As you walk down the old cut stone stairs to the most beautiful beach on earth, you feel a sense of pride, of glee, that the Rip Curl Cup did not run this year. Its motto is sincere and unlike so many other contests, honest. “It’s on when it’s on” is not just something on a collectible t-shirt. It’s a belief. And perhaps more this year than any other, it was imperative for Rip Curl to hold their ground. To wait for real deal waves in what is clearly the most spectacular surf contest venue in the world.

The stairs, the ancient temple standing rampart over the scene, the troupes of wild monkeys, the off camber cave entry, cool and claustrophobic, that forces one to lose their balance and touch her black limestone walls worn smooth from decades of pilgrims hands. The opening to the blond sand beach and the impossible sight of a fantasy ocean groomed by the tradewinds. The great valley behind full of tangled vines and ghostly whispers of the spirits, the source of the very fresh water that tumbles into the sea and cuts the groove into the reef and opens up the small baylet that forms the phenomenal wave itself. You stand on the sand and shade your eyes and look out into the glare and just beyond the fishermen atop the stone spires with their bamboo poles, not 50 meters away from them, the ferocious wave that is Padang Padang steamrolls through. Is it such a wild call to know this is the most astonishing sight for a surf contest on earth? Where better? Pipeline?

Where you cower on a thin strip of beach with your back up against a row of million dollar homes filled with people who wish you would leave? Waimea? A wave that, as huge as it is, you can only see by risking your life standing in the unfinished gutter on the edge of a congested highway? J-Bay? No. Of course not. Maybe, just maybe Bells Beach, but the wave can’t hold a candle to Padang Padang when it comes to drama. So there it is. Padang Padang. Spiritual, exquisite, even delicate, until that first set roars through and the ocean and you yourself come alive. Here is where you find the belonging to Padang Padang.

One like no other. And it is one that has been on competitve offer from Rip Curl for 20 years. And now, proudly entering the modern age, even making room for female competitors in their own separate division. A chance for women to belong too. A natural element in a surf tournament that has always been natural in its evolution. And so that pride thing come back to you as you stand on that beach. Pride in the fact that this is no silly contest to be held in blown out Sunday finals just to get it over with. This is a contest that demands waves that define a champion. Now both male and female. This is a contest with its chin up. Always. Whether the waves come or not. This is a contest proud to be different. Proud to be patient. Proud to be spiritual. Proud to be breathtakingly beautiful. Proud to be Indonesian. And, waves or no waves, that is where its power will always lie.

Photography by Nate Lawrence


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