In the late 80s, Billabong released a video called "Surf Into Summer." One of the highlights of that film (in addition to pro wrestlers brawling in the surf and some classic TSOL tracks) was a 1986 Rip Curl Pro semifinal at Bells Beach between Mark Occhilupo and Tom Curren. Not only was it mind-blowing action just five years after the introduction of the thruster that would still stand as quality power surfing 25 years later, but it showcased a classic goofy vs. regularfoot match up. Curren would go on to win the event and title that year.
Occhilupo, the goofy, wouldn't win at Bells until 1998 when he took it to regularfoot, Shane Dorian. But that would be his last victory at Bells. The next several years saw Dorian and Sunny Garcia win. Then it was Mick Fanning as a young wildcard, the late great Andy Irons for two years, and Joel Parkinson rang the Bell in 2004, 2009, and 2011. In between it's been Trent Monro in 2005, current world No. one Taj Burrow in 2007 and of course, three Bells to Kelly Slater, added on to his win here in '94 that signaled a changing of the guard against Martin Potter. But make no mistake-- all regularfoots.
While Occhilupo's bout with Curren was historic for pro surfing in general, that '98 win remains the last time a goofyfooter won at this right hander -- a very significant event for Bells specifically.
"Apart from Occ, who looks like he was born to surf the place, the goofies seem to have a tough time out there at Bells. The key to surfing Bells well is not going hard at the wave all the time, backing it off when the wave tells you to, and I think that's just a lot easier to do on your forehand than it is on your backhand," says Joel Parkinson, "Occ is the exception because when the wave has no speed, he just generates his own."
Sure, left-foot-forward fellas dominate the Quik Gold Coast Pro as well, but that event doesn't have nearly the history of Bells. And that Occhilupo win 14 years ago is something that Occhilupo, who just made the semis at the Telstra Drug Aware Pro last week as a 45-year-old wildcard, should be very proud of.
So when we look at the 2012 Rip Curl Pro, smart money is definitely on the regularfooters, particularly the Australian regularfooters. First and foremost, you'd rank the Coolangatta kids, who are actually veterans these days -- Parkinson and Fanning. The two went blow for blow in an epic final last year and in the final seconds, Parkinson used his priority to grab the last wave and find a tube for a perfect 10. And of course, Fanning, who relies on that trademark speed here, also made the finals in 2010, albeit that event was highly mobile.
Taj Burrow won the Gold Coast Pro a few weeks back. It's not a stretch to say he's the most consistent surfer outside Slater in the past ten years, but he's never been one to string together great results and only once in his career (2007 when he rang the Bell) has he even won two World Tour events in the same season.
Look to Josh Kerr over Julian Wilson. Kerr continues to make a solid case as a real world title contender, a campaign that he started at Bells last year with his equal 13th finish. Jordy Smith and Adriano de Souza both started the year strong on the Gold Coast and both are absolutely seething to get into the top slot this year. These two have racked up a bevy of third and fifth place finishes at Bells the last few years.
And then, of course, there's Mr. Slater, who can win anything, anywhere, at any moment. The question you have to ask is whether Slater is interested enough to shoot for title 12. You have to imagine his even showing up at Margaret River speaks to that.
Shoot, even the wildcard Rip Curl chose for this event, Davey Cathels, is one of the hottest young regularfoots in the world right now.
So is it a forgone conclusion that the Bell is going home with a regularfoot this year? Not necessarily. There's a social networking campaign to get Occhilupo in this event -- #putoccyinbells2012 is trending hard. Of course, many of those tweeting (journos, and fans) are gooftyfoots themselves."With variety being in the new criteria, I feel your very limited to what you can do on your backhand to get a big score," explains Wright. Don't get me wrong, Bells has seen some of the bestback hand surfing ever, with what Occy has done, but I feel you're very limited on your money turns out Bells backside. Like backhand, you have to hit the lip to get a score where guys on their forehand can do big carving turns which are good, but there not as critical as hitting the lip."
Owen Wright is the man most likely to get it back is , a very similar surfer to Occhilupo. He managed an equal fifth last year and as a wildcard in 2009, he upset Slater here."So the goofys really have to step it up to get the big scores and I will be doing everything I can to do that!" he assures us.
Across the board are the ASP ladies, who will surf Bells this week as well, before the two tours diverge for a while. The entire last year has seen a rivalry boil up between Sally Fitzgibbons and Carissa Moore. But then Steph Gilmore proved that she's one hundred percent back from her slip in 2011 by winning the Gold Coast Pro over young Laura Evener. Right on their heels was Tyler Wright -- all regularfooters.
This won't come down to a regularfoot/goofy thing because they're all basically regularfoots. Needless to say, Kiwi Paige Hareb has her work cut out for her.
Right now, the Indian Ocean is brewing up a serious swell for the regs and goofies. No matter what foot goes forward, the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach runs April 3-14.