In grinding six-to-eight-foot Padang Padang barrels the 23-year-old South African, who cut his teeth growing up on the North Shore of Oahu, topped a field of 16 of the world’s best tuberiders with an electric all-day performance to claim The Cup.
“I was so surprised when I heard that Mick had invited me to compete in this event” - Brand said after being soaked with champagne by his fellow tube hounds on the winner’s podium.
“I’ve watched so many of my heroes compete out here in past years. To be recognized by them is the best prize. The all-day Padang barrels with only a couple friends out doesn’t hurt either.”
With under four minutes remaining in the Championship Final, Brand was sitting in second place behind Clay Marzo, (HAW), needing an 8.84. Brand clawed to the bottom of the thickest wave of the day and sealed the deal with a double barrel across the reef for a 9.67. In the end, Brand was hoisted to victory in front of a raucous crowd, followed by Marzo in second place, former WSL World No. 1 Matt Wilkinson in third place, and the lone local Indonesian surfer to reach the Final, Raditya Rondi, in fourth.
It was validation for Brand, who may have still been an underground name to some surfing fans, but not to three-time WSL World Champion Mick Fanning. Mick was given the honour of inviting four surfers to the event – Brand, one of his picks.
“Benji is a kid who is an incredible tube rider,” Fanning said when he announced his selection. “I’d love to see him at Padang taking it to the boys.”
Taking it to the boys is exactly what Brand did. On his run to the win, Brand scored countless tubes, including a 9.67 and 9.5, the two highest wave scores on the day. At the outset, Brand and Marzo looked like the surfers to beat in the event. Brand dominated the morning heats, winning both his Round 1 and 2 heats and posting the highest combined heat total of the opening two rounds. Marzo meanwhile put together a spectacular performance, capping off multiple deep frontside drainers, including an insane layback in which he did a full horizontal limbo lean on his back foot, pointed up to the sky, and somehow emerged from a deep the spitting inside bowl, amazing the crowd on hand at Padang Padang and the fans watching on the webcast.
“This was my second time surfing in the Rip Curl Cup at Padang,” Marzo said, who also reached the Finals in 2016 and placed fourth. “I don’t do contests, but I always hope I can get an invitation to return to this event. I can’t tell you how much fun we all had out there today.”
It certainly was another epic showcase for the Rip Curl Cup Padang Padang, including eight incredible barrel rides scoring in the excellent nine-point range. It was an iconic performance by the brotherhood of the world’s elite barrel riders – a brotherhood Benji Brand is now undoubtedly a member of.