Together is Better: Deus 9 Ft and Single Festival Bali by Leah Dawson

From her extended vacation on the surfer's paradise, Leah Dawson shares her play by play of the Deus 9ft and single festival.

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Leah Dawson leans in. Photo by @Hatsumisurf.
It was an honor for Seeababes Leah Dawson, Lola Mignot and Karina Rozunko to be invited (Kassia Meador was in charge of the list) to the annual Deus Ex Machina 9 ft and Single Festival, held in Canggu, Bali. The retro board-lovers gathering is always an impressive display of classic meets modern surfing, and a lot more cheers and high fives than paddle battles. Leah, on extended vacation on the surfer's paradise, shares her play by play of the event.  

By Leah Dawson

"Bali Bagus", we say, exclaiming that Bali is so very good. Since the ‘70s, Bali has been a sought after tourist destination due to its tropical island setting, and it's well intact culture. You smile at a Balinese, and they smile even bigger right back at you.

Yet those who have traveled here in the past, even five years ago, may shed a tear upon returning to this land that has become another fallen victim to overpopulation and a massive onset of foreign money. This once pristine island has become a concrete jungle ridden with plastic. Through the trash (that seems to have nowhere to go) there is still an incredible culture held intact by the Balinese people.  They take pride in tradition. On the busy streets, shops after shops offer incredible art works of all kinds, wood furniture, blown glass, and tapestries galore. There's a budding industry because the outside world can't seem to get enough of the culture and their creations.

This is my third time here in Bali, returning here for the surf, as normal for most of my worldly explorations. For 50 years, Bali has been an explored surf destination known for its powerful, perfect waves. I got an invite to compete in last year's inaugural ladies jam at the Deus 9ft and Single event, held in Canggu at the end of each May.

From left, Karina Rozunko, Kassia Meador, Leah Dawson at the Deus Bali event. Photo by @mirza_n_s

After having the time of my life last year at the event, I was keen to return, especially when Kassia Meador, in charge of the invite list, invited two of my favorite rising stars, Seeababes Lola Mignot and Karina Rozunko. After sharing waves with these two in Australia earlier this year, I was stoked to hear they would be amongst the six girls to show off what we love in front of all the boys at the Single Fin event.

I arrived to Bali after a two week adventure through Japan, shaking hands and throwing as many cheesy peace signs and huge grins as I could. For the first four days of my Bali return, I was curled up in bed with a gnarly fever and internal infection. Praying I'd feel like myself by the time the event began, I finally woke up day of with my usual energy, normal temperature, and one excited outlook for the day and how it may play itself.

The event day was pumping, at least for big heavy logs. It's no easy task wrangling a 20+lb board in overhead (at times bumpy) surf, yet us girls pumped each other up as we watched the men's semi finals. Our pre-heat was maybe just as entertaining.

Lola Mignot drops in, with Leah Dawson on the inside. Photo by Annie B at Surfing Tribe, Seea's first dealer in New Zealand! 

We all suited up together (an hour before the heat), shared our wax, showed each other stretch moves, that turned into dance moves, laughed and giggled like a clan of young school girls. One wouldn't know that we were all competing against each other, because we all were there to celebrate together and entertain the beach, not to compete.

When we hit the water, the whole beach was watching, a crowd filled with women too. We all swapped waves. I wanted the biggest ones, so I sat way outside and waited patiently as I watched the girls do rounds and rounds of dancing on the fast, tricky medium waves.

It took every ounce of my physicality and mental strength to stay aboard on my first set wave. Riding a 9'5 log out there felt like a bull gone wild, so I heard my moms never changing advice, "slow down". I did my best to matrix the time, to move smoothly amongst the powerful fast wave.

Midway through the heat I realized my fin was a bit loose, perhaps why the first few waves felt tricky. Kassia and I shared a wave, but my late drop sent me squirming and swimming after my board. I finally reached it 50 yards up into the fresh rain, dirty river mouth, my wax from that point out was pointless, my board felt like a slip n’ slide.

Karina Rozunko in Bali. Photo by @mirza_n_s
Lola Mignot wearing the Tofino in Geo Gold. Photo by @mirza_n_s. 

When our hour of power was finished, we came in for supermodel documentary hour, as numerous photographers and fans all wanted their photos of all the dancing beauties. We hugged and laughed, and everyone on the beach could hear and feel our stoke.

I then geared up in my lucky Zuma suit again for the event I'd been waiting for, the Under 9ft and Single, in which I had made the semis against the boys last year, and it was my goal to make the final this year.  I also made a goal to shape my own board to surf with, for I couldn't imagine a more complete experience.

My whole life I grew up playing coed sports, yet this event has been the only time I've competed in surfing with men, and it lit a fire in my pants so to speak, to make a statement, that a girl can surf differently, yet in her own way, just as good as a guy. So for the last year, I've been working on my single fin shortboard skills, and finally shaped my first board; a 6'7 weird thing with one fin :)

Leah Dawson wearing the Zuma in Black Stripe, with her first self-shaped board. Photo by @Hatsumisurf.
I made it through my first heat of eight, achieving my goal of making the finals, on my own board. I waited my turn with all the boys, and the biggest wave came when I was up. I coached myself down the take off, and my back foot came off the board at the bottom of the wave. With all my might I got my foot back on, pressed as hard as I could into a bottom turn, which catapulted me perfectly into position for the first barrel of my boards life. I thought it was a close out at first, but a doggy door appeared, I exited, yet in the time space bending, I realized I was too far forward on my board just as the lip landed on the tail, exploding me into the air. Ohhhh, so close I thought.

The rest of the heat was a dream, as I watched my favorite single fin surfers to their justice, making sweet love to the Canggu waves. I did my best to be as smooth as a lady could be on my remaining waves. I came to the beach to find some happy faces, all stoked that I had held my own in the field of men. I was humbled and grateful for the opportunity to dance among them. I ended up getting third place, to Harrison Roach and Tyler Warren, two surfers who I always look to for quality inspiration. My goal achieved, I couldn't have been happier, as I satisfied my soul amongst the boys, knowing that the board I made actually worked a bit.

Leah Dawson riding "Smoothie" in Bali, her first self-shaped board. Photo by @mirza_n_s.

The entire experience was magical and triumphant, as I was just grateful to be feeling better than the 20% I had been feeling up to the day before the event.

I felt blessed to be amongst a group of women surfers who absolutely love riding waves because it makes their soul feel good. If anything, that's what we inspired to the crowd, and what will show as the media and videos continue to release about the event. There's an irresistible camaraderie between female surfers.  We are community rather than competitors. In surfing as in life. Together is better.

A photo posted by itoiyoshitaka (@yoshitakaitoi) on

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