It’s 7 AM on Friday morning at Keramas. The waves are head high, the wind is light, and there are four people in the water. One of those people is John John Florence. He’s wearing his ankle brace, and he seems happy. I’m projecting, but I think he’s feeling pretty self-satisfied that the rest of the Tour is either too hungover or lazy to bother with a morning surf at the contest site. But that’s me projecting.
The beach is a ghost town. Probably because Oakley threw a party the night before. A really good one. Just a few hours earlier, a naked six-foot dude was jumping rope (made of 10 beach towels) to A$AP Rocky on a dance floor about 20 yards from the lineup. I assume he’s Australian. Australians seem to be more at ease with public nudity. (It is later confirmed that he is Australian.) Bruce Irons, Adam Melling, and the rest of the Oakley team were stomping airs and whatnot in the water under stadium lighting. Pretty girls were dancing in the pool. Celebrities like Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Greene were there. Sage Erickson taught them how to surf the day before. It was reported by Perez Hilton. Other Tour surfers were milling about, and for the most part, they’re pretty tame – enjoying Bintangs with friends. Sebastian Zietz was doing the robot. It was a good party. Exactly as you’d imagine a beach party in Bali at a World Tour event.
And this is the tropical island dream scene the world associates with professional surfing. It’s not a fabrication. It’s accurate. And for better or worse, it represents an integral component to the idea of professional surfing. It’s also one of the reasons I continue to struggle with the idea of surfing as a competitive sport. It’s too fun. For better or worse, I think true sport requires consistent, sustained suffering, which is a byproduct of my own experience wrestling in college. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the scene on the beach at Keramas. Far from it. So long as people can be safe, healthy, and happy, it’s pretty awesome. (I emphasize safe and healthy.) In a recent Esquire interview I read on the flight to Denpasar, Jack Nicholson said, “Most people don’t have a good understanding of leisure and the importance it plays in their lives.” The Joker has a point, and the scene in and around the Oakley Pro Bali, as a vital ingredient to the culture of professional surfing, nicely illustrates that idea.
Earlier in the day, Kolohe lost a close heat to Matt Wilkinson, and you could tell he was pissed. He immediately tossed his jersey after the horn, remaining in the water to freesurf it off. Officials had just called the contest off after his heat, a baffling decision considering conditions were near-perfect. Rumors of four consecutive lay days began to circulate so the contest-bound community started making plans – a perfect opportunity to absorb a taste of Balinese culture.
Any visitor to Bali knows it’s difficult to walk ten yards without tripping on banten, the Indonesian offerings to the Gods. These small boxes, filled with areca nut, betel leaf and lime (among other things), represent a modest gesture to the higher ubiquitous powers. It’s a reciprocal karma play between humans and spirits. Balinese submit these offerings multiple times a day, which reflects a profound difference in mentality between most Americans and Balinese. For one, it involves a high degree of humility and awareness that larger forces are constantly at work.
Which, in my mind fits well with how traffic works in Bali. At first glance, it seems dangerous. Very dangerous. Families of four travel via scooter together. Lanes are suggestions, not rules. This results in a highly interactive driving experience. Cars and scooters seem to be perpetually on the brink of collision, yet, never once have I seen one. It’s a dance. A scooter takes space and the van four inches away responds. The truck ahead senses the change and repositions outside of its lane to accommodate the new pattern. Everyone is connected.
And this connectedness circles back to the current state of professional surfing. As the ASP buttons up to expand the reach and elevate the image of the sport, the counterpuntal beach party beats on. Kolohe punches his surfboard. Pretty girls dance poolside. John John dawn patrols with his ankle brace and performs boundary-shattering maneuvers. Naked men jump rope. The strange and singular amalgam that is professional surfing, a contradictory, yet complementary swirl of competition, leisure, athleticism and hedonism spiced with a variety of global cultures continues, most likely as it always has. Be it Bali or Trestles, the heats go on.