We leave West Oz after a decisive win for John Florence, who turned in a dominating performance at Main Break to win the Margaret River Pro on Sunday. The final leg of the Australian circuit begins in less than 24 hours at the cold, wide, righthand walls of Bells Beach, a short turnaround before the first quarter of the ‘CT is done and dusted. Will John John pick up where he left off and scorch Bells for a second-straight win, or will an unexpected challenger pull a inspired run like Wilko did last year?
To help with your picks for the Tour’s last fling in Oz, Sean Doherty reached out to revered goofyfoot, podcast host, and ’98 event winner Mark Occhilupo for his take on the style of surfing best suited for the Victorian reef wave, as well as the essential names on his Fantasy Surfer roster.
SD: After what John John did in Margaret River, does it change your thoughts on Bells?
Occy: It does, for sure. He's the firm favorite now, and honestly, I wouldn't have said that before Margarets. He surfs Bells great, but geez, he must have been working on that carve, because it's looking sooooooo good. If Bells is big, that carve is going to fit right into the Bells Bowl. I can't see him getting beaten. He's gone next level with that turn. I questioned him a bit when he was developing that turn, when his hands were moving a fair bit more and it was nowhere near as powerful, but now his hands are still and he's so powerful. It's just unbelievable. The speed and the power totally blew me away. He's a firm favorite, definitely. Even if it's not the Bowl, we've seen what he can do at Rincon with those full rotation airs, and then there's Winkipop, where he can do pretty much anything.
John John aside, give me three guys who you'd have on your team.
Owen Wright, definitely, and it's not just because I'm picking a goofy. He showed some brilliance on the Gold Coast, obviously, but when it was big at Margs, I thought he surfed great. With all the confidence he's got, he'll do well at Bells. And then, for me, it's got to be Joel and Mick. They're so rock-solid out there.
Is it still the place that favors the guys with experience?
For sure. Joel and Mick have that experience going back 20 years. John John is something else, but experience still counts for everything out there. It's that kind of wave that takes you years to work out.
The defending champ of course is Wilko, a goofyfooter, and before that, I think you were the last goofy to win, which was almost 20 years ago. Do you think the judges have changed the way they score goofyfooted surfing at Bells? Is it easier for goofies these days?
I think it's pretty even. The naturalfooters have got that carve down, but you know, I used to think it was easier for goofies. When you do your deep bottom turn… (although I reckon John John might have changed that, too. In Margs, he didn't go to the bottom and held more speed as a result, so I reckon everyone will try that at Bells)…but backhand, I like the deep bottom turn where you can come around the section and hit it straight up into the pocket. When you get up there, you lose a bit of speed, but it's easier to snap in the pocket on your backhand because all your weight is facing down the wave ready to go, whereas on your forehand, you're facing up. But these days it's pretty even, and it didn't surprise me at all that Wilko won last year. He could do the same again.
Are we going to see aerial surfing decide heats at Bells?
I was surprised more people didn't try and mix it up with airs at Margarets. Even though it was big, there were some good sections. But at Bells, especially at Rincon, we'll see some big forehand airs going down.
Which rookie do you like the best for a result at Bells?
I reckon Ethan Ewing will be the one best suited to the wave. He's a great pointbreak surfer, and he's looked good in his first two events without winning heats, so he'll be pumped to do something big at Bells.
What about a dark horse for the win?
Hmmm…geez, that's a hard one. Hey, Jay! [Occ yells out to his son, Jay, in the next room] Give me a dark horse winner for Bells. Someone nobody thinks will win but might. What was that? Caio Ibelli? [Back down the phone line] Yeah, Caio Ibelli. He beat John John at Bells last year, right?
Who wins if it's small and at Rincon?
Filipe Toledo. Easy.
And who wins if it's firing and in The Bowl?
Do you really need to ask? John John.
[Photo: Occy, Bells Beach, ’97. Photo: Joli]