[SWELL ALERT: Think of this as a tutorial before next week's Indonesian run of swell. Check HERE for the full report.]
Without question, Padang Padang remains the most beautiful surf spot in the world. The cliffs, the temple, the cave, the set-up, the barrel, the colours, more than anywhere else, surfing’s most spectacular dreamscape.
It is also one of the most spiritual spots a surfer can experience. That is one reason that the locals dominate without conflict. Combining otherworldly local knowledge with a spiritual belonging.
On any day, you might see the finest tube riding in the world by the local surfers. “The trick is in not using the wave,” says Bali star Betet Merta, “but becoming part of it”. From the boards they ride to the technique it takes, here’s how they do it.
Agus Gunanta Corok
First of all, the locals of Bali are as lean as greyhounds and just as fast. With zero body fat comes an almost spider like nimbleness that allows them to operate at full sprint on an instant’s notice. This is one skill that is essential at Padang Padang, because no matter how perfect it looks, every take-off is a gamble. And the barrel is not a choice, it is an imperative. Here, Agus Gunanta Corok, middleweight, recovers from a sketchy take-off, but manages to keep his eye on the guillotine lip. “The wave breathes out there”, says Corok. “And you gotta breathe with it.”
Backside is a whole other animal. Because of the predictability of the upcoming barrel, smaller boards are generally ridden at Padang Padang. But they are designed a little thicker for paddling power.
This is essential. Not only for the hairy drops, but for managing the cluster bomb crowd. Betet Merta, the island's super featherweight charger, rides a typical design. Short, (5’8”) but still streamlined and tube hungry, this is where proper volume is the difference between getting to the channel or not. There is no looking back once you take off on these steamrollers.
Mustofa Jeksen, middleweight, Padang Padang master, is known for his theatrical antics from time to time. “With all the pressure out there, one thing you gotta remember out at Padang Padang is your sense of humour,” says Mustofa. “Plus no one is gonna drop in on a guy that looks like this, ha.'' No kidding.
Remember that one year, Mustofa paddled out as Spider-Man. But all humour aside, Mustofa is on the A-list for one reason. “Out there you gotta want it,” he says. “You gotta really want it, or that wave will ignore you.''
As a perfect photo studio, the raft of international water photographers in the final bowl can become a navigational hazard. Still, surfing here takes keen observation of the tides. On a great day with two full tides, it will be optimum for only two-and-a-half hours in the morning and the same in the afternoon.
“The Photographers like that afternoon light,” says Mega Artana. “That’s when the heavy sessions come down. After a few barrels you can’t help but want to entertain a little bit.'' Mega Artana, Middleweight, badly under-gunned, yet rushing the red carpet section for the paparazzi of the final bowl.
Uluwatu trained, Alik Rudiarta rides very narrow, very thin “tube tongues”. As a super welterweight with longer than normal arms he can afford to sacrifice some paddling thickness and nose width with his boards. “The lines he pulls are the same as the frontsiders and he keeps his ass out of the water,” says photographer Everton Luis.
“This gives him the line to ride really deep and steady with no big water splash. Easy to get sharp focus. He is a photographer's dream.'' Make no mistake, with every wave being documented by the best photographers on the planet, knowing how navigate through the photo pack is as important as knowing which board to ride.
Padang Padang, as idyllic as it looks, is a real chore to surf when it gets real. Hell rips and those rocks you see the fisherman perched on in all those cool photos? They eat about six boards a day. And swimming in safely is as complicated as a Rubik's cube.
All the real guys have entry and exit plans. Having broken his second board earlier, here Bleronk Dharmaputra, featherweight, experiments on a borrowed board with a no-hands backside attempt where most would be running for their lives. “After surviving the drop, the stall becomes the most important moment,'' says Bleronk. “Blow that stall and you will know the waves anger.''
The class act. A Rip Curl Cup Champion and talented artist, Lee Wilson, super middleweight, holds court at Padang Padang on self-designed boards festooned with his own artwork.
Lee is a Hybrid of all his influences Having mastered the break long ago, alongside such fellow champions as Made Winada Adi Putra, Garut Widiarta and Mega Semahdi, Lee is a Hybrid of all his influences. On his clean white boards his drops are unique. Usually straight down.
Then comes the fin bending bottom turn, then the Kelly Slater Pipeline stall, then he warps himself into a perfect form that blasts out onto the shoulder time and time again. Like all great tuberiders with movie star looks, Lee Wilson makes it look like a cakewalk.
The local level of surfing performance during any swell in Indonesia skyrockets. Visitors, who may be seeing such hallucinatory waves for the first time in their life, must bring the skills, the attitude and the right equipment to even be considered in the Padang Padang line-up.
Though best to consider Indonesian dedicated boards from such great designers as DHD and Mayhem, the greatest lessons are learned when paddling out and seeing local surfers ace their way through the dreamscape with ease and aplomb. For some visitors it has a calming effect.
For others it fills them with a dangerous envy. Dangerous because if Indonesia teaches you one thing, it is to approach the waves and her people with no malice. Beware. Karma reigns supreme in these waters. And that’s no lie.