What were you doing last night at 1am? I was watching Kelly and Mick take their surfing to another level. I should have been in bed, resigned to watch the heat analyzer in the morning with my breakfast. But these moments are so much richer when you experience them in real time. It felt as if I was there, perched on the stairs of Bells Beach watching history in the making during a final that is already being called the best Bells final of all time.
During the 40-minute heat both surfers had three excellent rides, with two of them for each surfer being ridden to perfection. Mick opened with a blitzkrieg that finished impressively in the shorebreak with a committed, lofty double-tap to lien. Needing a score later in the heat, Mick raced through a perfectly executed three-turn combo on a set wave (the judges love that) receiving a huge score to take the lead for good. The entire event, Mick surfed faster with more power than anyone else, looking as if last year’s soul searching paid off, and he is now in the zone once again and looking as primed as any for this year's World Title.
Kelly Slater took an entirely different approach in their historic final. Unable to keep up with Fanning’s facework, Slater hunted windy pockets from the slightly cross-shore wind in an attempt to show the judges something completely different--a great strategy when trying to highlight your strengths and take the focus away from your competitor. After a shaky start, Slater found a perfect ride on a bowly closeout where he was able to one up his New York air. He launched, he spun, and he landed what has to be the best air in a contest to date--that’s when things got confusing. It's difficult to put a judging criteria in place and score every ride when comparing such starkly different approaches. Kelly followed-up his 10-point ride by extending into a carving 360, completely obliterating the lip, and continuing down the line in one clean motion. Mixing that with a number of solid turns on that wave, Kelly, I felt, had locked-in the fourth perfect ride of the final. It was a tie, but a contest can't finish with two winners. In the end, by unanimous decision from the judges, Mick Fanning became your 2012 Bells Beach Pro Champion.
Kelly is the only surfer who does carving 360s of that degree of difficulty--nobody else even comes close. An 8.07 for that ride? Maybe that would make sense if all he did was that one move. But rather than think of this event as a failure to get the scores in the final correct to one hundredth of a point, I’d like to think of it as that rare moment in competition when the two very best surfers of an event meet and hit their peak in the final, both surfing within a hair of perfection. A heat between Occy and Curren at the same venue comes to mind. When that happens, the surfing becomes the real show and all the other shenanigans fade into the background. Kelly and Mick raised the bar extremely high with their performance in not only the final, but in the entire event. It should be great to watch the rest of the field attempt to do the same over the course of the 2012 season.