaknesses... so I got to do this and this to beat him.
I don't want to be that guy who just hangs on tour
Exploit that weakness. So I'm not thinking about the event overall, but heat by heat. And then maybe the next event I'll do something different to beat the person I'll surf against.
So, you're 12th in the rankings right now and looking consistent. What are you taking away from each performance?
You know what, I just had my last wave and I fell off because my legs gave out. I had my first baby this year, and I haven't done any training all year [laughs]. So, physically, I'm probably at my worse [laughs].
I just try to keep my energy for a certain time or a certain heat and this wave is just long and it's intense. Bali, Keramas – intense but it's kind of short. This is next level. Jbay, again, it's intense and I think I had the same problem, my legs gave out. So I have to watch that.
What's your honest opinion of the Surf Ranch?
Overall, it's pretty positive. I think it's an amazing project. But, also, there's a lot of improvements that need to be made. Like, the size of the wave.
100 per cent. Some guys might like it that small. But it's tiny, that end section, you have to be super small to cram into it. But, saying that, it is the best small wave in the world. To be honest, it might be a little too early to have a world tour event at the ranch with the wave the size it is now. Thinking the other way though, I guess it's going to get better and better and better. They've done the hardest part, to actually engineer this thing. It's like iPhones, you know? They had iPhone one, two, three, four – constantly improving to get the best possible product. All together, it's very positive.
To watch it, it looks like the right is a bit better than the left, did you find that?
Yeah, it's very different. The left, it feels way, way more rippable than the right – but the right, it's got that barrel. The left, you can carve and push it harder than the right. The right, it's very fast so you can't really draw your turns right the way back into the white wash, you know? Speed turns, then you get the end section for something big.
If it's in a shitty place, I'd say 'we gotta get rid of this one and go back to Fiji'
On the left, seeing what Gabriel Medina did, he did everything on the wave. Owen Wright went mad too. It's exciting but there's progression. I'm being picky [laughs] because we're on the world tour. And on the world tour, you want the best waves. And that's why I'm being picky, you got to be. I'd say the same thing – if it's in a shitty place, I'd say 'we gotta get rid of this one and go back to Fiji'. Everyone wants to see the best surfers in the best waves.
Is there anything on the tour right now that you'd change?
I think the tour is good. In terms of locations, maybe more tropical, barrelling perfect waves. I don't know if people realise it but you don't surf those perfect waves that often on the CT. You get to surf plenty of fun waves but actual perfect waves? Not that much. Per year, there's probably like two events where you get crazy waves.
Oh not because the wave sucks but because we won't get the swell. Snapper we may get two foot waves or barrels. You got to be really lucky to get these places good, you know? But then there's some places, in Indo, where you can't go wrong. Keramas this year, that was perfect.
Do you think, for surf fans, it's the best they've ever had it, with the quality webcasts and the way the tour is? There's so much access to athletes right now.
The WSL, I've been so impressed the last few years. The angles, the drones, you got people shooting in the water. Legendary surfers commentating – how good is that? Barton Lynch, commentating your wave. These guys get psyched on your wave. And I'll watch the replay and hear Pottz going crazy, even if I didn't get the score, for me that's classic.
How're you feeling going into Europe now? Looking forward to it?
Oh yeah. France – it's the one event I've never done well in. I've never got to the quarter finals. Just shitty performances. Well, maybe, I think I've surfed well there but not enough to go all the way.
I want to do well there but the conditions are so changeable. You see the guys who win there like Medina, Andy Irons, they're the guys who can adapt to any conditions They can surf the left or right. Big barrel, close out, in one event. The tide there, it means the wave changes all the time.
It's the most changeable wave on tour.
Yeah for sure, it really is. And I don't have that local advantage that people would have on their home turf you know because it changes so much.
You mentioned Andy earlier, is there any surfer you look up to, or draw inspiration from?
Andy Irons 100 per cent. Everything he did, technically as a surfer, the way he attacked the waves. I just really like his attitude. I really look up to him. I was lucky enough to travel with Slater too.
We're both on Quiksilver, he played a huge part in my surfing. He was always super helpful when I was a teenager and he was just full of knowledge. That was great to have him there.
Yeah, if you're going to have anyone in your corner, it's not bad to have Kelly, eh? And cheers Jeremy – good luck with the Euro leg!
Flores smiles, shakes my hand and walks over to hold his new-born baby.