The 55th Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach has been run and won by two exceptional surfers.
The early heats featured some amazing surfing from old and new; Matt Wilkinson, winner of the Quiksilver Pro was on fire reviving memories of the power surfing of Occy with his savage backhand blasts, Mick Fanning was surfing fast and smooth, Parko spent more time in the pocket then anyone else while Kelly was capable of anything on the day.
Things got serious after the Easter break. Half a day spent at Winki Pop was enlightening for who got through to the quarter finals and who didn’t. Six time world champ Stephanie Gilmore started out slowly against Malia Manuel of Hawaii who was surfing with speed and grace down the line at Winki Pop. Stephanie Gilmore needed a solid eight point ride to win and, although her last wave lacked power and panache, she got it and Malia was left wondering what had just happened.
The women’s finals were held in perfect surf back at Bells the next day. Courtney Conlogue and Sally Fitzgibbons faced off in one of the closer finals in years. Sally led for much of the final but the fast surfing Californian showed more aggression and took the points. An hour later and she was shaking the big old bell in the carpark.
The final of the 2016 Rip Curl Pro reminded me of the 1987 final between Tom Carroll and Tom Curren. Two of the best surfers of the time facing off in big, bumpy Bells waves. Curren fell off on his first wave (sending gasps through the crowd). Carroll smashed his first two chunky waves to the beach and it was all over.
The final this year wasn’t that much different. Matt Wilkinson had been smashing lips all week with his vertical backhand attack while his main competitors Slater, Wilson, Florence and others fell by the wayside. Come the final and the big lumpy Bells waves were ideally suited to Wilko’s power and poise. Like Tom Carroll 29 years prior, the big goofy footer took his chances when the good waves came and multiple high scores followed.
His opponent Jordy Smith surfed well but just couldn’t find those wave-scoring rides that are critical when Bells is big and bumpy. All it took was for Wilko to knock up a 9.2 followed by a 8.17 and the big wooden bell trophy was his to be rung.
This year’s Bells event was pretty cool; good waves, fantastic weather and great surfing. Most surf contests are decided by who can do the biggest airs or the most tricks. Not at Bells. It is one of the few major contests on the world tour where you still have to bash, crash and carve your way to victory. Well done Courtney and well done Matty.
Written by John Foss
Image: World Surf League