SAVED FROM THE BELLSFor a photo gallery of the event, CLICK HERE.

The Rip Curl Pro heads into the semi-wilderness, and scores at last

"We've had Bells at Easter for 43 years," Rip Curl's guru head man Doug "Claw" Warbrick told SURFING on Monday morning, "there's been five of 'em this early, and all five of 'em have been f–ked."

Then he qualified it: "I mean, this one is specially f–ked, but..."

Special is right. No event in ASP WCT history has ever waited this long to get underway, {{{Eight}}} days in, with Bells Beach still dribbling at a foot or less in a healthy onshore wind, and not a male pro had surfed in the heat of battle.

You could see it on people's faces. They'd passed through the Four Stages of Contest Failure Trauma: through the "Oh, cool, we've got a day off" phase, and the "Damn, it's crap again!" phase, and the "God damn it, I hate this place!!" phase, and finally, the nasty fourth phase, "Who cares? Let's just split the prizemoney up and go home."

Now, the event brainstrust had got past it all, and were into the "Let's fricken do something about this" zone. They chose Phillip Island, and the choice was inspired.

P.I., three hours drive east of Bells Beach, is one of the great Aussie surfing heartlands. It's a broad, flat mainland island, accessed via a short bridge. It's scoured by cold Southern Ocean winds and smacked by swells that miss Bells.

The surf population hangs out through summer and bails to Indonesia in winter, where Phillip Islanders have pioneered almost every spot in the chain. Names like Dugga Warren are legend among old Indo hands.

Jamie O'Brien's Dad, Mick, grew up surfing here. "I've spent more time than I can remember in this pub," he told SURFING last night in the Isle of Wight pub. Now he's back here with his millionaire-in-waiting son, and one thing's for sure, it's a long way from Pipeline.

This morning revealed beautiful offshore-brushed peaks up and down Woolamai Beach, one of P.I.'s excellent beachbreak zones, and while the tides made it a bit schizophrenic at times, compared with Bells, it was Paradise.

Needless to say the surfers were relieved, if a bit wobbly on their feet at times. "I think we'd surfed twice," Tim Reyes said of the eight day death watch. "We watched every DVD we had; all of Andy's, all of Sunny's, all of Cory's. Then we'd make a BIG DEAL out of dinner. We'd say, 'OK, gonna really eat it up tonight!' Then we'd have a thousand beers and call it a night."