The Final Day at Bells Beach

Behind the scenes of Carissa Moore and Mick Fanning's paths to victory at the Rip Curl Pro

There was a lone lion on the Bells savannah at dawn this morning. One guy. Jordy Smith. Last year he’d fallen at the last hurdle at this venue, one that should rightly be his. He had the lineup to himself for half an hour, a rare gift, and he had the time to commune with the place and align his chakras ready for the final day. Surely, today.

The car park was empty. The crowd had disappeared back up the M1 Highway to Melbourne. The carnival was over. The show may have looked like California over the Easter weekend, but today it felt distinctly like rural Victoria. The transformation from yesterday was stark. The waves yesterday had been reduced to rubbish under the influence of a howling southwest wind and a fatigued swell. The event was being painted into a corner by bad winds coming from all directions in the closing days of the waiting period and today was the only glimmer of hope to knock it out in decent surf.

Historically the fortunes of this event rely heavily on Easter falling late in April, and already there is a scheduling challenge on the horizon next year with Easter falling early. You could of course move Easter. The new Pope, well, he’s tweeting and might just be progressive enough to shuffle his schedule to get Bells better surf. Or you could simply move the contest itself out of Easter, an idea that sounds even more sacrilegious, but one, apparently, that’s being floated for next year.

The show may have looked like California over the Easter weekend, but today it felt distinctly like rural Victoria.

The day would see both the women and men ring the iconic Bells trophy, the first time that’s happened in living memory. The day started with the womens’ semis and again – as you’ll be doing at every event this year – you began your assessment of proceedings by wondering who the hell could beat Carissa Moore, and how the hell they were going to do it. Sally Fitzgibbons got close in the semi, a slow ocean playing into her hands, but when left chasing a 4.77 on the last wave of the heat, she made the mistake of surfing for a 4.77 instead of a 7. The job of stopping Carissa then reverted to Tyler Wright in the Final, and it was a more even contest. Tyler gave it everything, including riding straight up onto the inside reef, a knock that left her so giddy she was later dancing kookily in the competitors’ area. Hang on, that was before the head knock, but anyway, she was left dazed and a point short at the end of the heat. Carissa’s third world title just seems to be happening around her.

As I’m writing this, she is sitting behind me in the contest media room being interviewed by some news service from some other corner of the world far away from Bells. She’s ebullient as ever despite this being her 50th interview in the past hour, she gets granular into the detail of the Final and what it means to her. It’s lovely, and I’m sure the hack on the end of the line thinks so too. Carissa hangs up with, “Have a great rest of your day.”

The guys’ heats started in diabolically comical fashion. For the second heat running, Adriano de Souza began by paddling a fellow Brazilian up the point to the South Australian border. It was Gabriel Medina this time and both blindly refused to give up the first wave. I waited patiently for one of them to surf straight into the other to force some kind of interference call, but sadly they continued to surf Bells as a right and the moment was lost.

The big heat, however, was Jordy Smith versus Julian Wilson. Common names but uncommon surfing. Julian came to Bells with two bad strikes already against him, neither of which he could comprehend. He felt his surfing had been good enough for both wins, but here at Bells he had the toughest draw. Jordy was a clear favorite to win not only the heat, but the whole event. In many ways, he’s more of a favorite here at Bells than he will be at J-Bay. J-Bay is perfect. J-Bay surfs you. J-Bay makes everyone surf well. At Bells you surf uphill. You’ve got to surf it heavy, but light. It’s slow, but mercilessly fast. Jordy has it mastered like few ever have.

Watching his heat with former pros Jake Paterson and Tom Whitaker we talked Jordy and tossed the idea around of whether he should drop back a gear, as his fourth gear here beats everyone else in top gear. But we agreed this lion should never be caged. Jordy in full flight in waves like Bells taps into something both futuristic and primal, both technical and instinctive. But as we talked Jordy indeed surfed his heat at 80 percent, surfed his heat like simply being Jordy Smith would be enough to get him through. He was coasting downhill, and he coasted to the point where Julian had him cold. With 40 seconds left Jordy took off needing a 9.97, a miracle, but as he took off you felt in your bones that he just might go and get it. The cage door swung open and off he ran.

It may have been the only time in surfing history anyone has surfed a wave and expected a 10 to drop.

No wave will be ridden better this year. It was platinum. It was beautiful and barbaric and it was a 10…except that it wasn’t. The look on Jordy’s face as he climbed the stairs said it all. It may have been the only time in surfing history anyone has surfed a wave and expected a 10 to drop, but when the beach announcers read out that he’d scored a mere 9.93, a derisive smile swept his face and he walked up to take his medicine. For the second year running a contest that was his suddenly wasn’t. The rest of the draw breathed a sigh of relief, while the contest site buzzed with talk about how Jordy had been robbed. I quizzed six past Bells winners’ opinions on the subject and their reactions ranged from, “He clearly should have won” to “It’s bullshit.” Jordy took his chops and leaves Bells with a moral victory, if not an actual one.

To Julian’s credit, he surfed well enough to create that scenario and it spurred him on. He was unstoppable in his quarter with Joel Parkinson, seemingly surfing to validate the Jordy heat. After the Final in Portugal in 2012, which he won on a controversial score, he knows how much the reflux that follows a controversial win can sour the taste of the win itself.

The game then changed. With the high tide blanket making Bells all soft and fluffy, the call was made to move to Winkipop, just around the corner. In a perfect world the Bells Beach Pro would be the Winkipop Pro, but the weight of tradition and the logistics of running a contest on a verdant headland reserve means it’s saved for special occasions, and this afternoon was one of them.

With all the angel trumpets announcing the arrival of Jordy, Julian and John John to Bells Beach, two old sea dogs had quietly made their way into the semis without so much as a yelp. Mick Fanning and Taj Burrow have had subpar seasons. In the rush to transfuse the Tour, they have become grist for the mill and both sat well back in the ratings coming into Bells, and while they’d been solid in the early rounds neither had set the place on fire.

Both Taj and Mick made chess moves over the course of the afternoon that hinted at a deeper understanding of the wave.

But the move to Winkipop played right into their hands. It’s a wave that, like Bells, needs experience. Both have surfed it religiously since they were kids, and both knew every landmark on the hill when they paddled out against their youthful opponents. Both made chess moves over the course of the afternoon that hinted at a deeper understanding of the wave. This was especially so in the Taj and John John semi, where the Hawaiian had trouble with the Lowers section that raced away from him and prevented him from landing clean knockout blows on his final turns.

I can probably tell you a little more about the Julian Wilson controversy during his loss to Mick Fanning in the semis as I was involved in it…although I’m still not a hundred percent sure I understand it myself. At the point of the heat when it happened, Julian was needing an 18-point-something combo. He needed two nines and some change. Mick had him on toast. With the clock getting skinny he caught two waves back-to-back, the second a good one. Working on the beach commentary, my colleague read out his first score – a 6.33 – as his second, which soon after came in as a healthy 8.43. It was a mistake, sure, but at that stage Julian needed two nines anyway…an equation that universally means you need to blow shit up, immediately. Julian, storming up to the judging tent after eventually losing the heat, said that it had thrown him off– “A six! For that?!” – and had made him surf the remaining minutes of the heat differently.

Since the genie was let out of the bottle at Margaret River, what exactly could precipitate another resurf has been a hot topic.

Without mentioning the “R” word, I read it was where the conversation was going. Since the genie was let out of the bottle at Margaret River when Taj and Bede resurfed their heat after an accidental leash pull, what exactly could precipitate another resurf has been a hot topic. Sadly for Julian, today’s blooper didn’t qualify. Before the start of the season I pegged Julian Wilson as the world champ this year, and from what I’ve seen after three events I reckon his surfing is still up to the call as long as Julian himself is.

The shadows of the Winkipop headland lengthened and from them Mick Fanning emerged flying down from Upper Lowers down to Lower Uppers. He knows this reef well and it suits him far better than Bells. Taj was a wave short at the end, and we mused as to which Rip Curl guys were going to chair Mick – as per tradition – up the thousand stairs to the car park. In the end, Mick walked them himself, stopping to chat and high five his crew, the stairs lined with captains of industry, snotty wetsuit-wearing punks, and of course the UBB, the Ultimate Bro Brah, Ryan Fletcher who had suggested it would work better if Mick were to walk up the stairs under his own steam.

His win this afternoon has again resulted in ratings roulette, Mick Moving from 11th to 3rd, and with Brazil next you can bet it’s going to happen all again in a couple of weeks where we all prepare to blame it on Rio.


2014 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach Results

Final: Mick Fanning (AUS) 16.83 def. Taj Burrow (AUS) 13.46

Semifinal 1: Taj Burrow (AUS) 14.43 def. John John Florence (HAW) 13.43
Semifinal 2: Mick Fanning (AUS) 18.20 def. Julian Wilson (AUS) 17.36

Quarterfinal 1: Taj Burrow (AUS) 15.50 def. Adriano de Souza (BRA) 13.16
Quarterfinal 2: John John Florence (HAW) 13.13 def. Kelly Slater (USA) 11.10
Quarterfinal 3: Julian Wilson (AUS) 17.53 def. Joel Parkinson (AUS) 15.34
Quarterfinal 4: Mick Fanning (AUS) 13.16 def. Owen Wright (AUS) 11.37

Round 5, Heat 1: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 16.27 def. Gabriel Medina (BRA) 13.33
Round 5, Heat 2: Kelly Slater (USA) 15.26 def. Adam Melling (AUS) 12.44
Round 5, Heat 3: Julian Wilson (AUS) 17.30 def. Jordy Smith (ZAF) 17.26
Round 5, Heat 4: Owen Wright (AUS) 13.37 def. Fred Patacchia (HAW) 13.10

ASP Men’s Top 5
1: Gabriel Medina (BRA) – 19,200
2: Joel Parkinson (AUS) – 18,400
3: Mick Fanning (AUS) – 16,950
4: Kelly Slater (USA) – 16,900
5: Taj Burrow (AUS) – 16,250

  • Dunga

    Great report

  • Julian

    Coulda, shoulda, woulda……Jordy

    Judges please resign. Porta, you are the weakest link…fall on your sword….

  • Ben

    I see everyone hating on the judging each and every event but no one is presenting a solution for this repetitive problem. Obviously this year will continue the same as it has. But surfing has completely changed and so should the way a wave is judged. Maybe if some decent ideas on how to improve the system were put forth the runts running the ASP would open their fucking eyes and get to work making the judging better.

    The judging should change from a wave score out of 10, to a wave score out of 50.

    1.Commitment and Degree of Difficulty

    2.Innovative and Progressive Manoeuvres

    3.Combination of Major Manoeuvres

    4.Variety of Manoeuvres

    5.Speed, Power and Flow

    Each section should be scored out of 10 for a total wave score of 50. Total heat score out of 100.

    * It is important to note that the emphasis on certain elements is contingent upon the location and the conditions on the day, as well as changes of conditions during the day.

    These emphasis on certain elements should be assessed and communicated to the surfers as conditions change so surfers know what their focus should be on. Surfers are confused. The judges are completely confused and are rewarding BORING SURFING! YES IT’S GREAT SURFING, BUT IT’S BORING! This will not only alienate hard core surf fans it will NOT bring in NEW FANS. Which is exactly the goal of this whole new ASP.

    Just some ideas instead of the complaining I see after every event.

  • Ben

    I see everyone hating on the judging each and every event but no one is presenting a solution for this repetitive problem. Obviously this year will continue the same as it has. But surfing has completely changed and so should the way a wave is judged. Maybe if some decent ideas on how to improve the system were put forth the runts running the ASP would open their sucking eyes and get to work making the judging better.

    The judging should change from a wave score out of 10, to a wave score out of 50.

    1.Commitment and Degree of Difficulty

    2.Innovative and Progressive Manoeuvres

    3.Combination of Major Manoeuvres

    4.Variety of Manoeuvres

    5.Speed, Power and Flow

    Each section should be scored out of 10 for a total wave score of 50. Total heat score out of 100.

    * It is important to note that the emphasis on certain elements is contingent upon the location and the conditions on the day, as well as changes of conditions during the day.

    These emphasis on certain elements should be assessed and communicated to the surfers as conditions change so surfers know what their focus should be on. Surfers are confused. The judges are completely confused and are rewarding BORING SURFING! YES IT’S GREAT SURFING, BUT IT’S BORING! This will not only alienate hard core surf fans it will NOT bring in NEW FANS. Which is exactly the goal of this whole new ASP.

    Just some ideas instead of the complaining I see after every event.

  • cezar

    Hey Sean, is it so hard to talk about brazilian surfers without writing them off? Your fucking racist… Everyone of your fucking articles you send a message to them.

  • Paul

    How biased is surf media with brazillians. Medina finish the australian leg in first and never lost the number 1 spot. Maybe the only guy outside USA, HAW, AUS and South African
    that hold this position for so long. Still the surf media dont talk about his surfing. Adriano was one of the standouts in Bells and easily could make the final. Well, the only thing said about then are about paddle battles or priority calls who have not attained the rules.

    • Jiffyclaims

      Perhaps the media is sick of Medinas post heat tantrums , his tears when losing , his stone faced angry dad pacing up and down the shore line , or maybe the fact that he tried to fade into Bede Durbidge to draw an interference , sure he surfs great but who cares if he is a total dick…
      ADS surfed fantastic all event but taking the paddle battle all the way to centreside with both Toledo and Medina , just made people throw their hands up and walk away , silly stubborn Adriano , concentrate on surfing not on being a control freak..
      Thats my 2 cents anyway

      • Paul

        Yeah but you can imagine if it was Kolohe instead Medina? Kolohe is such an arrogant kid, walked up the stairs stead wait for the scores showing a complete lack of sportmanship, punch is board at Fiji etc. Nobody talks about it. Why? If Kolohe was the number 1 you would see him being praised by the surf media. This guys are humans and they all have some issues. Kelly and Parko are such an asshole sometimes, like AI was etc etc. So the problem is why the surf media hides bad things about some guys and only talk bullshit about others? Maybe they are afraid of changes, maybe they are just biased, maybe they are just racists.

  • tony ty carson big island

    Dudes, the best waves ever ridden on the planet, by a so called pro or anyone, will always be the waves you catch and ride youself, whether its 2 feet or twenty. “The surf industry, (pro surfing-the ASP), is not surfing, my brief forays into the dark sickly, heart of the matter have reminded me of that. The cool kids are looking towards the past, trying to find surfing’s lost age of innocence.” LS—–P.S. If you look hard enough, it can still be found…

  • Harland

    What Gabriel Medina did in his heat with Bede Durbidge was bullshit. I hate Gabriel Medina and many other brazilian surfers and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

    • Daniel

      The good thing about your odious comment is that out of hundreds of guys who read this story very very few agree with your envious words. The flipside of the fact you bring up here is that aussies and americans also do the same that Medina did. So the obvious conclusion is that your hate is a sympton of the now substantial and convincing rise of Brazilian surfers to the top.

    • Brazilian jiu jitso

      Fuck you come to Brazil

  • Walt Defaldo

    Congratulations, the Australians have dominated into the final, as if it was a waltz on the geopolitical sportsmanship that’s redefined their own names. I think not, as we still speak in English and drones have yet to be decided as a legitimate step child. Godspeed and until number four.
    As if you could legally search someone not criminal. Four is the loneliest number that there ever was. Four is search and frisk; 4 is numeric, but something to watch out for. All 4 nothing. ect. ect. ect.

  • Nortonish

    What ever technical explanation as to how these two finalists just so happened to be Australian and compete together doesn’t justify the banal appearance made of professional surfing nor correlate to why people might choose to smoke cigarettes to get lung cancer opting out of more outdoor exposure to direct UV radiation to get skin cancer. They aren’t really distinguished unless they are seperated. Feed the machine!

  • Daniel

    Sean, as usual bringing about hate, resentment and hard feelings in your articles as you compel readers to do the same by stressing your near sighted views when talking about Brazilians…Why man? Should look for some pastoral care and deliverance of you inner demons at some local church in LA area.

  • Doug

    Was watching Bustin’ Down the Door last night and couldn’t help but notice how much more exciting it was to watch these guys in the 70′s really surf the wave responsively – sensing the wave energy nuances and responding to that energy. Then I thought of Mick and the rest that advanced to the top at Bells. You can practically hear it in their brains as they take off – “I’m gonna throw two hacks, a cut back, another hack, a floater and finish with an off the lip (maybe an air if I’m already in the lead and can afford to fall).” Nothing to do with the wave at all – just a plan to score points. Boring surfing – really boring surfing. And Mick and Taj were the most boring of the bunch. Maybe they should stop calling it a surf contest and rename it “Hacking for Dollars.”

  • Mik

    the fact that adriano paddle battled gabriel up the point at least shows that they aren’t racist, since they are both brazlians. and i don’t think sean is either for noticing. and if i were in a heat with adriano, i sure as fuck would not simply give him priority; nor kelly, nor parko. any pro that sits back and lets any of these amazing talents “have” the best first wave is going to regret it. so that isn’t a brazilian problem, its a logic problem. if you dont get the most best waves u will lose, doesnt matter where u come from.

    the bigger problem IS the judging which is imbalanced by having more aussie judges than any other country on the panel — and this is aggravated further by the fact that none of the judges were former pro surfers, and from what i have seen, none of them look like they were former talented surfers either. so how do they score?

    peter mel, for instance, worked as a judge for the NSSA for years, and he was a premier santa cruz aerialist as a teen and then became a big wave legend, so his commentating is generally spot on, and unbiased. he would make an awesome judge. same with mike parsons. in fact, most USA pro surfers really like aussies, and brazlians, and europeans, etc. and have an unbiased attitude across the board. but i’m wary of the aussies dominance because they are far more nationalistic.

    my observation is that they only score heats accurately until it really matters (ie: until an Aussie favorite is in a “big” heat — like Mick at Pipeline — and then they just throw points at their favorite sons… likely because they can’t stomach the fact that Kelly Slater has 11 World Titles… And it is starting to look like they will keep throwing points at aussies to close the gap.

    • someguyfromlorne

      Unlike many posting here, I was at the contest. Some of the judging had me scratching my head; some waves I guessed to be an 8 were judged a 6 and vice versa. But at the end of the day they are judges and I am not. I don’t buy into the ‘they are not ex pros so don’t know what they are doing’, nor that they deliberately let the Aussies win.
      I will say one thing about the judging criteria though. The commentators kept banging on about how the judges want variety in the turns on each wave.
      This is the reason why the older guys always do well in the contests with long waves (as opposed to punchy beach breaks and the big barrelling reef breaks). All they need to do is three or four turns, each one a different type (hook in pocket, blow the fins out the back of the wave, foam climb, air reverse on the end section, etc). Slater, Fanning, Taj, Parkinson all know the way the game is played and surf accordingly. And to be honest it is a bit pedestrian surfing. Well… It’s super radical, and way beyond what us mortals can do. But it’s still kind of bland to watch, even though it wins heats. And this is not an Aussie bias in the judging; Slater has known the game for years and is as good as anyone at exploiting it.
      It’s an indictment of the judging criteria that the best two waves was supposed to stop the problem we saw with best of three waves where we would get three safe waves surfed and nothing too radical. Now we get a situation where a waves will be judged high if it just has a variety of turns.
      In beach breaks you can still win as a huge air will score well (as the waves are usually short), or get a huge barrel at Teahupoo and get a 10. Fair enough. But on a point break you can work the system. Someone like Occy with repeated backhand hacks would probably not score well these days due to lack of variety.
      As for the comments about Medina being racist… I think you are reading way too much into it. No-one like bad losers and Andino got bad publicity too.

  • mattincabo

    The move that Medina pulled on Bede was typical brazo “passion” bullshit. I can’t see that sitting well with the Aussies. It will come back to haunt him.

  • mb

    Racism? There has been no racism in any of these articles. I actually think Doherty has been overly diplomatic in his observation of the continued lack of sportsmanship of one Gabriel Medina. Although I am not a fan of his style of surfing, I respect his ability, if not his qualities as a man. He has quickly become the most disliked person on tour – and all by his own hand.

    In relation to the wider debate about scoring, different styles of surfing suit different waves. Who wants to see people punting airs on a down the line wave where rail to rail, power, style and flow are more aesthetic??? Leave punts for crappy little beach breaks. A one manoeuvre air on a wave like Bells is a waste of one of the best waves in the world and and massively over scored.

  • tony ty carson big island

    Dudes, just go catch some waves and don’t stress over it.