As the 2013 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach came to life on Thursday morning, a very full moon still lingered over the rugged hills just behind the famed wave. You know how full moons work, right? Extreme tides and widespread lunacy? Well, as the women's first round commenced, the high tide line actually touched the cliffs, blustery rain sprang from a cloudless sky, and 18-year-old wildcard Nikki Van Dijk shipped top-seeded Tyler Wright and Malia Manuel to the second round.
Van Dijk, who happens to be the current ASP World Junior Champion, is actually competing in the prestigious Easter contest for the fourth time, which means she has more experience at Bells than some of the Top 17. And though the wave is notoriously capricious, her 16.27 would suggest she has a pretty good handle on it. Rip Curl teammate Wright missed skipping the elimination round by just 0.11.
"I'm just reeling right now," Van Dijk said excitedly. "It doesn't really matter how I go, I'm just stoked to be here and make Rip Curl and my family proud."
Alana Blanchard caused another upset when she claimed an extremely close heat against Steph Gilmore and Sage Erickson. She took the lead with a snappy 8.27, but after a last-minute dash by all three surfers, the heat winner was unclear. Blanchard looked genuinely shocked to discover that her last wave, a 7.10, had bumped her back into the winning position.
"You know, I'm just trying to stay relaxed and be confident in my surfing," Blanchard said. "It's super important [to skip to round three], but I don't mind surfing the second round because you get to surf again. It's just so nice to surf Bells."
With her Drug Aware Pro win still fresh, a confident Carissa Moore earned the event's first perfect 10.00 in her heat against Sofia Mulanovich and Paige Hareb. She surfed the wave exactly as Lisa Andersen said it needed to be surfed -- drawing out her stylish, wide-armed carves–and she ended up with a throw-away score of 8.90.
"I definitely think a win helps anybody's confidence, but I think for me, it's just about finding the waves and then performing -- and that's every heat, you know?" Moore said. "I haven't really gotten the result I want out here [at Bells], so I'm really still learning so much about this wave and I'm always looking to improve."
Like Moore, Sally Fitzgibbons dodged the full moon overthrow. A two-time Bells champion, Fitzgibbons isn't governed by the cosmos; she makes her own rules. Bianca Buitendag, a ridiculously quick study, and Tour vet Bec Woods had little chance against Fitzgibbons and her mutual understanding with Bells. She dominated the heat and ultimately earned 18.07 out of 20.00.
"Those waves, I think they just really open up and you've got a really long canvas," she said. "I was stoked to get those couple [of high scores] at the start, and I wanted to finish with a good one, but it went a bit quiet at the end. I think once you get a few good ones, your eyes light up and you just keep trying to beat those benchmarks you set for yourself. It really keeps you hungry for the next round, so I can't wait to get back out there."
Some very sizeable sets were moving in toward the end of Thursday's competition and that power is supposed to hang around at least through Friday, before dropping slightly and rebuilding for Easter Sunday. The next call is at 7:30 a.m. on Friday.
RIP CURL WOMEN'S PRO BELLS BEACH ROUND 1 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Silvana Lima (BRA) 15.83, Laura Enever (AUS) 7.56, Courtney Conlogue (USA) 5.33
Heat 2: Alana Blanchard (HAW) 15.37, Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 14.50, Sage Erickson (USA) 14.80
Heat 3: Nikki Van Dijk (AUS) 16.27, Tyler Wright (AUS) 16.16, Malia Manuel (HAW) 12.10
Heat 4: Carissa Moore (HAW) 19.43, Sofia Mulanovich (PER) 15.17, Paige Hareb (NZL) 13.57
Heat 5: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 18.07, Bianca Buitendag (ZAF) 11.86, Rebecca Woods (AUS) 11.26
Heat 6: Lakey Peterson (USA) 17.66, Coco Ho (HAW) 15.13, Pauline Ado (FRA) 12.83
RIP CURL WOMEN'S PRO BELLS BEACH ROUND 2 MATCH-UPS:
Heat 1: Laura Enever (AUS) vs. Malia Manuel (HAW)
Heat 2: Coco Ho (HAW) vs. Pauline Ado (FRA)
Heat 3: Tyler Wright (AUS) vs. Sofia Mulanovich (PER)
Heat 4: Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) vs. Rebecca Woods (AUS)
Heat 5: Courtney Conlogue (USA) vs. Sage Erickson (USA)
Heat 6: Bianca Buitendag (ZAF) vs. Paige Hareb (NZL)