According to Peter Mel, a text delivered from the WSL Head Judge to competitors on finals day at The 2019 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach read: ‘We’re looking for a combination of critical moves on the outside section.’
John Florence assimilated the info and responded with brutal drop wallets and searing rail work to ring his first bell at pounding 6 to 8ft Bells Bowl.
Considering the war at sea conditions, I was surprised not to see Johnny Utah himself chasing down the Two Times World Champ. Instead, that role was left to Filipe Toledo, who surfed with a passion that was a hybrid of equal parts anxiety and adrenaline.
Jordy Smith came close (online opinion is that he got robbed against Florence) and with two semifinal finishes, finds himself sitting at #3 on the ratings. That’s more than bankable, its an investment with interest for a maiden World Title.
It’s pointless to rehash a wave by wave account of what happened at The 2019 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach. You all know the numbers, who ended where and why.
Instead, let’s look at some other pockets of interest that were churned out over Easter at the iconic venue.
A return to the wrestling ring.
A lot has been said and read as to how this event stacked up against the formidable might of the revered 81′ Bells event, where Simon Anderson and co were left trying to outrun 12 ft offshore walls.
Did this have the same gravitas? I’ll let you make up your own mind on that one, but for me, what was really, really welcome was a return to the grit of it all. Man against man, against ocean. A grappling match against the Southern Ocean, the clock and the will of an opponent.
No wave pool or 3ft D-Bah A-frame can hold a candle up to the ‘meneer’ conditions witnessed at competitive surfing’s most celebrated amphitheater.
The beat downs and wash throughs were savage. Seeing a gassed out Italo Ferreira collapse in a heap on the stairwell after his pounding against Smith said it all.
Strip away the balmy, approachable and suburban safety of the Quiksilver Pro, replace it with gunmetal grey skies, stiff offshores and 8ft dome busting sets, and you have a genuine ‘kill or be killed’ contest, not a social event.
So, who tapped out and who went the distance, and what does it say about the rest of the year ahead…
Florence and The Machine. Dangerously fast.
JJF has proven that after a year off, he’s gotten stronger and decidedly faster. There’s a snap to his performance that is incendiary and way faster than the 2018 version.
In the final against Toledo, the big difference was the velocity generated by Florence through the turns. That’s a statement you’d normally have on tap for Filipe. But something has happened in the off season, he’s quicker than ever.
I call em Florence and The Machine. Because that’s just what team Ross Williams and John John have created. An engine that’s running fast and hot. Just like that, JJF is wearing the yellow jersey again.
All of the doubt of how he’d stack up to Medina, Toledo, Ferreira and Smith, pushed aside in a manner of 2 events.
Was Jordy underscored and Florence overvalued?
But of course, with all of the praise, there will also be the skeptics. And put under the microscope, the Florence show may have had a bit of a nudge by the men in the tower. The real scrutiny of over scoring came in the Florence vs Smith semi-final.
Watch the heat here for yourself. Was Jordy’s second wave undervalued and John’s high 9 overcooked? This is by no means a pro Smith slant and a Florence dissing, its an observation. And a scrub of the always vocal online opinion was firmly in favour of Smith’s powerful, uncompromising rail work. Here are some keepers from the peanut gallery:
“Just watched the semis of bells. JJF is seriously over scored IMHO. Timid turns under the lip yet the beach goes wild and the judges spin him lottery number scores. Jordy’s power surfing deep and hard from top to bottom so much more assured while JJF skipping along like an insecure ballerina“.
“I’m a huge fan of JJF yet so are the commentators & judges”.
“Noooit! Bru… JJF’s got some big chinas in the judging and commentary boxes… Jordy does 2 sick power carves and an inside move, JJF does one super sick carve, some weak wiggles and an inside move- and gets like a million gazillion more points“.
Return of the King and other notable side acts.
From a wobbly, fragile performance at D-Bah, Slater looked focused and reset at Bells. There was timing, power and flow again. Was it a return to riding standard equipment (he rode a regular PU Simon Anderson thruster), maybe the waves helped to showcase his traditional strengths of timing and power? The GOAT surfed an excellent event and will be confident going into events that play into his favour mid-year.
Ryan Callinan is not only Australia’s new goofy foot hope, but he’s also the worlds. It’s refreshing to watch him surf. It’s raw, original and very smart.
What happened to Owen Wright? If anyone has the right wingspan for Bells, it’s him. I feel he’s going to ring that bell soon.
From a Brazzo perspective, Rodrigues has a great style and flow to his surfing. Ciao Ibelli is ripping again. I don’t care what the interweb trolls think. And finally, the word ‘spicy’ is best used to describe a dish on a menu, not a surfer’s performance. “That was spicy”. You don’t get spicy on a wave, you get it served on a dish. At Nandos.
See you in Bali, I’ll be replacing the couch with a hammock, and hopefully, Jordy will be replacing a 3rd with a 1st. Look forward to your company as always.