This is how it plays out at Bells, year after year… Easter is over, so the contest can begin.

That’s the nature of this exceedingly venerable event, where 35-year anniversaries flit by like butterflies, and where pretty much every good and great surfer of the past four decades has done the exact same thing: showed up, hung around, waited for a swell, and when it failed to show, ended up at Johanna.

Johanna Beach! {{{100}}} miles west of Bells Beach, way out in the dairy farming country of western Victoria, set in land of such incredible rolling greenery it makes Morning Of The Earth look like Apocalypse Now, lies Johanna — mythic beachbreak of lore and legend, where once upon an aeon ago, back in 1970, Ventura’s Rolf Aurness won a world surfing contest. Yesterday, SURFING pulled up behind Johanna into a paddock full of cowshit and surf stars, and stumbled down the track to find Simon Anderson busy videoing Victor Ribas.

Of all the bizarre sights…. “Get your stupid head out of the way,” muttered Anderson, endeavouring to conceal his own not inconsiderable melon behind a hopelessly inadequate looking Sony something or other. Clearly, this was serious business.

Johanna Beach today was beautiful. The wind blew offshore, the sandbars sucked in absolutely every drop of available swell, and at least 1000 people wallowed in the late summer sunshine, getting burned and watching some very effective and skilful pro surfing. You coulda thought it was 1970, except for the super international makeup of the crowd, at least 100 of whom were Brazilian. SURFING paddled out for a play-surf on a nearby sandbar and almost ran over a kid from San Diego named Andrew. Later, walking up the beach track, we ran into another Andrew, the Irons version. “Fun, huh?” AI grinned. “I’m goin’ down there to say hello to EVERYONE!” It was that sort of day.

In the water, though, no records were broken – unless you count the sheer number of heats run. Event director Damien Hardman pushed through 22 of ’em, six or eight more than a regular day’s worth: a reflection of the pressure this contest is now under, with limited days and limited waves on the horizon.

Today was as much about the losses as the wins. Bobby Martinez, for instance. Bobby lost a heat today against South African rookie Royden Bryson that he couldn’t possibly have lost last year. Rincon’s favorite son has had a vertiginous turnaround from his extraordinary super-rookie 2006. The giantkiller aura has deserted Bobby this year, and without it, his smooth, elegant surfing has lost the indefinable sense of menace that accompanied almost all his performances last year. He’ll be back, but maybe not in time to repeat a top-5 finish in 07.

Or Wardo! Cripes! Today Chris showed up and asked head judge Perry Hatchett: “What heat is this, number two?” Yeah, replied Perry, you’re next. “What? I’m surfing today??? Nobody told me!” And Wardo went out to put together a classic Wardo heat, starting waves with moves worthy of a 9.0, then falling halfway through to turn it into a 3.0. Chris didn’t look too worried.

Who’s the opposite? Taj Burrow. Last year Taj was claiming world-title race and being claimed by onlookers. Your correspondent didn’t believe a word of it … but guess what? This year Taj isn’t claiming a thing, but he’s surfing like a magician. Today he unleashed a surfing pattern full of variety and interest and grabbed the judges’ interest like nobody else. “It’s probably just because I’m surfing the way I would if I was just going free-surfing,” he told us. “I’ve always been a bit conservative in heats and I think I’m just shrugging that off.”

Simple idea: surf the way you want. Works for some, not for others.

It works for Bede Durbidge. Bede surfed a smart heat against Pancho Sullivan, backing himself to get a major score on the last wave and managing it with ease. Bede’s lack of an endorsement contract is beginning to look less like a novelty and more like something truly weird. A month ago, the commentators at the Quik Pro were selling ol’ Bede like he was going out of production, but here he is, five weeks after putting himself into second on the rankings, and he’s still yet to cash that check. Rumor has it his management knocked back a recent offer from a sunglass company because it was insufficient. What’s Bede worth?

Who’ll it work for tomorrow? Who knows? Now we’ve all done what you always do after a day at Johanna, and driven back to Bells, getting ready for a rise in swell. Tomorrow the big guns will fire.

Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach Round 3 Results – 1st advances to Round 4, 2nd finishes equal 17th
Heat 1: Royden Bryson (ZAF) 15.50 def. Bobby Martinez (USA) 15.10
Heat 2: Bede Durbidge (AUS) 12.50 def. Pancho Sullivan (HAW) 11.17
Heat 3: Daniel Wills (AUS) 14.67def. Chris Ward (USA) 10.50
Heat 4: Taj Burrow (AUS) 16.60 def. Dayyan Neve (AUS) 11.34
Heat 5: Tom Whitaker (AUS) def. Michael Lowe (AUS) 12.50
Heat 6: Leonardo Neves (BRA) 13.10 def. Dean Morrison (AUS) 12.{{{90}}}

Remaining Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach Round 3 Match-ups
Heat 7: Travis Logie (ZAF) vs. Raioni Monteiro
Heat 8: Kelly Slater (USA) vs. Nic Muscroft (AUS)
Heat 9: Andy Irons (HAW) vs. Rodrigo Dornelles (BRA)
Heat 10: Ben Dunn (AUS) vs. Jeremy Flores (FRA)
Heat 11: Damien Hobgood (USA) vs. Mark Occhilupo (AUS)
Heat 12: Phillip Macdonald (AUS) vs. Frederick Pattachia (HAW)
Heat 13: Mick Fanning (AUS) vs. Bernardo Pigmeau (BRA)
Heat 14: Michael Campbell (AUS) vs. Adriano de Souza (BRA)
Heat 15: Joel Parkinson (AUS) vs. Adrian Buchan (AUS)
Heat 16: Bruce Irons (HAW) vs. Ricky Basnett (ZAF)

Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach Round 2 Results – 1st advances to Round 3, 2nd finishes equal 33rd
HEAT 1: Bobby Martinez (USA) 11.66 def. Owen Wright (AUS) 11.17
HEAT 2: Damien Hobgood (USA) 15.76 def. Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 15.10
HEAT 3: Nic Muscroft (AUS) 15.34 def. Taylor Knox (USA) 10.47
HEAT 4: Dean Morrison (AUS) 12.17 def. Luke Munro (AUS) 11.23
HEAT 5: Rodrigo Dornelles (BRA) 12.67 def. Cory Lopez (USA) 12.30
HEAT 6: Phillip MacDonald 11.70 def. Gabe Kling (USA) 10.{{{80}}}
HEAT 7: Bernardo Pigmeau (BRA) 15.50 def. {{{CJ}}} Hobgood (USA) 14.33
HEAT 8: Mick Campbell (AUS) 14.56 def. Neco Padaratz (BRA) 14.53
HEAT 10: Royden Bryson (ZAF) 14.00 def. Josh Kerr (AUS) 12.87
HEAT 11: Ben Dunn (AUS) 17.00 def. Troy Brooks (AUS) 13.00
HEAT 12: Raoni Monteiro (BRA) 13.17 def. Victor Ribas (BRA) 12.33
HEAT 13: Mark Occhilupo (AUS) 16.33 def. Kai Otton (AUS) 12.43
HEAT 14: Michael Lowe 14.43 (AUS) def. Luke Stedman (AUS) 13.16
HEAT 15: Ricky Basnett (ZAF) 11.83 def. Trent Munro (AUS) 5.34
HEAT 16: Frederick Pattachia (HAW) 16.60 def. Shaun Cansdell (AUS) 14.33