Taj Burrow's come second so many times in the past couple years, he'd actually begun to expect it.

Sitting in the Bells Bowl yesterday afternoon, with two and a half minutes to go and a suddenly in-form Andy Irons pinning him down by one solid wave score, he was almost resigned to it. "I was out there thinking how much I wanted to win and how disappointed I was gonna be if I came second again," Taj told SURFING an hour or so later.

Then Taj started smiling, and you didn't need to see the shiny new Bell sitting at his elbow to know he'd finally gone the next step.

Lots of guys coulda won this contest. The fact that Taj did speaks well of his physical fitness and determination, as well as his desire. The little bloke, no longer so little thanks to a fitness program that's bulked him up in shoulders and thighs, rode into the final on a brand new Firewire and kept his head long enough to pull out his highest score of the whole contest – a 9.0 — in the last {{{90}}} seconds, leaving AI grasping at might-have-beens.

But the big winner today was Bells Beach. Not just in the clichd, "hurray-for-Bells-it's-a-legend-contest!" 35th anniversary sort of way, but for real.

Bells beat everyone today: made 'em surf too hard on their best waves, then left 'em sitting out the back in that vast vacant bowl amid long, vaguely worrying lulls, until they caught the wrong wave or lost priority out of sheer nervous tension.

Bells is about those decisions a surfer makes during those lulls, and Taj, to some extent against the odds, made the best decision … and Bells said OK, mate, she's yours.

But let us meander back to the beginning of this surprising day, when a swell of surprising magnitude leaped out of the Southern Ocean, and pros went in and out of form like bunny rabbits in and out of…well, Burrows.

Yesterday was a lay-day. I think everyone was fried after the four hour driving marathons of Johanna. They say it's gotta be cold before Bells gets a swell – well for a little while late in the lay-day's arvo, it almost did get cold. Kelly Sl8r stood up in the carpark above Winkipop, wondering whether to go for a surf in the tiny new swell that appeared to be showing. "I wanna go out but I don't wanna go out," he said, stalking back and forth. Almost nobody else was around but pretty soon, out of nowhere, materialised a family group bearing clothing for Kelly to sign. I dunno how he handles the endless invasion of space.