The Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach is as historic a stop on the men's ASP World Tour as it is pivotal. Now in its 52nd year, a win at Bells is often a springboard to greatness. The event has been a crucial component in both Mick Fanning and Kelly Slater's previous world title campaigns. There's no reason this year will be any different.
During the course of an entire event at Bells, competitors will most likely have to compete in a wide variety of conditions, from the mushy rolling rights at Rincon (the inside shelf at Bells) to big Sunset Beach-style waves at the Bowl, to J Bay-esque rights at Winkipop. If there are marginal waves and swell during the waiting period, Rip Curl can also travel up the coast to the wild beaches of Johanna, where there are usually fun but unpredictable beach breaks. Current swell models are looking extremely promising, with six to eight-foot surf on tap for the upcoming Easter weekend.
Forecasting service CoastalWatch.com reports: "The leading edge of a long interval SW groundswell is projected to make landfall across Victoria later Saturday; at this stage triggering a steep increase in wave height at Bells Beach throughout the afternoon. This energy is forecast to peak on Sunday at a solid five to six foot plus at Bells. Further, it's likely to be closely followed by a second, strong pulse on Monday."
To ring the iconic bell is an incredible achievement. Slater, Parkinson and Fanning have all won the contest multiple times and are obviously the ones to beat. Rated first, second and third in the world, respectfully, all three are very focused this year and are putting plenty of pressure on each other. But the rookies could play a big role in this year's title race. It's really a matter of which one wants to step up and take out Slater, Parko or Fanning in the early rounds. It's a tall order for the young surfers, but they definitely have enough talent to create an upset.
Dusty Payne looks to have a new and inspired outlook towards competing, and with his recent win at Margaret River he will be coming into Bells feeling motivated and confident. The conditions at Bells are very similar to Margarets, and with Payne's solid base of power surfing, he could be one of the guys to put a wrench in someone's title campaign. Kolohe Andino and Sebastian Zietz also have great foundations in power surfing, and with their full repertoire of progressive maneuvers to tap into they could also be very dangerous. I also like Nat Young, who could prove to be a hard rookie to draw as his backside surfing will fit Bells perfectly. He has the determination and mental strength to stay composed against the big guns.
There is still no official announcement if Gabriel Medina, Miguel Pupo and John John Florence will be able to surf the event due to the injuries they sustained on the Gold Coast. Rumor is that Florence will be back, but that is currently unconfirmed. All three are deadly competitors and their absence in the draw has the potential to make things a little easier for would-be title contenders. Injuries have become more frequent in the last couple of years on the world tour, so maybe this is the new norm. As surfing evolves into a truly dynamic and progressive sport with surfers constantly pushing their limits into the air and out to the flats, the importance of dedicated time towards injury prevention has never been more important. Just staying healthy for an entire season will be an accomplishment it seems.
In reality, everyone on tour has the potential to win the Bells event, but Julian Wilson and Jordy Smith both seem to have the motivation and mindset to ring the bell right now. Wilson is on his third year on tour and looks like he is building momentum and confidence. Bells compliments his smooth power surfing and also allows for progressive maneuvers, which is the perfect combo for his approach. With a fifth at the Quiksilver Pro and with a recent third place finish at Margarets, it definitely feels like he will be ready for action at Bells. Smith is another incredible surfer who's approach and surfing technique is perfectly synched with Bells. Smith has been surfing incredible and has suffered some very close heat calls over the last year. For some reason the judges have not been rewarding him for his powerful and progressive approach, but look for Smith to put in an explosive performance at Bells, rocketing his rating and confidence to the next level. We must not forget that Smith was in the title race two years ago and has yet to reach his full potential as a tour competitor. Bells is the perfect location for him to start.
RIP CURL PRO BELLS BEACH ROUND 1 MATCH-UPS:
Heat 1: Gabriel Medina (BRA), Matt Wilkinson (AUS), Raoni Monteiro (BRA)
Heat 2: Julian Wilson (AUS), Kai Otton (AUS), Patrick Gudauskas (USA)
Heat 3: Taj Burrow (AUS), Kieren Perrow (AUS), Willian Cardoso (BRA)
Heat 4: Mick Fanning (AUS), Sebastian Zietz (HAW), Oney Anwar (IDN)
Heat 5: Joel Parkinson (AUS), Brett Simpson (USA), Jack Perry (AUS)
Heat 6: Kelly Slater (USA), Adam Melling (AUS), Jacob Wilcox (AUS)
Heat 7: Adriano de Souza (BRA), Alejo Muniz (BRA), Tiago Pires (PRT)
Heat 8: Josh Kerr (AUS), Damien Hobgood (USA), Dusty Payne (HAW)
Heat 9: Jeremy Flores (FRA), Travis Logie (ZAF), Nat Young (USA)
Heat 10: Michel Bourez (PYF), Bede Durbidge (AUS), Filipe Toledo (BRA)
Heat 11: Owen Wright (AUS), Adrian Buchan (AUS), Glenn Hall (IRL)
Heat 12: Jordy Smith (ZAF), C.J. Hobgood (USA), Kolohe Andino (USA)