BANG! WHIMPER! Rip Curl Pro hangs on the swell

Started with a bang, ended with a whimper. That's the second to last day of the Rip Curl Pro. The day began with Joel Parkinson and Danny Wills smashing perfect sunny walls, and finished with Andy Irons and Bobby Martinez scratching their heads in a cold flat lineup.

The Ten Year Swell being called for by event forecaster Ben Matson tried to show today. It pulsed, it semi-barrelled off the Rincon point section, it almost made the grade to Classic. Then around midday, with AI and Bobby in the lineup and ready to rip, it sorta shrugged and gave up.

The surfers were caught totally short by this unseemly behavior. Only moments earlier, they'd been waving their arms at event director Damien Hardman, who'd wanted to call a halt. Now they were stuck with the heat and barely a wave was breaking.

"I thought it's gonna be 20 minutes till the next one and we're gonna look like dickheads, throwing tantrums in the water going 'Come on run it!'" groaned Andy afterward. "Then Bobby got a little wave and I thought 'Oh man, what's he doing to me? He's gonna get a five or whatever. I've shot myself in the foot here.' But I just went patient and got an open face and got a five then a six something.

"It wasn't great sport but enough to make it right now."

Yeah, just. AI survives to fight again in conditions that do look as if they might be about to produce one of 2006's finest events.

Gale-force offshore winds are one of the best swell predictors at Bells Beach, and today they howled like banshees, tormenting more than one competitor with up-the-face chop, and causing plenty of dug rails in the process.

Pancho Sullivan was a victim. Pancho fell foul of a subtle flaw in the Bells wave face – a slight bump that holds a lighter surfboard high in the lip for a fractional extra second. This, combined with the wind, nullified his spectacular open face carves and let Luke Stedman fly past on better wave choice.

Bruce Irons and Paulo Moura fell foul of something much simpler, local knowledge. Bede Durbidge and Shaun Cansdell, the two young Australians, have been down to this cold part of the country numerous times. "Because of all the junior series events we've done, I've probably been here 15-20 times," said Bede. "All that experience helps I think, because all these other guys only come down here once a year." And indeed, sleek Brucey did look irritatedly unfamiliar with the Bells Bowl's wobble.

Ten heats now remain to be decided, and if the Ten Year Swell does raise its head, some of those heats will stagger the imagination. This event is ridiculously stacked. On the bottom half of the heat draw, AI, Taj Burrow, Occy, Mick Fanning, Mick Lowe and Parko are all gazing at each other, wondering what the hell they're gonna have to do to make the final. On the top half, Stedman, Cansdell and Durbidge share the real estate with … yep, guess who…Kelly.

Slater is one win off equalling the great Tom Curren's all-time tour total of 33 event victories. Despite this, there doesn't seem a lot of attendant pressure on the skin-headed superman. His heat with Taylor Knox today seemed relaxed, the surfers staying level almost to the end before Kelly turned it up a notch on his final ride and pulled away for the win.

Once upon a time, say ten years back, it might've been fiercer. "It was just more serious then," Kelly says thoughtfully. "I was more focused. It sorta meant more, somehow, personally or something, back then. I was out there just now thinking, whether Taylor or I win, it's no big deal. Obviously I wanna win my heats but to see my friend win heats is kinda cool too. He's competitive but I know when I go see him now he'll give me a hug and laugh, he won't be bummed."

Kelly's riding one of his magic Simon Anderson pintails. Most modern high performance boards surf best off the back half, but Slater seems to be able to ride his Simon from the center – a real asset at windy, hard-to-penetrate Bells. The board, made last July, is unquestionably the most beaten-up piece of crap in the contest. It has a crease just forward of the front foot and a scattering of other small dings, fixed with what appears to be a loose application of Solarez. "Do you have one of these?" KS7 asked your correspondent. "Do yourself a favor."

Do the other guys a favor, buddy. Snap the thing tomorrow morning in the warmup. 'Cause if not, we're looking sideways at number 33.

Round three
Heat 15: 1 Mick Lowe 15.17, 2 Trent Munro 14.17
Heat 16: 1 Joel Parkinson 17.67, 2 Danny Wills 16.2

Round four
Heat One: 1 Luke Stedman 12.6, 2 Pancho Sullivan 11.34
Heat Two: 1 Shaun Cansdell 15.6, 2 Paulo Moura 15.03
Heat Three: 1 Bede Durbidge 14.9, 2 Bruce Irons 14.56
Heat Four: 1 Kelly Slater 17.1, 2 Taylor Knox 15.27
Heat Five: 1 Andy Irons 12.5, 2 Bobby Martinez 10.5

Still to surf
Heat Six: Taj Burrow vs Mark Occhilupo
Heat Seven: Mick Fanning vs Greg Emslie
Heat {{{Eight}}}: Mick Lowe vs Joel Parkinson