It was only a matter of time. Standing on the edge of the vertical limestone cliff that overlooks Padang Padang, I could only wonder why it took him so long to get here in the first place. Kelly Slater had obviously been reading all the Bali dispatches that heralded the best season in ten years combined with the empty lineups of the Global Covid Lockdown.
And at this very moment he was leading the charge during an all-star session in yet another day of wild and windy eight-foot Padang Padang. I assumed the $1700-dollar international entry visa to Indonesia was not really a concern for surfing’s millionaires. Hell, Kolohe, Griffin and the San Clemente crew were ripping empty Macaroni’s in the Mentawai at the very same moment.
Forecast: Padang Padang
But here on Bali, shepherded around by his friend since youth, the great Rizal Tandjung, Kelly had already had a taste of Desert Point and a few other empty honeypots. In what is these days a very small local surf community, Kelly’s arrival was met with the same wonder and mystical portent as a meteor strike.
And for the better part of a week, the 49-year-old 11-time World Champ and Rizal, the 45-year-old Indonesian Godfather had been obliterating every lineup they landed in. The presence of the two great ones inspired a surge of quality performances — clearly among the best ever seen in Bali.
And on this day at Padang Padang it had all come down to a very public exhibition. “Insane,” said local hotshot Bronson Meydi. “This is like a contest, but without the heat horns!”
By mid-morning, over 15 water photographers formed a kelp bed of cameras on the inside bowl — and the cliffs on both sides of this holy cove were lined with the faithful, ready for Kelly’s Sermon on the Mount.
Looking relaxed and playful, Kelly rode with trademark impeccability on a stickerless white board. With a cap of white sunscreen on his pate and far less tan than most of us are used to seeing, Kelly’s mastery without a jersey approached transcendency. Smiling, sharing waves, hooting the kids into bombs, Kelly was at his most human. Just another man on a surf holiday. Yet also a man who happened to be the best the world will ever see.
With all the doom and gloom here on Bali in regards to the collapsed tourist industry, to many, Kelly’s visit was a beam of hope for the future. “You could feel his energy as he surfed by,” said alpha male photographer Federico Vanno. “You could feel his connection to everybody in the lineup like a current that was elevating everybody’s game.”
Indeed, once again, our great champion serving as the high watermark he is — not surfing like lightning in a bottle, but as lightning let out of the bottle.