Bells Beach at Easter is like an institution to a lot of Australians, almost like chocolate eggs, fish on Good Friday for Catholics, the April full moon, cold winds, jackets, beanies, and pumping surf.
I'm not admitting to how many Easter contests at Bells Beach I've seen, I was introduced to this event long before it was sponsored by Rip Curl. In fact it was still called the "Bells Easter Rally."
My most vivid memory from way back then is of a surfer named Terry Wall lying crossways on his longboard praying that the 10-foot Bells bowl set was not about to break on his head.
Another vivid memory is the 1986 semifinal between Mark Occhilupo and Tom Curren that has been stamped into surfing folklore as the 'All Time' heat in the history of professional surfing. Maybe there are a few other heats that could claim this tag, but (and that's a small but) that heat was nothing short of amazing. Both guys at the prime of their careers, Curren heading to a second World Title, 10-foot high tide sets finishing right on the beach, and both going for broke. It's a special memory.
There is going to be another "Occy/Curren Showdown" at Bells this Easter, following up on the one at Jeffreys Bay during the 2009 Billabong Pro. Curren was in the car park this morning. As we walked down the beach he wasn't trying to get the jump on Occhilupo, he was there to watch his daughter Lee Ann battle her way through the first couple of rounds of the Rip Curl Women's Pro. I tried to get a quote from him about his clash with Occy, but his answer told me his preoccupation was with Lee Ann's heat. Lee Ann made it through to Round 3, by the way. The surf was marginal today but they still held two rounds of the women's event.
One of the highlights of the day was meeting Mick Fanning's "guest," former Formula One driver David Coulthard. He was on the beach getting sand between his toes, tasting the salt air -- a refreshing change after the Formula One races. He was asking lots and lots of questions and Fanning patiently answered every one. The tables had been turned from the weekend when Fanning was a "guest" of Red Bull at the Australian Formula One Grand Prix.
Mick went around the track with Mark Webber in a two-seater version of a Formula One car. Mick reckons he screamed all the way around experiencing G forces as they hit the brakes and accelerated through the corners. Later when he was in Webber's pit during the race all he wanted to do was jump in and help the pit crew do tire changes and refuel Webber's car. He was still buzzing and babbling, showing photos he'd snapped on his iPhone from the experience at Monday's press conference, more than 24 hours later.
The forecast for surf is not all-time at this stage, but the contest organizers said this morning, "We're not afraid to take it on the road."
I guess this could be an understatement from a company that has taken 'The Search' all over the world. We're probably not going that far this time, but there could be a few more miles on the rental car before this contest wraps up sometime next week.