The countdown is on for commencement of hostilities at Bells. With Easter falling extremely early this year, the Rip Curl Pro presented by Snickers and Rip Curl Women's Pro presented by Ford Fiesta follows quickly on the heels of the recently concluded Quiksilver Pro and Roxy Pro at Snapper. The world's Top 45 Men & Top 17 Women are making the annual pilgrimage to the famous Bells Beach with plans to snatch the holy grail of pro surfing, the coveted Bell awarded to both winners at the conclusion of the respective finals.
On the way, some, like Hawaii's Roy Powers, have stopped off at Soldiers Beach for the Arrive Alive Central Coast Pro. Initiated by none other then ASP Chairman Richard Grellman, this is an initiative of the NSW Motor Accident Authority, in conjunction with Surfing NSW and ASP Australasia. The Arrive Alive campaign is targeted at primarily young passengers in motor vehicles, as well as P plate drivers, in a bid to educate young Australia on the awesome responsibility of being in charge of other people's safety. It is wonderful to have pro surfing aligned with this initiative, as well as a great opportunity for the rising stars of the sport to have a crack at the 1500 WQS points on offer for both winners.
The fabled cliffs of Bells are entrenched in Aussie surfing folklore, from the legendary pioneering days of walking in and surfing through winter in footy jerseys, to the late 60's, the birth of Rip Curl, when founders Doug “Claw” Warbrick and Brian “Sing-Ding” Singer would do the dawn patrol then go cut wetties out of ancient rubber at a little hole in the wall off the main street of Torquay. Then came the 70's, the birth of pro surfing at the 1973 Rip Curl Pro, where the infamous Michael Peterson came and conquered for the first of his three straight Bells.
Two of the figures that contribute to the mythology of the area are Ted Spencer and Charles 'of the sea' Bartlett. Great, great surfers, Ted not only won two Bells but surfed the place as big as it got. In 1974, a classic year where a contingency from Hawaii, including Reno Abellera, Jeff Hakman, Sam Hawk and Owl Chapman, came and showed the Island way of surfing 10' waves, Ted and Charles took up residence in a cave around at Centre-side Bells, surfing and living off the land in this most rugged of landscapes.
Having been to every Bells since 71, I guess I've seen a lot of wild stuff going down, and while it doesn't get any more raw then the 70's, with all Claw's innovative judging criteria's and event formats, there is a rich seam of history running right through the 80's, 90's and into the millennium. The last half dozen years has seen the dominance of pretty much the status quo of the Big five, with Andy, Mick, Joel, Kelly and Taj lofting the massive perpetual Bell above their heads.
Last year saw the return of top flight Women's surfing to Bells, and to usher in a new era of rip and tear on the famous bowl, rookie sensation Stephanie Gilmore left her indelible footprint on the event, bringing to the Rip Curl Women's Pro a brand of surfing unseen in the annals of Women's competition. That Steph went on to claim a maiden World Crown underlines the importance of this event as both a yardstick of talent and a barometer of who is contending in any given year.
The Men's division was exemplary in 07. Mick Fanning arrived as the new World #1, and a 3rd place finish kept the Cooly Kid on World record pace, however it was twice champion Andy Irons, who was coming off a shock 33rd at Snapper, and the fleet footed Taj Burrow who shone under the glare of the world media. Any Bells final is intense, only one name goes on the trophy, and while Andy was looking for title #3, it was a breakthrough performance by Taj Burrow that snatched victory at the final effort. What an amazing final day that was, we had to wait, as is the tradition, until the penultimate day of the waiting period, but what a delivery of excellence it was.
This year we have that entire layer of new talent ready to unleash on the cool walls, and even though Easter is super early and on the very cusp of the autumn season, the early forecast looks promising. There are just so many potential contenders, we saw how gnarly it got from the Rd 32 on, that top guns have to have their A game with them a round or two earlier then in previous campaigns. A couple European guys, current #3 Jeremy Flores and Portugal's Tiago Pires, headed down to Bells straight after Snapper, making their intentions known. It worked a treat at Snapper; Jeremy Flores arrived maybe three weeks early and scored a 3rd, his intimacy with the bank noticeable.
Peru's Sofia Mulanovich has finally begun the year with a win. A notoriously slow starter on the World Tour, Sofia usually comes storming back from a Snapper shocker at Bells; it will be interesting how she fares as a frontrunner. Sam Cornish showed glimpses of the form that briefly took her to the #1 ranking mid last year, she surfs unreal at Bells, and this could be her shot. Layne Beachley and Stephanie Gilmore still loom as the dangers. The 7 times champion has by far the best record at the Rip Curl Pro, she would love to turn the clock back to her halcyon years at Bells and claim another.
This time it will be the defending Rip Curl Women's Pro Champion, Stephanie Gilmore, who arrives wounded from a Snapper setback. She definitely surfed a conspicuously tentative heat against rising superstar Carissa Moore at her home beach, she will have a point to prove at Bells and will need to extract her best if she is to reign in Sophia and Sam and Amee Donohoe.
The stage is set for another titanic struggle for the mighty Bell. Who will emerge from the Aussie leg with that all important momentum? The stakes have definitely been raised. Get your ya-ya's out, we're going to Bells.