2009 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach Event Preview

Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson; head to head

In a nutshell…

The Bells event is a loveable crank, something like Owen Wilson in "You, Me & Dupree" – it's as though we've been friends with it for so long, and we have so many great memories together, that we gladly forgive its flaws: being kind of a fat, slopey wave; the freezing Victorian cold; the fact that conditions occasionally go to hell and force a move to Johanna or Phillip's Island. That's OK, Bells, bring it in for a hug. Hey –remember that time Curren battled Occy, at you?

And anyway, there's simply too much riding on the Rip Curl Pro for it not to be firing this year. The fates know this. Poseidon, Neptune, Huey – pick a deity of swell – they're just as keen as any of us to see how the cookie crumbles in Torquay. After that first event on the Gold Coast, this contest is a major deal-breaker for the 2009 World Tour. Sometime in the April 7-19 waiting period, foundations will be solidified for the early season ratings situation, and it will likely be at least mid-year by the time those foundations are meaningfully shaken. Teahupo'o and J-Bay play favorites; Brazil is the first quasi-equal opportunity wave. When the Bell rings, it'll set the tone until perhaps as late as Europe.

So whatcha been up to, boys?

With more than a solid month of downtime, the world's best scattered like alley cats, perhaps revealing a hint of their mindsets this season. Some, like Bobby Martinez and Kelly Slater, beelined straight for SB, perhaps to lick wounds from the opening round (in Kelly's case, it was to ride out a nasty flu bug.) Taj bailed to Bali for a spell, then high-tailed it back to Oz as TC Jasper and its afterbirth sent out non-stop, overhead east swell for the Queensland area. That's where you also found Parko and friends, who didn't see a reason to head anywhere. Then you had the Modern Collective crew (including Jordy Smith), who broke the height barrier in WA before calling it a wrap, which probably helped Jordy seal the win over D. Hobgood at the rugged-but-adorable O'Neill Coldwater Classic in Tasmania. And where was Dane during this swirl of activity? He was last seen at Emma Wood, riding a George Greenough mat. So what if…

…Parko gets a third or better? Certainly no stretch of the imagination required; he won the Rip Curl Pro in 2004 and made the final as recently as 2006 – and his drawn-out carves fit nicely onto Bells' fickle paunch. If Joel reaches the semis after winning Snapper, he'll have heavy {{{insurance}}} against a poor placing in Tahiti – although his recent Triple Crown title doesn't indicate Parko has any trouble in waves of consequence. Still, ask Kelly about surprise losses at Teahupo'o (two fumbles against wildcard Manoa Drollet last year). If Joel goes 9th or worse, which is inexcusable for him at Bells, his newfound mental strength will be Lance Armstrong blood: tested.

…Kelly loses early again? Sla-9 and -ter has a hat trick at Bells, but motivation could be on the wane with things not going his way; or, alternatively, early failures could be the red cape to Kelly's bull – in which case Toro, Toro! The 44 are in for an all too-familiar horn to the stomach. Most interesting could be whether Kelly reverts to proven Al Merrick boards, or opts to go out on a limb – a short, wide, self-shaped limb – by riding his oft-assessed Wizard Sleeves (by the way, what do you think of them? He's surely soliciting opinions.) The decision will be made by the conditions more than anything else, but the question remains: does Kelly want to win bad enough to swallow his shaping pride?

…Dane gets pick-pocketed by the judges? Football refs used to cast the fortunes of thick, angry, roid-gobbling men with their split-second calls. Then instant replay came along and took the pressure off, and now they can change their minds about a play with no harm done. Until the ASP creates a similar program, however, the judges' rulings stand – for better or worse. "Worse" was the consensus of Dane Reynolds fans at the Quiksilver Pro, who reckon he got robbed in the final seconds of his Round 4 heat with Taj Burrow when a heaving barrel-to-doggy door netted strangely low 6-ish scores. The incident booted Dane from the event, and led Kelly Slater to declare, "I think decisions should be totally turn-over-able." Totally.

Further criticisms abound regarding the judges' inability to rate progressive maneuvers appropriately. They still crash symbols for a double-grab or a reverse, mucking the scale for the few guys – e.g. Dane – who do some seriously slinky stuff in a jersey. All this must be frustrating for the one they used to call Beaver, and if it continues, what's to stop him from permanently retreating to his Ventura dam?

…A Hobgood reaches the semifinals? Owing to the brutal consistency of the last two ASP world champions, it's safe reckoning that 5th is as poorly as a surfer wants to do if he hopes to end the year on top. But Floridians and deadly lefthanders have a weird bond, and a Hobgood in the final at Teahupo'o is only about as rare as peanuts in a Snickers. If either twin can overcome the crook-foot handicap (Occy was the last to win Bells while facing the beach, in 1998) to do well here, he could be set up for an excellent start to the year. With all the work the boys have been putting in with coach Chris Gallagher, it's about time we saw them get theirs – unhampered by injuries or personal issues or awards they have to share with each other.

Other things of interest:

Scoring for Dummies: Much has been made in the media of Joel Parkinson's vaudeville puppet show recently; so-called analysts say he's outperforming with his hands and body language to snap viewers out of the style-induced coma they get from watching his smooveness. If the judges read the surf papers – and they do, f—k we're important – they could be on the lookout for technique gimmicks. Gauging that element is subjective business, though – all the judging is. That's what separates us from golf.

Owen Wright: The 19 year-old has a sponsor's wildcard, which will put him against a top seed; realistically, as a goofyfooter with no World Tour experience, his chances are really bad. But Owen's quietly been winning everything under the sun lately: 4 pro juniors last year, 3 in a row since January, and he actually took out the Rip Curl Gromsearch International Final at Bells in 2005 – so he has history there. He's got 6 new sticks for the contest, knowing Bells requires a thicker board and a unique approach. Meh. Owen rips. You never know.

Grim Efficiency: The Rip Curl Pro will be first to utilize the ASP's new event format, which goes into effect full-time in 2010. That means Bells will see no three-man heats, no double-elimination, a lot of complaining from the Round 1 losers, and the potential to finish the whole thing in a quick three days of competition. Enticing prospect: Kelly, Parko, Bede, Taj, Mick, Dane – every probable title threat, really – will be cackling black magic from the safety of Round 2.

Remembering Earth: Being green is a little out of style at the moment, because no one can afford it. That excuse might be good enough for deadbeat dads withholding alimony, but it wasn't good enough for Rip Curl, who decided the thumbs down economy in 2009 was a perfect opportunity to INCREASE their efforts at combating global warming. To that end, the Rip Curl Pro will be carbon neutral, offsetting calculated emissions with an environmental partner and donating straight cash from every ticket sold to the Greening Australia organization. Be prepared to hear and read about these initiatives ad nauseum; if you're after a good drinking game, drain a glass every time the webcast announcers say "carbon neutral."

Bottom line: A beautiful and historic locale; 48 excellent surfers; a carbon neutral contest (drink it); a shook-up format; and enough ratings possibilities to make a fan giddy – a splendid Bells is guaranteed for all, and SURFING will be there documenting and reporting on every bit of it. Check the site frequently for photos, updates, analysis, and the details on a pending Twitter feed. See you in Victoria…bring a hoodie.

For more on the Rip Curl Pro, stay tuned to SURFINGMAGAZINE.com or visit http://live.RipCurl.com