Introducing the 5 minute contest recap. Today we’ll bring you all the important details (sans the lulls between sets) that transpired during the 2018 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach. Bite sized, potent, and straight to the blood stream. Enjoy!
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Formerly the Bells Beach Surf Classic, now the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach is the longest continuously running surf contest in history. Founded in 1961 and becoming a professional event 1973, this is the 57th year the event has run. This year also marks the end of an era, that of Mick Fanning’s career and his reign as a 4 time Bells Champion.
The event finished in spectacular surf on the Bells bowl. It took 6 days to run, including 2 lay days. The men and women ran alternatively at multiple venues, Bells and Winkipop, both serving up a variety of conditions, ranging from fair to good. The concept of running at multiple venues is a very good thing for viewers. It doubles my interest in the event. It also improves the odds of running in the best waves possible. Additionally, it highlights both the strengths and weaknesses of a given surfer within the same event. This was best illustrated by 2009 champ Silvana Lima who shined at Winki, pinning every section on the fast, down-the-line rights. Back at Bells she’d employ the triple check bottom turn while waiting for the Bells bowl to stand up and then often fall while trying to pace through the flat spots.
We often question the value of mushy waves on tour, Bells and Margaret’s Main break. While those waves aren’t best to showcase the caliber of athletes the CT surfers are, it is kind of nice to see how they surf a wave that is more akin to what we’d surf. But still, let’s get these athletes on world class waves.
Other than the two event winners, all former Bells champs were decimated in early rounds. Carissa Moore, Sally Fitzgibbons, Adriano deSouza, Matt Wilkinson, Joel Parkinson, Jordy Smith all faltered.
Some bullet points from the event:
Gabriel and Italo did whitewash take-offs.
The Bells bowl illustrated how Griffin Colapinto has all the flow of Parko but with the explosive spontaneous turns and tail blows that Seabass too infrequently showcases.
Tyler Wright and former event champs Sally Fitzgibbons & Carissa Moore all had shockingly substandard performances, looking somewhat uninterested and then unfocused once standing, leaving a huge opening for wildcards and rookies. More on that later.
Mick got through to round 4 at about 60% of his ability. That was until Pat Gudauskas had him up against the ropes. This seemed to activate a switch in Mick and he absolutely caught fire, winning the heat, and then going on to beat Owen Wright who slept in his car the night before their heat to avoid a sick baby at home. Mick and Pat met again in the semifinals and Mick trounced him.
Other observations of Mick during his final event, he doesn’t apply sunblock beyond his jawline. Odd. He over-applies the war paint on his cheeks, forehead and nose, then leaves his neck and ears completely exposed. Upon inspecting all the archival footage they were showing through the event, Mick’s been doing this through his entire career. What’s the deal? Mick also brought back the old-school Rip Curl Search logo/sticker that Parker Coffin drew on Mason Ho’s board last month, and then all other Rip Curl surfer swapped their red logos for Mick’s proprietary black sticker, honoring his retirement.
Zeke Lau successfully hassled and rattled John John by not only dominating first priority by out paddling John and posting a 7 on his first ride, but also unnecessarily paddling tight circles around John John during lulls. He paddled so close he was paddling over John’s board, strictly as a tactic to irritate John. Not only did it work, as John fell on his scoring waves and finished the heat with a 9.73 total, but it polarized fans on the Internet.
All the drama reminded me that this is a sport and we need aggression. It shifts agendas, creates consequence, and ultimately, leads to more exciting surfing. It angered John John which he expressed in his post heat interview, something that I don’t think we’ve ever seen, and while that served Zeke well in round 3, it will haunt him in all future match ups with John. John will certainly learn to incorporate aggression and defensive tactics, but more importantly, Zeke likely unlocked a new side of John, one that is fueled by vengeance and fury, which if he can harness and direct, will help him retain his world champ status. Going into West Oz in 25th place, he’ll need to find a new gear.
Zeke went on to get dismantled in quarterfinal 3 by Italo Ferreira, but before that, Italo participated in the best heat of the event with Filipe Toledo, heat 10 round 3. Both surfers combined progressive maneuvers with speed, power, flow, and then did huge end smashes to free fall finishes. Filipe opened the heat with a 7 and each successive wave by both surfers improved upon that score, with Italo narrowly earning the win. This heat exemplified what’s working about new head judge Pritamo Ahrendts compressed scoring scale. Filipe and Italo not only elevated their surfing, but they didn’t take off on waves that wouldn’t net an excellent score.
While Italo won the heat, Filipe’s free surfing clip from the following lay day probably received more views than any heat during the event.
The first memorable impression that Italo left on me was in his rookie year at Cloudbreak. He was smashing head high end sections over dry reef, a section every other surfer was kicking out on. He exhibited the same reckless abandon at Bells by throwing himself into the unpredictable end section lips, free falling into the explosion, compressing and riding out with a claim. This is the same opportunity, the same section of the wave where 209lbs Willian Cardoso and former event champ Joel Parkinson would sneak in under-the-lip power carves, which while impressive at the time of execution, were later revealed to be safety turns by Italo’s bravado.
On the women’s side Caroline Marks lived up to the hype that’s followed her through her entire amateur career littered with 10 point rides. Remindful of Gabriel Medina’s ascent to greatness. She looked completely unflappable, great flow between huge maneuvers, never lacking confidence when facing pressure or big names. She took down Lakey Peterson, Joanne Defay, Keely Andrew before succumbing to eventual event champ Stephanie Gilmore in the Semifinals.
Silvana Lima on the other side of the draw took down Carissa Moore and Tyler Wright, but with less conviction. She’s falls a lot. And while this might add some excitement to the waves that she actually completes, it shows an inconsistency and perhaps even a frailty that doesn’t bode well for a format that requires 12 winning waves throughout the course of an event, and more dauntingly, 10 events through the course of the season. Her falls don’t seem to be instigated by pressure situations nor surfing against big names. She does exhibit a volatile level of emotion, which has earn her 10s in past events, but also seems to really haunt her after otherwise minor errors in a heat. She lost in the quarterfinals to eventual finalist Tatiana Weston-Webb.
Patrick Gudauskas is worth a mention. He has a zip and a verve that I haven’t yet determined if it’s a strength or a weakness, but it’s definitely a thing. He might be the most reliable surfer on tour to get a 7, but struggle to push into the 8 range. We’ll see.
Michel Bourez was beaten by Pat in the quarters, but reminded us that when he is on, he possess an unrivaled balance of power and pizazz. Sadly, and as is the case with all explosive energy in the universe, it comes in fits and seems impossible to sustain. He’s a heavy weight and he can’t seem to muster the stamina required to survive 12 rounds or, surfing’s 7 rounds. He, Willian Cardosa and Jordy Smith need their own weight class, where they can just focus on throwing haymakers. Otherwise, in this current marathon they’ll be nullified by the surfers who can, not only link maneuvers, but also link waves through a heat, link heats through an event, and link events through a season.
Congratulations to Stephanie Gilmore who solidifies finesse and flow as key elements to success at Bells while securing her 27th event victory. She surfed her 400th heat during this event and was forced to prove her worth against Caroline Marks in the Semifinal, dropping a 9 in the final minutes. Although the final scores didn’t reflect it, Gilmore had a much easy task against Tatiana Weston Webb in the final, where her wave selection and overall flow showcased their stark contrasting abilities. This also marks Stephanie Gilmore’s 4th Bells victory, joining the ranks of Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning, and Mark Richards.
And congrats to Italo Ferreira who spoiled one of the greatest swan song stories in surf history. Mick was poised to win his final event on tour while simultaneously setting a new record of 5 Bells beach wins in his 18 events surfed there and retiring in the #1 position on the championship tour. But it wasn’t to be. Italo posted 15.66 final score, leaving Mick with priority needing a 7.57, waiting for a wave that never arrived. Italo is the real deal. He’s fearless in any wave size, in his approach to surfing, and in his confrontations with icons of the sport like Mick, Kelly, Gabe and John John. He’s the 2nd ever Brazilian to win Bells, after Adriano de Souza and his surfing is so raw and unrelenting that he’s hard not to love. A lot of insiders are saying he’s poised for a world title this year. We’ve only completed 2 events, but he leaves Bells in 2nd place on the rankings. Mick retires in 3rd.
See you in West Oz.
Music: Atlas Sound feat Noah Lennox, “Walkabout”
Produce, Edit, Host: David Scales @david_lee_scales