Some serious swell arrived over the weekend for the Rip CurlPro Bells Beach, and the best surfers in the world greeted it with some fantastic performances in less-than-perfect Bells walls. We’ve seen more impressive performances from rookies and wildcards, as well as some big names going down, similar to the Quiksilver Pro on the Gold Coast. Here are some highlights of the men's contest thus far:
Kelly Slater, who was eliminated early at Snapper, narrowly escaped a Round 2 upset before falling to Michel Bourez in Round 3. Slater fans are certainly feeling nervous that his subpar results this season could result in a truncated schedule for the 11-time World Champ. Was this the last time we saw Kelly at Bells? Let's hope not.
Mason Ho made some noise in this event last year, and he’s performing even better this time around. Ho has a versatile game and a unique style, and he used that to bounce Jeremy Flores in Round 2 and defeat the reigning World Champ Adriano De Souza in the following round. After a semifinal at Pipe in 2015, it’s clear that Ho knows he belongs in the water with the top CT competitors.
Following an early exit at Snapper, Mick Fanning looks extremely sharp. He could definitely use the points toward qualifying in 2017 since he won’t surf all of the events this year. However, it remains uncertain if he truly wants to return to the CT full time ever again. He was in the booth before the event started and he seemed extremely relaxed.
Sebastian Zietz and Kolohe Andino had a dramatic Round 2 heat that saw Seabass pull out the score he needed in the closing seconds of the draw. It seemed he was overscored, though, and Andino’s exit nets him a disappointing 25th following his runner-up finish at Snapper.
Speaking of Snapper, Quiksilver Pro champ and reigning World #1 Matt Wilkinson has looked really good at Bells thus far. A shot of him getting ready for a heat showed a different Wilko than we’re used to. He looked intense and focused, as opposed to the jovial guy we’re accustomed to seeing. Another big result for Wilko and we may have to start seriously talking about him as a World Title contender in 2016.
|Matt Wilkinson has come out firing in 2016.|
Courtesy of Rian Castillo
Jordy Smith has always performed well in powerful waves, and his Round 3 heat reminded anyone who may have forgotten that. He posted a 9+ that showcased his raw power in big walls, and he’s definitely someone to keep an eye on this season. Don’t forget that he was one of the best CT competitors just a few years ago and is healthy for the first time in a while.
Conner Coffin continues to showcase a rail game that is going to net him good results. He bounced Joel Parkinson in Round 3, and I remain extremely impressed by the rookie. Two more big upsets from rookies followed Coffin’s toward the end of Round 3, as Caio Ibelli upset John John Florence and Davey Cathels beat former World Champ Gabriel Medina. I thought Ibelli got dramatically overscored on his heat-winning wave against John John, but he surfed really well nonetheless. These rookies are for real.
Here is a look at the Round 4 non-elimination heats on the way:
Italo Ferreira vs. Nat Young vs. Julian Wilson: This is a really interesting heat. This is Young’s pet event, and he’s been great on his backhand. However, Italo Ferreira has been a monster on his backhand as well. Wilson is the best overall surfer of the three, making this heat extremely hard to predict. I’d lean Young here, but it’s really close.
Matt Wilkinson vs. Wiggolly Dantas vs. Mason Ho: The Wilko hype is real! In all seriousness, though, he looks like a guy that wants to win big this season. I’m not picking against him until he loses a heat or matches up with a top guy. Keep an eye on Ho, though.
Mick Fanning vs. Jordy Smith vs. Conner Coffin: This is a heat of raw power, and the one I’m looking forward to the most in this round. Of course, you have to favor Mick here, but Jordy and Conner both have games built for Bells. I can’t wait for this heat.
Michel Bourez vs. Caio Ibelli vs. Davey Cathels: This is probably the least splashy of the heats, but it’s still intriguing. Here we’ve got a pair of rookies matched up with a tour vet that has won multiple contests over the years. It never made sense to me that Bourez hasn't performed that well at Bells in previous years, and he may have figured something out over the weekend. I’m taking The Spartan after his win over Kelly in the previous round.
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