Rio Waida has come a long way. And he is going even further. But it has never been easy. Indonesia’s first real hope for the Championship Tour was once a bullied little half Indonesian/half Japanese kid whose parents fell in love at a party on Poppies Lane. Rio was so little, in fact, and so bullied that after his parents saw a documentary on the growth hormones that footballer Lionel Messi needed to take as a boy, they sacrificed everything to put Rio on the same program. And that made all the difference. Now, at 22 years old, a square shouldered, muscular 174cm, Rio Waida has risen from a humble Jimbaran family background to being poised on the precipice of becoming Indonesia’s most prominent professional athlete. Surftime recently caught up with Rio at the Priority Surf club on his home beach in Jimbaran to hear the current thoughts of what he is all about.

On the Olympic experience:

I never imagined such a thing could happen to me. I never visualized that I would be the flag bearer for my country on the biggest athletic stage in the world. To be surrounded by all those incredible people, all those athletes, the best, from all over the world. Walking around the track of the stadium felt like walking around the planet. I was half proud and half not believing it. I still don’t, ha! I was lucky that they wanted the flag bearers to be representatives of the new sports, like skateboarding. But I definitely felt the weight of Indonesia on my shoulders. It was like being a military hero or something. Carrying your country’s flag into a stadium in front of the world? That was huge.

On Government support:

They are finally looking at surfing and what it brings to Indonesia. Finally. I mean we do have the best waves in the world and more of them than anywhere else. And I am getting some financial help from the government. I get a small salary and money for boards and equipment and travel and, best of all, money for training. I hope it grows for the future for me and whoever is next up the line.

On Professional management:

With my International Quiksilver sponsorship, I am getting offers from a lot of managers. But I am not quite ready. I do not want to jump the gun. The more I climb up the better the timing will be. Pro surfing is a complicated business and I need more experience and better results to become a businessman about it.

On Training:

My trainer believes in a lot of Pilates. Core, core, core. She is very strict, my trainer. She pushes me to the point of crying sometimes. But that makes me stronger in my head which is the most important muscle, you know? Your body listens to your mind, so big muscles are the easy part, the hard part is inside your mind. And that is the difference today between a good surfer and a great surfer. Hard mind work. But I work on my weaknesses a lot. I need a lot of shoulder and leg work. And of course you need the core strength to hold it all together. But you do not want to get muscles to big or too tight or your surfing is not fluid anymore. It gets too heavy. And I really love to flow and look graceful and powerful. To really look like you know what you are doing better than the other guy in the heat. I am much stronger than I was before and it makes me feel free, like it sets you free and gives you confidence. You want to achieve a surfing body. Not a gym body. Every sport needs the specific body. I guess the best body for a surfer these days is an Olympic swimmers body. Except they do not have to do airs. Ha! But I don’t know, some of them might be strong enough.

On his Body:

My height and my weight and my body is now similar to Kelly’s, so I think that is a good thing. The closer I can get to that look, that connected body from head to toe, surfing with my whole body like he does, combined with that incredible flexibility of his, that’s the goal. To balance making good surfing look easy but having the spray going into the sky on every move. That is how my body and me will qualify for the CT.

On Tipi Jabrik and Tim Hain, Directors of Asian pro surfing:

I give huge credit to Tipi and Tim. The ASC has always been there for me from the beginning. They always believed Indonesians had it in them. Indonesia needed to learn how to compete, and they have always pushed this. We have always been good surfers, but terrible competitors outside our world. The world out there is pure adrenaline competition. No excuses. Everybody is hungry out there and they will eat you. You must want it and train hard and be smart. This is the first era where we have a chance to take our surfing seriously on an international level, to make a living doing it, to bring pride to our country. I will make the CT and I will do this. But I still thank Tipi and Tim for supporting me since I could first paddle a surfboard. I have big respect for Tipi and Tim and I hope they know this, and I hope other surfers coming up feel this way. Think of all the hours Tipi and Tim have spent in those judging towers believing in Indonesia. Just trying to get us to believe in ourselves. I have big respect for that.

On the pressure of fame:

Bali is a small island, so everywhere I go I meet people that know about me. And they expect things. But you have to stay focused. This is part of my mind training. When I am out on the QS I watch how other people handle fame. When I can, I watch Kelly, he is really good at it. He knows when to share and when to focus. I am going for that balance. Also there is the pressure of being out there and everybody knows you come from the best waves in the world and you better be good. We need to break that barrier of not having Indonesians on tour permanently. We need to become permanent. Like the Aussies or the Brazilians. I think it is our time to join up. Indonesians have a reputation of being lazy or not wanting to leave our perfect waves. The next generation and I are going to stop that reputation.

On happiness:

Where is the happiness? Going from being a little kid watching Kelly and Gabriel and all these guys out on CT and dreaming of being like them. And now, I have got the chance. And it is not a dream anymore. It’s work. And I am happy in my work. I remember I was 18 when I fully committed myself to this life as a pro. The thing about surfing internationally is that it is not just about heats. It’s about different oceans that feel and surf differently than each other. You need to communicate with these different waters and wear wetsuits sometimes and you need to be a professor about surfboard designs and fins and equipment. Like you need to educate yourself and become a professor of surfing and of how to surf in different worlds. And most of all you need to learn how to enjoy it and have some of it be about having fun. You can actually take surfing too seriously, I think. If you are unhappy in it, if it is just work work, work, you will not last. Smiles and friendships are a big part of it. The mind training is about being curious about new cultures and experiences and being what they call well rounded and to love all the travel. And also it is about having respect for the world out there. Not just yours in here. Do it right and it’s the best job in the world. Do it wrong and you will run home and fail your family and your country and, most of all, your dreams.

On the Growth hormones as a kid:

I was the smallest kid in school and I got picked on alot. Once some kids even took my money. I wasn’t growing well and I was getting bullied being the shortest guy in school, my uniforms didn’t fit and girls laughed and in restos I was asked if I wanted the child’s menu. It hurt my Mom a lot, I think. I would try to fight, but everyone was bigger than me. Then my Mom saw a documentary on Lionel Messi and he was a tiny kid and his mom put him on growth hormones and look how that worked. So my Dad went to Japan to work construction for more money. Big skyscrapers and things like that. Hard work. And my Mom took care of me and my little brother here in Bali. It was tough. Still is, and my Dad is getting older and his job is very hard. Japan is very strict with workers. Now it is my turn to help. My parents wanted an easier life for me and now I want an easier life for them. That is a big motivation for me. I have my family behind me. And I want to make sure we always have enough to enjoy life, not just to survive.

On the North Shore:

Hawaii has beyond Heavy waves. They are like giants. But you need to handle it or forget a pro career. But once you can handle it everything else on the CT is easier. But you need a Hawaiian reputation or forget it. At first it seems impossible. And I consider myself weak on big waves right now and I am facing that challenge and I will change it. Indonesians are not afraid of any reef, but we can be afraid of big power water. And the North Shore has got all of it. But you have to paddle out and be a part of it. Feel the energy, even if you do not get a wave for hours. The crowds of super good surfers and the energy is crazy. Even my 6’8” seemed too small. I have to change that. Not the board, but me.

On the Future:

The whole idea is to be become part of the international conversation. In many ways it’s a big gamble, but for my family and my country and for me, I’m all in.


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