Photos: Kelly's last blast
It’s a scramble.
Getting in those last sessions here on Bali before the seasonal monsoon sets in. When the air goes still and the flags go sullen and the wet heat rises to the clouds until the day that the heavens open, signaling the arrival of the rains strong enough and loud enough to make friends need shout to each other to be heard over an early evening beer.
One must live in the monsoon belt to realise it is far more than just a rainy season. It becomes a world of water and ponchos, roof rattling and leaks, flooded rivers and puddled limestone lanes. The kind of rain that has a human weight, heavy enough on your shoulders to make you hunch over and ignore trying to stay dry. Eventually, it only takes a week or so, the flags switch 180° and the thousands of rainbow-coloured kites are batted from the clear blue offshore skies to be replaced by a moody, bruised heavens, always pregnant with rain. And more rain. It is a time of purification here on Bali. Usually the rains are familiar and welcomed. The heavens open up and seem to wash the island clean from tourism and litter and sin.
Except this year, with no tourists, there hasn't been that much sin to cleanse. But gone are those long, perfectly offshore days on the Bukit peninsula - the calling card of Balinese surfing. The dreamy lefts and the dreamy conditions. Instead, sullen heat and wet onshore winds settle in for the duration. And the azure waters turn sandy with the run-off. It is an unrecognisable Bali to most.
Eyes turn to the east side of the island with its darker, more foreboding waters and gnarlier reefs and even more foreboding waves. Surfers live by the tradewinds here. That's why, with the change of season most surfers are looking for those last dreamy days at places like Padang Padang before it goes to sleep for our wet summer here at eight degrees below the equator.
Sure, there are a few lucky sessions left here and there and it is the lucky few visitors that know how to read them. Or have the right friends to guide them. Certainly Kelly Slater has had the latter during his much hailed pandemic visit to the Island of the Gods. With royalty like Rizal Tandjung hosting and world class wave whisperer Nick Chong calling the shots, he was in the best of hands, as usual. And deservedly so. If anyone has proven that great privileges come with great achievements, it’d be Kelly.
Kelly seems to live within a world rumours and vaporous sightings when he visits here. It's easy to disappear into the culture on this island. But once he hits the water, the word is out. And at his age, it is astonishing that he still surfs better than anyone else in the water. Inspiring both the locals and the local photographers here to step up operations.
And so Kelly’s surf sessions here resonate long after he is gone. Like a crunch chord soaring across a stadium, the echoes playing back over and over again in the audiences mind.
Kelly and local star Dedi Gun recently paddled out at Padang Padang for one last session before the seasonal sea change. It became a clinic in both similarity and intensity. And two local photographers were there to capture some of the more sublime moments that will be remembered until our winter of 2021 arrives, when the flags turn north-west once again and the Bukit awakens to a new year of its perrenial blessings.
// MATT GEORGE