We saw the future of surfing today, and their names were…Mick Fanning and Adriano De Souza?!
Yes, it's hard to believe that in this era of the 24-hour surf-star cycle, in a week where we've anointed Filipe Toledo as the most revolutionary surfer since John Florence last week, we've gone back to where it all started and two up-and-coming veterans ended up surfing in the Bells final.
Surprised? Hardly. This is Bells, and for every Nicky Wood I'll raise you a Damien Hardman and, as it turns out today, four Mick Fannings.
The signs were there early this morning, when Adriano symbolically schooled world champ, Gabe Medina. The unbelievable statistic going into this heat of course was that Gabe, for all his phenonmenal-ness and his world title moxie, has never won a heat against his veteran countryman. Paddling out the ledger read 3-0, Adriano. It was soon 4-0. It started with the predictable scrap for the inside, just as they'd done last year, the pair paddling each other down to Point Addis before realizing they were three miles away from the Bells Bowl. All of this, of course, played perfectly into Adriano's hands and you could almost hear the maniacal laughter.
Adriano is more local here than many Bells locals, at least if you measure your local status by hours clocked in the Bells lineup.
It would have been about five years ago, mid-March, a Tuesday in an otherwise empty Winkipop car park when I spotted Adriano De Souza suiting up to paddle out in some of the worst waves I had ever seen, anywhere on Earth. I live here and I don't think I'd seen it worse, and yet here was Adriano, alone, three weeks before Bells was due to start, about to paddle out for some kind of ritual self flagellation. He was bunking in a spare room in town and was planning on surfing Bells–not Winki, no, not even Winki–three times a day, every day until the contest kicked off regardless of how shizenhausen the waves were. He was going to learn how to surf Bells if it killed him from sheer boredom.
Well, three years later in 2013 he was on stage ringing the bell so hard the trophy splintered in his hands. It was a win that broke Old World shackles for Brazilian surfers that led, in many ways, to Gabriel's World Title last year. Adriano's Bells win was a victory for a glorious and bloodyminded pragmatism, as it proved Bells could be learned.
How much he'd learned was on show today.
Adriano's greatest move today was doing absolutely nothing. Fighting every natural urge to catch any wave with a pulse, (ever freesurfed with him?) Adriano just sat there for much of today. Josh Kerr got in on the non-action as well. So did Mick. It was a tremendous display of nothing, and it won all those guys heats today. Turns out, being on the wrong waves was more important to the result than being on the right ones.
Just ask Jordy.
For what feels like the fifth year in a row he's threatened to be the best guy in the contest but has found a way to fall well before the final. Today he got outfoxed by Mick who sold him a few dummies, Jordy discovering along the way that it's very hard to spin gold from shit at Bells Beach. Not even a surfer of his gilded God-given talent could catch Mick, who'd simply waited for the two best waves of the heat. In frustration Jordy flipped the bird shoreward (exactly at who is open to interpretation), but he was soon packing the car somehow driving away again from Torquay without a bell.
Filipe Toledo likewise couldn't carry early form into the final day. With the residual windswell weak and pushing wide of the reef, there were no ramps out there, and robbed of his forehand air-rev superpower he lost to Nat. His rail surfing–silky both here and at Snapper–was too lateral today, but making the quarters here by dismembering people through the early rounds, well, he can take this as a win. After Teahupoo and Pipe, Bells is the least-suited venue on Tour for him. Those challenges still await, looming.
RIP CURL PRO: Heat Analyzer
The supreme gambit today, and again it was a tremendous bit of nothing, was played by Mick Fanning with barely a soul even noticing. In his quarterfinal with Nat Young he was being threatened in the dying stages, the snowy Santa Cruzian having closed to within an eight-point ride of knocking Mick out of the final. Nat was on the inside and without priority, but took off on a wave just as the hooter sounded. Mick had seen it all playing out and was ready to simply use his priority, catch the same wave, and block Nat. Only that at the very last second he heard the hooter sound, and in a heartbeat stopped on a dime and pulled back through the wave. The move won him a fourth Bells trophy. Mick's priority ended the second the hooter went, so if he'd caught the wave he'd have been scored an interference and Nat would have progressed to the final in his place. Again, it was nothing, but it was brilliant in its nothingness.
There was a time when Adriano was just about the most unlikeable guy on Tour. It had nothing to do with the guy personally, it was just that in the water he seemed to relish the role of the Tour's über villain. Who can forget him trying to sabotage Kelly's 10th world title in Puerto Rico, seemingly possessed by the spirit of Andy? But the reality is that he's an unassuming, quietly driven guy who'll bleed in the trenches for a win. Adriano surfed with heart and won a lot of respect this week at Bells.
Adriano's equation is simple and it isn't lost on the judges. "He doesn't fall off," said head judge Richie Porta, matter-of-factly. "He just doesn't fall off." And it's true. He fell just once in three heats today despite the seasick lineup and finishing every single wave in the crazed, backwashy shorebreak. It's not always spectacular, but at a meat and potatoes venue like Bells it works superbly. That mindset, however, did leave him susceptible in the final to a big turn out the back by Mick Fanning, and he duly obliged.
Doing the beach commentary I asked my co-pilot, Reggae Ellis, whether there'd ever been a tied Bells final before. Reggae has been coming to Bells since the Portuguese sailed past in the Mahogany Ship in the early 1500s, and he couldn't recall ever having seen one.
Two minutes later, and there it was.
Needing a 7.78 to take the lead, Adriano dropped a 7.77. Wearing the number 7 on his back, it was a lucky break for Mick, who with the highest score of the final kept the lead despite the scores being tied. Porta later admitted there were several gurgling bowel sounds when the score dropped and they realized they'd just tied the final up. Under the old five judges system Adriano would have won, as three of the five judges gave him the score, but averaged out he was a crumb short of what would have been a deserving second Bell.
But it was Mick's day, and for the second year running he'd managed to dodge landmines in the field–and from the ocean—and work his way systematically through the draw to be the last man standing again. But to simply class it as a calculating winning-by-numbers exercise would be unfair. Mick's got plenty to surf for right now, and as he rang the bell for the fourth time (with good technique, the trophy being an accident waiting to happen) I was reminded of a banner I'd once seen at the footy Grand Final a few years back. When the Geelong Cats, the local football team, won their third premiership in five seasons with a list the critics deemed to be too old and decrepit, there was a banner in the crowd that flashed up on the broadcast that said simply, "Too old, too slow…too good!"
WATCH: Final Day Highlights
Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach Final Results:
1: Mick Fanning (AUS) – 15.27 (Fanning wins with the heat's highest single-wave score – 8.17)
2: Adriano de Souza (BRA) – 15.27
Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach Semifinal Results:
SF 1: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 14.84 def. Josh Kerr (AUS) 9.87
SF 2: Mick Fanning (AUS) 16.70 def. Nat Young (USA) 14.23
Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach Quarterfinal Results:
QF 1: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 11.60 def. Gabriel Medina (BRA) 8.33
QF 2: Josh Kerr (AUS) 13.00 def. Owen Wright (AUS) 7.93
QF 3: Mick Fanning (AUS) 17.76 def. Jordy Smith (ZAF) 15.60
QF 4: Nat Young (USA) 15.10 def. Filipe Toledo (BRA) 13.86