The battle for the world title and Olympic qualification continues this week as the world tour moves to Bells Beach, in Victoria, Australia. Bells has been the setting for some of surfing’s most pivotal performances. It is the longest running world tour-level event, having run consecutively for over 50 years, and helped reveal the thruster to the world in 1981 when Simon Anderson took the win in maxed out Bells Bowl. Always run over Easter weekend, the event draws thousands of surf fans, and has been won by some of surfing’s greats, including Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning, and Andy Irons. As Shane Dorian once famously quipped, “No kook has ever won Bells.”
While Bells Beach is not the most high-performance wave on tour (not by a long shot), it has a lot of historical significance, and always tends to enjoy solid, clean swells due to its wide-open window into an active ocean. Unfortunately, this year appears to be breaking the streak of good swell for the Bells contest, as there is very little in the way of waves on the forecast. And to make matters worse, the wind looks pretty adverse as well. Day one of the event ran on Thursday in pretty feeble conditions at the backup venue of Winkipop, and there isn’t much else lined up. In fact, for the first time in many years, there’s a good chance that the event might not even run at Bells Beach proper at all!
While this isn’t good news for event organizers or spectators, there are certainly some guys on tour who won’t mind the small swell and the slightly steeper walls of the backup venue at Winki. While Bells is often the domain of power surfers with heavy-handed approaches to the fattish walls at the Bells Bowl, man-hacks and big, wraparound carves are less likely to win the event if it is run at waist-high Winki. Instead of power brokers like Wade Carmichael and Jordy Smith, looks for light-footed, small-wave wizards like Gabriel Medina, Italo Ferreira, and Felipe Toledo on the podium. Medina is the defending world champion, Italo is defending event champ (plus he won the first event of the year earlier tis month at Snapper Rocks), and Felipe Toldeo is arguably the best small-wave surfer on the planet.
Of course, John John Florence is no slouch both on the face and in the air, and is hungry for another title after his one-year hiatus due to injury. And Kelly Slater is surfing what will likely be his last year on tour, and would surely love to etch his name one last time on the Bells trophy, particularly since he is already one of the winningest surfers ever at Bells Beach.
On the women’s side, look for Hawaiian Carissa Moore to lead the charge, along with defending world champ and four-time Bells Beach winner Steph Gilmore, who is looking strong coming into this year. And if we do luck into some of that trademark Bells Bowl at the end of the waiting period, Caroline Marks could put her powerful backhand to use and further her lead on the ratings (since the 17-year-old tour sophomore already took out her first win of her career and currently leads the title race).
No matter who ends up winning or what sort of waves we get for the event, a few things will remain constant—the Aussies will still show up in force to cheer on their countrymen and women, Hells Bells by ACDC will play on the loudspeaker every morning for the next week, and Easter Sunday will be celebrated in Torquay the way it is every year—with the world’s best surfers strapping on neoprene and surfing for the ultimate Easter egg.