"Bells is one of those waves where if your first turn is out of sync then your whole wave is out of sync," said the defending champion of the Rip Curl Pro at Bells, Joel Parkinson, after winning his first round heat Tuesday.
Parkinson's words might sound like simple strategy, but competing in the variety of waves on offer at Bells Beach might be the most challenging on the current ASP World Tour.
For the past two days the water has been cleared at Bells so the Top 34 could get some practice time ahead of the start. Watching the variety of equipment that has been tested during these sessions can only lead the observer to believe that even the top surfers in the world are still not quite sure what board to ride at Bells Beach. Channel bottoms, square tails, square round tail, swallow tails -- even a singlefin. They were all being tested.
On Tuesday, the first round of the men's event, and you had Kelly Slater testing out boards at nearby Winki Pop, just before his heat, Julian Wilson changing boards mid-heat and Jordy Smith admitting to winning his heat on a stick he hadn't even considered bringing.
"I'd come from Cape Town and packed my quiver. My Dad came from Durban and bought a few boards, and I ended up riding one he brought. I didn't even know he was bringing it. It's a couple of years old but it still works."
Slater, who won a low-scoring heat against Brett Simpson and wildcard Davey Cathels, had been trying out a quad fin, with a new little FCS quarter fifth fin and a traditional thruster at Winki Pop, and decided to use what he describes as his 'Go-to board.'
"This is the board I started riding at Trestles last year and I rode it in France, Portugal, San Francisco, and then on the Gold Coast this year, so it's been around for a while," he said about the craft that was propped up against the Bells Beach stairs as he prepared to sign autographs for the frothing fans. The board had an obvious repair patch on the tail and Slater admitted that he was riding it with a buckle on the top deck.
"I guess it's beaten up a little bit, it's got a buckle right under my front foot that I need to get sorted out. When I press into it, I can feel it buckle. It doesn't quite have that spring back that it had before so I've got to kind of baby it," he said before describing the board.
"It's an epoxy so it's pretty light. It's got a touch more foam under my chest and being epoxy, they float a little better anyway, but on a big wave it could be an issue. If I was going really fast it starts to float up above the water too much, but I'm happy with it at the moment."
Slater might have to move to a different board for later in the week if the predicted increase in swell arrives.
Owen Wright won his heat with a 17.93 total, the highest of the day, and paid homage to the last goofy footer to ring the bell: 45-year-old Mark Occhilupo, who many wanted to see get a wildcard to this event.
"I'm drawing a lot of inspiration from Occy at Margaret's [Margaret River, Western Australia] last week," said Wright after returning to the beach after his heat win. "He's really spurred me on, to see him come back like that and make the semis with some real power surfing, it's really inspired me. Hats off to Occ."
"I was watching the TV coverage of the Margaret River event last week and I was noticing that the power Occy was getting from his bottom turns. It was carrying him out onto the face and through dead sections and into his big power turns. I went to Byrne (surfboards, Owen's sponsor) and we changed a few things with my boards, figuring out what would work down here. We added a little more volume and got some new fins and it has really clicked. It has given me more time to draw out my bottom turns and go to the lip or into big power turns, so I have to thank Occy."
Parkinson has 'rung the Bell' three times in his career and would love to add his name to a fourth Bells trophy. Both he and Mick Fanning won their heats convincingly. The wave really suits Parkinson's style and he has his boards dialed in for the powerful conditions.
"I definitely change my boards from home (Gold Coast)," he said about the equipment he brings to Bells Beach. "The waves at home are tiny little short faces, kind of sucky, but here (at Bells) there are big open faces with a lot of area on the waves so you add a lot more rail on your board and choose a set of fins with a lot more drive."
While most surfers would normally want more speed, Parkinson has the theory that at Bells you need to slow things down. "Basically you've got to wipe the power off and get into rhythm, you can't go to the bottom and think that you're going straight back up, that's for sure. It will just bounce you right off, you'll wobble, you'll lose your direction, and it will be all over. You really need to think about where to hit the lip and actually how to hit the lip and having the right board out there definitely makes a big difference."
The men's round was cut short Tuesday at heat nine by an onshore sea breeze and an inconsistent low tide swell. Equipment played a huge part in the day's results, but local knowledge helped too when Torquay's Nic Muscroft defeated Taj Burrow and Kolohe Andino.
Matty Wilkinson, who is in heat 12 of the first round, didn't get to surf Tuesday but when he does it will be interesting to see if he rides one of the boards he was testing yesterday: a channel bottom? Mark Occhilupo describes it as his 'secret weapon' at Bells Beach and while Wilkinson seemed unconvinced after his testing session, it would not surprise anyone if he tries the board during his heat. It's a question mark, just like the design of his wetsuit for this Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach event.RIP CURL PRO BELLS BEACH ROUND 1 MATCH-UPS:
Heat 1: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 15.60, Kieren Perrow (AUS) 12.10, Fredrick Patacchia (HAW) 11.17
Heat 2: Owen Wright (AUS) 17.93, Patrick Gudauskas (USA) 14.97, Bede Durbidge (AUS) 13.50
Heat 3: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 16.00, Raoni Monteiro (BRA) 8.67, Taylor Knox (USA) 4.17
Heat 4: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 17.27, Kai Otton (AUS) 12.23, Adam Melling (AUS)
Heat 5: Nic Muscroft (AUS) 16.07, Kolohe Andino (USA) 14.06, Burrow (AUS) 11.10
Heat 6: Kelly Slater (USA) 13.70, Brett Simpson (USA) 10.33, Davey Cathels (AUS) 9.77
Heat 7: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 13.10, Julian Wilson (AUS) 10.23, Yadin Nicol (AUS) 6.66
Heat 8: Mick Fanning (AUS) 14.76, Gabriel Medina (BRA) 12.10, Jadson Andre (BRA) 9.80
Heat 9: Travis Logie (ZAF) 10.93, Adrian Buchan (AUS) 10.90, Josh Kerr (AUS) 8.50
REMAININING RIP CURL PRO BELLS BEACH ROUND 1 MATCH-UPS:
Heat 10: Michel Bourez (PYF), Damien Hobgood (USA), C.J. Hobgood (USA)
Heat 11: Alejo Muniz (BRA), John John Florence (HAW), Tiago Pires (PRT)
Heat 12: Heitor Alves (BRA), Miguel Pupo (BRA), Matt Wilkinson (AUS)