2009 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach: Day 1

Conditions: Head-high with some 8-foot…I guess they're faces
Events Held: Mens Round 1
Nature's Call: Does this outfit make me look fat?
Prediction: May the best foam-climb win

Today presented a problem for several competitors at the Rip Curl Pro – they wanted to bang their heads against a wall, but there just weren't any walls. There were soft, chunky swells collapsing onto the reef like chubby joggers failing a 5-K. It was hard to watch sometimes.

Poor Jihad Khodr had to milk a wave all the way onto the rocks, knocking his fin out, because the shorey closeout had the only really huckable lip. He was glad to squeak through a low-scoring heat with Pat Gudauskas, who bogged under the white mess on two consecutive waves. Pat, who replaced an injured Gabe Kling in the draw, was one of three young Californians to fall on the very first day of the waiting period. Each will have spent more than fifty times as long on airplanes to and from Australia than he spent surfing in the contest itself.

Conditions really didn't promote high performance; top turns were about as common as lefts, or tubes, or airs, or excitement. It could have been 1987. Richie Collins, pioneer of the floater, would certainly have won his heat, whereas post-modernists like Nate Curran (Californian victim #2) and Roy Powers lost theirs. Roy came in angry, tearing off his wetsuit after its first and final Rip Curl Pro appearance. "Those guys f—king suck at jetski driving," he spit.

Dayyan Neve agreed, staring incredulously as the ski let Jay Thompson bobble on the inside a moment too long. "Look at him! He'll just hang in there and have a cup of tea!"

If it all seems like a lot of doom and gloom, {{{recall}}} that these guys aren't coming back for another shot in Round 2. This is the new format, and today's losers are flooding the Qantas sales desk with phone calls this very moment, jockeying for the next flight out of Melbourne. Game over. Obviously, this was going to ruffle some feathers.

"I just think it's shitty for f—kin' everything," is how Tom Whitaker summed it up. "In no other sport are the top guys seeded above the rest of the field. It takes away the drama of the best surfers going against wildcards who have nothing to lose."

Ace Buchan said, "I reckon it's going to be temporary. Guys are going to be fed up with it pretty quickly." Neither Tom nor Ace even had to surf in Round 1, and Dayyan Neve echoed their complaints even after winning his heat – so this wasn't just sour grapes from sore losers.

Still, everyone had the same rules and the same ocean, and some made the most of it. Jordy Smith's two 9+ scores were Modern Collective-quality clips, on a day when many competitors would beg to burn the footage. Taylor Knox sent a message to the world with his 9.17 that said, "This is why I'm still on tour from Taylor – P.S. Padres #1." He and Jordy were the only surfers to log heat totals north of 15 points.

The third Californian to go down was Dane Reynolds, and he didn't go nicely. He actually tried. His opponent, wildcard Owen Wright, sliced the heat's best wave all the way in. The surfing was excellent but unremarkable, and so was the score: 8.33. So Dane, being Dane, took off and went for a 10, trying an upside-down grab-rail against the closeout and falling off. Then he sat for two-thirds of the heat needing a near-perfect score, and waited stubbornly for the one wave that might provide it.

Now there are two ways to get a 14 point total: the hard way (10 + 4) and the easier way (7 +7). With so much time left, Dane could have picked off five inside waves and gotten five good-enough scores. When he finally did grab a medium-sized runner, he became a competitive surfer like the rest: floating a section instead of smashing it, and visibly exaggerating a tail-slide on the final turn. One more like that and he was through, but time ran out and so did Dane, losing exactly the same way Kelly did at Snapper last month: unnecessarily. Meanwhile, Owen surfed a strong, smart heat, using a thicker board to ride up and over the wash where others got caught up. Next he'll be rewarded with a vengeful Slater in Round 2. So much for no wildcard drama. Check surfingmagazine.com for photos and coverage when the Rip Curl Pro continues. Eleven days remain in the event window to run two days of competition, so count on high-quality waves from here on in.

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Heat 1: David Weare (ZAF) 13.00 def. Nathaniel Curran (USA) 11.16
Heat 2: Michel Bourez (PYF) 12.33 def. Roy Powers (HAW) 6.26
Heat 3: Jay Thompson (AUS) 14.66 def. Heitor Alves (BRA) 6.60
Heat 4: Taylor Knox (USA) 15.84 def. Phillip MacDonald (AUS) 10.16
Heat 5: Dayyan Neve (AUS) 14.00 def. Marlon Lipke (DEU) 7.60
Heat 6: Kieren Perrow (AUS) 12.50 def. Aritz Aranburu (EUK) 12.23
Heat 7: Jihad Khodr (BRA) 10.83 def. Patrick Gudauskas (USA) 8.50
Heat 8: Owen Wright (AUS) 13.50 def. Dane Reynolds (USA) 10.50
Heat 9: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 18.70 def. Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 11.66
Heat 10: Adam Robertson (AUS) 9.56 def. Chris Davidson (AUS) 9.00
Heat 11: Mick Campbell (AUS) 13.83 def. Josh Kerr (AUS) 9.84
Heat 12: Dean Morrison (AUS) 13.10 def. Nic Muscroft (AUS) 10.17
Heat 13: Kekoa Bacalso (HAW) 12.83 def. Ben Dunn (AUS) 11.77
Heat 14: Drew Courtney (AUS) 14.42 def. Greg Emslie (ZAF) 11.83
Heat 15: Tim Boal (FRA) 14.50 def. Mikael Picon (FRA) 11.46
Heat 16: Tiago Pires (PRT) 13.50 def. Dustin Barca (HAW) 11.17

Heat 1: C.J. Hobgood (USA) vs. Mick Campbell (AUS)
Heat 2: Chris Ward (USA) vs. Taylor Knox (USA)
Heat 3: Kai Otton (AUS) vs. Dayyan Neve (AUS)
Heat 4: Joel Parkinson (AUS) vs. Michel Bourez (PYF)
Heat 5: Mick Fanning (AUS) vs. Tiago Pires (PRT)
Heat 6: Bobby Martinez (USA) vs. Tim Boal (FRA)
Heat 7: Damien Hobgood (USA) vs. Jordy Smith (ZAF)
Heat 8: Kelly Slater (USA) vs. Owen Wright (AUS)
Heat 9: Bede Durbidge (AUS) vs. Adam Robertson (AUS)
Heat 10: Tom Whitaker (AUS) vs. Jihad Khodr (BRA)
Heat 11: Adriano de Souza (BRA) vs. Drew Courtney (AUS)
Heat 12: Jeremy Flores (FRA) vs. Kekoa Bacalso (HAW)
Heat 13: Taj Burrow (AUS) vs. Jay Thompson (AUS)
Heat 14: Tim Reyes (USA) vs. Kieren Perrow (AUS)
Heat 15: Adrian Buchan (AUS) vs. Dean Morrison (AUS)
Heat 16: Fredrick Patacchia (HAW) vs. David Weare (ZAF)