Local Wildcard Rio Waida and 11x World Champ Kelly Slater couldn't be further apart on the professional surfing spectrum. One is a 19-year-old grom, surfing in relative obscurity. The other is a global ambassador for the surf world at large. What they both have in common is the desire to show the world they are capable of winning -- and they didn't disappoint -- providing the nail bitting drama that stole the spotlight on Day 1 of the Corona Bali Protected.
Waida was surfing in his first CT heat and is currently ranked 135 on the QS. However, despite his lack of experience on the world stage, the natural-footer put in a mature performance to win Heat 5 of the Seeding Round. And in doing so he beat out defending World Champ Gabriel Medina to give the huge local following packed on the black sand beach plenty to cheer about.
"I was so nervous before that heat. Not because of my opponents, but just because this is the CT," said Waida. "I tried to forget about the fact it was Deivid and Gabriel in my heat and wanted to just focus on me and Keramas."
After waiting 12 minutes for his first wave in the inconsistent, but clean, three-foot Keramas lineup, he unleashed a series of explosive frontside hacks to score a 5.67, which remained the heat's highest. Medina, in classic form, fought to the dying seconds but missed by just 0.6 of a point to get past the Bali grom.
The Brazilian's second place finish however did ensure he will skip the Elimination Round and progress straight to Round 3, joining fellow World Title contenders John Florence, Italo Ferreira, Filipe Toledo and Jordy Smith.
Waida, who was born in Japan but learned to surf in Bali after moving to the island with his parents when he was five, is now looking ahead.
"I think I'll feel more relaxed heading into my next heat," he said. "I know this wave better than most people so once again I'll just focus on my surfing and the wave of Keramas."
On the other end of the spectrum, and 28-years Waida's senior, King Slater shared the spotlight with the young grom. The 47-year-old had already won six of his 11 World Titles (and decided to take a year off) by the time Waida was born in 2000. Today Slater leaned on his vast competative experience to overcome Ryan Callinan and Kolohe Andino.
"Last time I was here was 2013. There were good waves and Parko won the event," Slater said. "You can always find good waves around here. I've had a second to refocus and feel it again. I haven't been feeling it in my heats. I've been trying to do too much and getting in my head."
Kelly has also been thinking about his good friend and mentor, the 2000 World Champ Sunny Garcia, who was admitted to the ICU at a Portland Hospital last month.
"We all know Sunny Garcia is going through some tough stuff right now," Slater said. "And I was trying to channel him."
Slater did that by kickstarting his win with one of his own trademarks; a carving 360. Late in the heat he unleashed his timeless rail work on a glassy Keramas wall to seal the deal. It was a blistering carve that earned him the bulk of the 6.87 and saw him progress to Round 3 with an all important higher seeding.
That heat-winning wave was his highest individual wave score of 2019. It showed not just a return to form but also that when Kelly Slater is surfing to his strengths, and not getting lost in his own head games, he remains as exciting and compelling a surfer as when he surfed his own first CT heat more than 27 years ago.
Notable & Quotable From Day 1 of the Corona Bali Protected
-Kailani Johnson made history by becoming the first Indonesian woman to surf in a CT event. "It's really cool to see Indonesian Wildcards in the lineup," said Steph Gilmore, who overcame Johnson to win their heat. "It really shows a commitment to grow surfing in a region where it's not as popular."
-Current Jeep Leaders John John Florence and Caroline Marks both skipped the Elimination Round after heat wins. Florence landed a clean rotation for the day's second highest individual wave score, a 7.67 and Marks' pair of sixes was enough to defeat veterans Coco Ho and Silvana Lima.
-Aerial phenom Filipe Toledo credited his big brother after earning the highest single wave score of the day, a 9.00 for a single, huge, rotation. "To land moves like that takes a lot of training," said Toledo. "I grew up watching all of the air guys and surfing with my brother who had a lot of tricks, so I had a lot of inspiration to work hard at landing stuff like that."