Tom Lowe and Fergal Smith: silver linings in Padang Padang

The big wave conqueror makes the best of a bad situation out in Bali’s surf paradise

Relentless surfer Tom Lowe recently embarked on a trip to Bali for the 2011 Ripcurl Padang Padang – ‘the ultimate tube riding contest’, as it’s known – a competition which sees 32 international surfers gain entry by invitation only. Tom’s status as the only British surfer selected is a huge credit to his skills and a very respectable feat to say the least.

What doesn’t kill you…

Surfing in Bali is without doubt a blissful odyssey for any surf connoisseur. On the flipside, it’s not for the faint-hearted by any means. Unfortunately Tom injured himself a month prior to the contest while surfing two big swells with his girlfriend Janni in Lakey, Sumbawa – a large island to the east of Bali. He wiped out on a heavy wave and landed hard on the peak of a reef – a crushing blow given the upcoming contest, but not one that he would let stop him from taking part in the prestigious event. It’s a No Half Measures attitude that we can all admire.

““When I looked down, a huge piece of skin was flapping around on my arm…”

“She shut me down and spun me out,” he elaborated on being taken down by the wave. “When I looked down, a huge piece of skin was flapping around on my arm. All kinds of weird stuff was coming out but it wasn’t too painful. Shock took over I guess.”

Luckily for Tom, a friend from the Canaries was waiting on the beach with a doctor friend from Chile. He was carrying a stitch kit and offered to stitch up Tom’s badly cut arm. “I didn’t think twice. Being in the middle of nowhere you have to go with your instincts! I ended up with 10 stitches in my elbow and a bad knee; I would’ve had more stitches but we didn’t have the internal ones – only 10 to our name so pretty minor really.”

When you’re thousands of miles from your local surf spots and the waves are on another level, the last thing you need is to be injured. “It was nearly three weeks out of the sea,” he laments. “Not so bad if you’re at home, but at Lakey it’s like torture!”

Looking on the bright side

Once mostly recovered, Tom headed over to Bali for the Padang cup opening ceremony, where hundreds of spectators watch the presentation and press conference. The ceremony marks the start of the five-week event, featuring all 32 invited surfers – 16 of Indonesia’s best and 16 of the world’s best tube riders. Frustratingly, the contest was postponed due to inconsistent waves – a persistent occupational hazard of the game that serves as a constant reminder that we’re all at the behest of nature’s whim.

“I wish it was eight to 10ft and crazy!” Tom blogged when he heard the news. “Saying that, there is a good long-range chart on the way. It looks big, so fingers crossed it turns out good – but nature has its own plan, which we can’t control! So patience is the word I guess.”

Carry on regardless

“It’s good to represent for the Cornish.”

Refusing to let spirits be dampened by smaller waves, Tom still had the drive and enthusiasm to paddle out and have fun. “I got one or two good ones which is always cool when all the pros are out,” he proudly admits. “It’s good to represent for the Cornish.” As anyone who’s seen one of the Relentless Energy Drink-fuelled films that they star in together, Lowe and Fergal Smith remain close friends and colleagues. His erstwhile companion was notably absent from his Bali trip – but for no other reason than he was elsewhere, gorging himself on exquisite surf. “Fergal Smith has been emailing me every other day about the amazing waves he’s scoring in Fiji. It’s heart-breaking not to be with him.”

The Ripcurl team decided to elicit a silver lining from the seemingly dire situation, and organised a team trip to Sumbawa for a small but consistent swell. After all, there’s no time like the present to make things happen. Carpe diem and all that. Alas the frustrations of Tom’s time in the region proved too hard to shake off. “I had a bit of a nightmare trip really,” Tom stresses. “My boards didn’t get on the flight out there so I had to borrow a board for the shoots. There’s nothing worse than when you’re enjoying your own boards and you can’t use them.”

He can’t complain too much though. “The easy-going life is dreamy out here. All the pros are living in cruise control.”

When life gives you lemons… surf.

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