Current Jeep Leaderboard leader Julian Wilson was eliminated by Patrick Gudauskas in round 3. Photo: Moran
Current Jeep Leaderboard leader Julian Wilson was eliminated by Patrick Gudauskas in round 3. Photo: Moran

The Doherty Report: A Glass Full of Spiders

Mick Fanning advances and top seeds continue to fall at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach

Nick Carroll is staying at my place. Like most serious writers he exhibits some peculiar behaviors.

He drinks instant coffee for a start. Who the f–k lives in Sydney's Newport Beach and drinks instant coffee when there are perfectly good seven-dollar lattes available on every corner? He eats like an alligator – once every three days, devouring a huge bowl of pasta without chewing – and sleeps in his wetsuit so he's ready to go when he wakes up at 4 a.m. In between all this he writes with heavy keystrokes, huffs a lot, surfs four times a day every day and spins what he sees in the lineup into deep theories on the human condition. Bells is good for that kind of thing.

Nick came home last night clutching a handful of chocolate bars. He and his little brother Tom had been playing around with one of those kids' vending machines where you control a little crane that picks up the chocolates one by one. They'd cleaned it out. Either that or Tom had somehow crawled inside it like one of those kids you occasionally see on the news who have to be cut out with the Jaws of Life. Nick walked in the front door, held out the chocolate, and went, "Ha!"

On cue Nick was gone at 5 a.m. this morning, the neoprene goblin slamming the door on his way out to Bells, jacked on Nescafe and the prospect of a new swell. Today was supposed to be the biggest day of the contest - 15-second bands of subpolar wave energy - and at first light it indeed looked to be just that. It was raw, sure, but there they were, 6-foot sets you couldn't argue with.

Rookie Wade Carmichael. Photo: Moran

Jordy and Carmichael paddled out first. Both are built like football players, but most assumed Jordy's sensitivities to Bells' moods and his big flow would be enough to see him past the Wookie rookie. If I could only watch one person surf Bells, it would be Jordy. He is the Velvet Sledgehammer.

I watched the heat with Brad Gerlach, who these days calls Bells home and loves nothing more than pulling a heat apart and putting it back together the way it should have been. He had Jordy a point ahead at least. The judges had it the other way around. "They totally screwed that first score," he reckoned. He might have been right. Carmichael threw heavy, but he burned fuel in the last third of each turn. Jordy's power was evenly distributed. The waves slowed, Carmichael got the best wave of the heat, and the defending champ was gone.

Jordy wasn't happy. They were all soon locked away in a room with new head judge Pritamo Ahrendt trying to demystify the new scoring paradigm. Jordy then sat on the Bells stairs for two hours. He looked at coach Chris Gallagher. "Whatnow.com?" he asked, lost. He checked a swell forecast for Western Australia and walked off.

This contest is still sitting there, wide open. Jordy didn't want it. Julian Wilson copped a stinker of a heat and he's gone too.

And so that leaves Mick.

It's been hard to ascertain over the past week whether Mick really wants to win his last event on Tour, or can't wait for it to be over.

He's got the Harrington twins staying at his place, and they've hardly slept in three days. Shaun Harrington was spewing all day yesterday. His brother, Dean meanwhile grabbed a beer with a shaking hand and it was like drinking a glass of funnel web spiders. You'd hardly sign them on as performance coaches, although they will come in handy when Mick loses/wins. But Mick's also got Taylor Knox staying at his place, who more than anyone over the course of Mick's career has provided metaphysical guidance in both life and, more importantly, in heats.

Mick ran through the crowd on the beach as they yelled "Cheers Mick!" Sebastian  "Seabass" Zeitz - his opponent - also ran through the crowd on the beach that was yelling "Cheers Mick!" Seabass yelled "Cheers Mick!" with them. Seabass did his bit out in the water, getting sold a lemon by Mick and leaving Mick on the best two waves of the heat. On his way back out, and with a set looming, we watched Seabass get dropped off waaaaay wide by the ski. He paddled hard but made the lineup just as the final set wave rolled past him. They dropped Mick in the same place soon after, scuppering our conspiracy theories in the process, but Mick is going to need some big green lights to win his final contest.

Mick Fanning and his well-wishers. Photo: Moran

But even Mick isn't putting forward a compelling case to win this thing. Nobody is. Not Mick, not Toledo, not John Florence, nobody. Bells has been a bit of a gray dirge, and while there's swell nobody is sure if the contest will finish on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday or even next week. It's all horribly irresolute. And the surfing, well, I'm not sure of the new judging scale – where they appear to have removed the "8" and "9" keys from the judges' terminals – has effected the way we see it. Like Pavlov's dogs, have we been so conditioned by continuously seeing eights, nines and tens dropped over the years that now they're suddenly not there, do we think the surfing we're seeing is worse? The judge's scale has shifted, but has our scale shifted with it?

Either way, it'd be great if, sooner rather than later, someone just kicked the door off the hinges before ringing the bell.

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