Bells Beach Set To Return To Glory In 2006

Long term swell forecasts have indicated that excellent waves will once again return to the famed Bells Beach stage for the 34th annual Rip Curl Pro Surf and Music Festival due to begin tomorrow (Tuesday 11 March), and competitors are anxious that they may have to unleash their "guns" or longer boards if the swell reaches overhead heights by the weekend as predicted.

Contest Director, two-time world champion (in 1987 and 1991) Damien Hardman, was resembling an eager "grommet" today as he anticipated some incredible action to ensue as the swell increases toward the end of the week.

"It's predicted that we'll see an increase in swell on Wednesday which should let us start the event in some quality Bells walls," said Hardman. "Then come Friday we'll see a new and even bigger swell arrive and that is forecast to be overhead in size.

"If the swell comes through as has been indicated by," said Hardman, "we should see the most prestigious event on the Foster's ASP Men's World Tour return to its exciting best."

In 2005, the event, the second on the Foster's ASP Men's World Tour won by Trent Munro (AUS), was plagued by unfavourable conditions and was forced to move to Phillip Island located two hours away.

With late injury withdrawals from Toby Martin (AUS) due to a lingering neck injury and Adrian Buchan (AUS) due to an ankle injury, the draw for the event, (which features 45 world-ranked surfers plus three wildcards) has been changed to include Ben Dunn (AUS) and Jihad Kodher (BRA) plus three wildcards from the Rip Curl Pro Trials.

The trials event, held today at Bells iin one metre (three foot) conditions, was taken by Nic Muscroft (AUS), followed by Matt Wilkinson (AUS) and Adam Robertson (AUS).

The main event draw could still change given that both seven-time Foster's ASP Men's World Tour champion Kelly Slater (USA) and three-time tour champion Andy Irons (HAW) were both unable to attend a press conference today due to them suffering from a mystery virus.

Slater is believed to be in a bad way and he was even forced to withdraw from a World Qualifying Series event in Newcastle, Australia last week due to the severity of his condition.

The Rip Curl Pro press conference, also staged today at the Melbourne Aquarium, featured Munro and 2001 champion and world number three Mick Fanning (AUS) wrestling for the much sort after Rip Curl Pro winner's bell trophy while scuba diving in a shark tank.

Fanning, while treading water in the tank as he put his diving mask on had a first hand look into a shark's gaping jaw as he was "kissed" on the face by a two metre bull nosed shark as it brushed past him.

Fanning was obviously rattled but at the same time ecstatic about the close call.

"That was truly unbelievable," frothed out Fanning after leaving the tank. "Did you see that thing! Hopefully I won't run into one of them in the lineup!"

When asked about surfing back at Bells he appeared much more at ease.

"I always look forward to coming to Bells," said Fanning. "It's such a great high-performance wave. I've been in Indonesia working a lot on my equipment and have a good quiver of boards that will go well for me out here. I've also been working a lot on my strength and endurance since the first event and can't wait to get going."

Munro was equally as enthused about getting the first round underway at Bells Beach, as after having plenty of experience at the break he is eager to tuck another bell trophy under his wing by beating the best of the best.

"The Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach is one of the most prestigious events in the world and I'm back here to have another crack at taking home the Bell for sure," said Munro. "It's a hard question to answer regarding whom I'd like to beat in the top 10 the most because I find it satisfying beating anyone. I do find it particularly satisfying when I beat Andy or Kelly."

Going to press the full draw for round one of the Rip Curl Pro has yet to be finalised but stay tuned to or for all event updates.