Surfing-Trailblazer Waida hoping to trigger Indonesia surfing wave
By Ian Ransom
BALI, Indonesia, May 11 (Reuters) - Bali's iconic surf breaks have generations of local talents whose dreams of going professional have invariably been dumped by the high costs of pursuing success.
But some may push a little harder against the tide after seeing trailblazer Rio Waida on the Championship Tour of the World Surf League.
Waida became the first Indonesian and first Asia-born surfer to qualify for the peak tour last year, breaking into a club dominated by Americans, Brazilians and Australians.
As a rookie in his debut season, he made the championship's mid-year cut last month, even as American great Kelly Slater missed out and a wildcard from organisers to remain on the tour.
It is lofty territory for the 23-year-old, who grew up in the Balinese fishing village of Jimbaran and was once petrified of the ocean.
"It probably hasn’t changed my life much but I definitely feel more people have eyes on me," Waida told Reuters of his growing profile at home.
"So maybe there’s a bit more pressure. I feel like I have to show the good things. I can't do bad stuff.
"I hope I can inspire and motivate young kids."
With bronzed athletes competing at stunning destinations across the globe, the sport can seem a glamorous pursuit.
But it is ticket to guaranteed riches.
Prize money is modest and most surfers grind hard to break even, relying heavily on corporate sponsors and other benefactors.
Surfers from emerging markets are particularly up against it, battling weak currencies and limited sponsorship money.
Indonesia has long profited from tourists who swarm to the archipelago's reef breaks but struggles to fund local surfers who to develop skills abroad to make it on the global stage.
Waida has done plenty to put the sport in the spotlight in Indonesia.
He won a silver medal at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games in the Philippines and qualified for surfing's Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games, where he carried the Indonesian flag at the opening ceremony.
Born to a Japanese mother, the Olympics was especially meaningful for Waida, who is eyeing qualification for the Paris Games year, with the surfing competition to be held in Teahupo’o, Tahiti.
"I felt like (the Tokyo Games) was when I started to have bigger dreams and bigger goals," he said.
"I started to push my limits. I was also inspired by the other athletes from other sports. I wanted to be like them, get a medal."
Though sponsored by global surfing brand Quiksilver and enjoying some support from the Indonesian government, Waida has had to lean heavily on his father's labour as a construction worker in Japan.
His dad might only come home to Bali one or two weeks a year as he strives to earn enough to support the family and help Waida make it on the tour.
"So I want to help him," said Waida.
"I want him to come home and rest, watch TV or whatever he wants to do. So that’s kind of my motivation."
With a break between Margaret River and the WSL event at Surf Ranch in California, Waida was savouring his chance to rest and train on home waves in Uluwatu, though he said he was concerned about the health of local waters.
Bali's beaches have become blighted by trash during the wet season in recent years, with heavy winds and rain washing up plastics pollution from islands.
Environmental groups say the pollution threatens extinction of marine species while local businesses are worried about the impact on tourism. Bali's reputation as a surfer's paradise could also take a hit, hampering the growth of the sport.
"It's been happening every year. It's a big problem," said Waida. "The government loves having more tourists. The locals also want the work."
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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