I , along with the thousands of surf-hungry tourists, found myself among the heat, cows, and the sea of scooters dangerously, yet orderly weaving in and out of traffic. The reason for my visit this time? The Deus Temple headquarters held their 5th Annual 9-f00t and Single event in Canggu; a successful event in the standards of the alternative surf culture—the ones who push against thruster pop out boards, and treat waves like they’re something to tear apart.
Respectfully, I love to watch a power hack, and I admire those who punt airs, too. However, this often-saturated surf culture at times seems to be losing its roots for the sake of corporate success. It’s a story told by the bros, and it’s one that has trampled on women’s surf before, leaving women’s surf culture with an identity crisis. I love to see a surfer elegantly riding with the wave, fluidly adjusting their movements with the sea, rather than solely focusing on maneuvers. To each their own, right? Still, nothing beats a dancing surfer.
Simplicity, style, and grace are rewarded at the 9-foot and Single, and that’s perhaps why it attracts the crowd it does. Surfers are required to ride traditional single fin heavy logs with no leashes, which proved to be challenging in the powerful and often bumpy conditions on the weekend of the event. Yet what better way to test skill than to have good size challenging surf while making it look graceful. It eliminates competition from each other, as it became more of a surfer vs. the sea event.
Kassia Meador, my idol, my mentor, and one of my very best friends, was in charge of inviting the field of female surfers again to do an expression session at the event. Carving out an hour for us on the final day, the event organizers recognized from last year’s first women’s event that the ladies are big crowd pleasers. And for good reason too. We’re talented, we’re beautiful, and we all adore each other.
For an hour before our heat began, the seven women gathered on the beach together, waxing, dancing, and stretching. It was as much of a show as any, as we hugged and embraced each other. Our laughter turned heads and smiles were worn by everyone on the beach.
When they ladies took the water, all eyes were fixed on the growing right-hand waves, pumping through the Canggu River mouth. I knew from last year that the bigger waves score bigger points, so I waited outside for my first take. I was riding a new board by Dead Kooks, trusting and hoping I’d adjust quickly to the shape. I had to utilize self-encouragement to stay on top of the board in the conditions that seemed too much for my beefy 9’5 log. However, I wasn’t going to let my big board stop me from being where I wanted to be on the wave.
Kassia and I tried to share a wave and my big board got the best of me, nearly pearling. My board washed all the way up into the river mouth as the tide was pushing in. Afterwards, my board had a layer of slime on the wax that made it nearly impossible to stay on top of—it was more like a slip ‘n’ slide than a surfboard. Kassia impressed me the most with her elegant style and picturesque noserides. If I were judging, she would have won. Yet, I guess the big-wave-hold-on-for-dear-life-with-as much-style-a-you-can-muster-technique crowned me champion for the second year in a row.
Part of the event weekend includes a shapers forum where a group of highly respected shapers are gathered to speak together one night and shape as many boards at the Deus Temple as they can during the weekend. Among the shapers this year was the legend Bob McTavish, who has been an integral character in board innovation since the ’70s. Meeting Bob was a dream come true, and I was interested to see what he thought of the first board I shaped. He was on the beach for the event, so I nervously walked over to him with my first self shape. He grabbed it from me, inspected it, felt its rails, and said, “I would have put about a quarter inch more rocker in the tail. That would make it more forgiving. But other than that, this board looks great. Nice job on your rails, Leah.” Bob’s words rang smiles into every cell in my body. “Wow, I didn’t make a total dud,” I thought to myself.
After my talk with Bob came the part of the event I was most excited for: The Under 9-feet and Single event, in which I was again the only girl competing—against some of my favorite surfers in the world, no less. Last year I made a pact with myself to return and make the final with the boys, and to do so riding a board that I had shaped. In April, I finished my first and only board I’ve ever made, and I glassed it in a special Indonesian batik or sarong that I’ve traveled the world with for a couple years. The time came on the final day of the Deus event for me to realize my dream. I found myself in the final in absolutely epic waves at the right hander surfing with men whose skill blows me away. Having Harrison Roach cheer me into set waves made me grin so big. Then to see Tyler Warren gracefully turning with all his power made me feel as though I found my place in the world. Riding single fins is the shit. And riding them alongside the best guys in the world is the most honorable thing I’ve ever done.
On my biggest wave of the heat, and definitely of my new board’s life, I pulled into what I first thought was a closeout barrel. I then saw an opening, tried to sneak out, did so, but was too far up on my board when the lip landed, blasting me into the air. I knew that blast would cost me the first place, but it didn’t matter. Everyone on the beach knew there’s no lack of commitment and joy when it comes to my surfing. I ended up getting third, behind Harrison and Tyler, which was a dream in itself.
I achieved what I came to do. To showcase that a women can surf as technically sound as men. The grace that is accentuated from the hips is just as beautiful to watch from a woman as it is a man. That’s why I love to ride single fins. Gender disappears from ability. A woman can match a man because it’s about becoming one with the wave. Not about how much water you’re throwing. Yes, power turns on a single fin are insane, too, yet it’s first because of the fluidity of the surfer. Drawing lines, matching the flow of the the wave, and projecting the heart in the bottom turns are why single fins are the shit.
Bali is a place where dreams manifest, visions have power, and signs are put forth as guides. I’m honored to have this growing relationship with the island, and I am grateful to be a traveler here who feels welcomed by the land, sea, and the people. Now I head to Uluwatu to realize a whole new set of dreams.