What a difference a day makes. If yesterday was "Classic Bells" then today must have been the best day ever at Winki. Not only did the conditions dramatically improve from yesterday's mushy, onshore, difficult Bells lineup, but the move to Winki also made for a much more exciting webcast viewing experience.
In surfing it is immensely difficult to predict a winner and even more difficult to judge waves perfectly. With no two waves being alike and no two surfers the same, heats often come down to the quality of the waves ridden by each surfer and then the personal preferences of whoever is on the judging panel at the time. There may be criteria in which to base the scoring around, but what it comes down to in many heats that are decided by a point or two is who the judge wants/feels should advance. Simply manipulating scores by .5 here and there can make for drastic changes in the outcomes of the majority of heats. A quick browse through Twitter and various forums will bring up an enormous amount of confusion and disgust over certain heat scores and outcomes from yesterday. There will never be a bulletproof solution for making surf contests an objectively judged platform, so just like the surfers themselves, as fans we must move on to the next heat…and then bitch and complain about that one as well, which is half the fun anyway.
The heats at Winki started off with the kind of waves that we all dream about, and a massive improvement from anything Bells could ever offer up. The opening heat of the round saw Adam Robertson display more of the smooth, precise surfing his is known for. After some big scores by "Robo," it took getting the wave of the day for Jordy Smith to take the win. Jordy has a major problem starting his heats slowly. If Jordy has any chance of winning the world title or even a few events, he needs to start strong and make his opponents feel pressured by his amazing talent. This pattern of always waiting till the end to pull a rabbit out of the hat only works so many times.
Owen Wright in the next heat gave the young Brazilian phenom, Gabriel Medina, a good wake-up call as to just how far his backside pointbreak surfing needs to progress before he stands a chance on the WT. After a dreadful showing at Snapper, Owen is back in world-title-contending form, as evidenced by the ease at which he was posting 8-point rides.
The heat of the day and the biggest non-upset was in Heat 3 when Bobby finally came out of a 12-month slump with a heat win that mattered. Bobby may be rated 66th in the World Rankings and fighting to stay on Tour, while Taj is in the best form of his career and an early world title favorite, but at perfect and sizable Winki, Bobby was and is the better surfer due to his power, flowing style, and the fact that he surfed with a burning desire to win. That desire was clearly visible in his body language during the heat, and in his words during the post-heat interview. It may be a dangerous line to walk, but when you wear your emotions on your sleeve, often times you surprise even yourself with the results you are capable of. Bobby stands poised to cause even more trouble for the top seeds if he keeps surfing the way he did today.
Continuing the string of great heats, Heat 4 saw Ace lose to Josh Kerr. During the heat, Kerr found himself in the very enviable position of having everything go right to him. With a few tubes on offer in the morning, Kerr went out and placed himself inside a barrel or two on every wave. His best was a 9.07 that he hacked three times before getting a crazy double-tube that he claimed good and proper upon completion.
After finishing Heat 4, the surf quality dipped a bit with the scores and quality of surfing suffering as well. The only real highlight after that point was the inspired surfing of Chris Davidson as he demolished the still-green rookie, Julian Wilson. There were also, however, plenty of disappointments. Daniel Ross surfs much better than fans, sponsors, and the judges give him credit. Very few surfers could ever do even one turn as committed, powerful, and smooth as the many from Rossy. He should have never had to hear the words, "In second place: Daniel Ross" after his heat yesterday. And then there was Dusty Payne's loss to Kieren Perrow. Payne looked strong, fast, and confident riding a board that looked perfect for him. I think we can all agree that it would have been nice to see him get a chance to lay down even more of those brilliant combos this week at Bells, as the surf is only supposed to get bigger through the completion of the event.
All in all, it was one of the best days of competition I have had the pleasure of viewing at the Rip Curl Bells Beach Pro. If the swell forecast delivers as expected, be prepared for some incredible match-ups between the top seeds. In the next round, Jordy Smith has the toughest draw of the all the world-title hopefuls when he comes up against Bobby Martinez. If Bobby takes down Jordy after beating Taj, Kelly himself may just become his newest sponsor or at least take him to dinner.