With the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach just getting under way in Australia, April 3, it’s easy to knock the second stop on tour for lacking consequence. No matter how good the forecast, the contest can reek of unimportance in the yearlong world title race.
Yet historically Bells has served as a major determinant in crowning a world champion, consistently slimming the field to just eight world title contenders. Over the last six years, the surfer to later be crowned world champ has always finished in the quarterfinals or higher at Bells.
Meaning that, since 2006– which is as long as the tour has consisted of 11 events or less– Bells has been a crucial indicator of how the rest of the year will transpire. Few early season statistics are as telling, making the early rounds of the Rip Curl Pro some of the most important– a sort of sudden death for competitors who possess world title aspirations. And with just 10 events on tour this year, anyone who fails to see the quarterfinals at Bells might as well put down the medicine ball, layoff the surf coach, and pack up the board-bag until next year.
So which surfers can you expect to shatter world title hopes at Bells this year? John John Florence and Kolohe Andino are likely to shake things up. Andino has had a rough start, losing to the event winner of both the Gold Coast and Margaret River contests in close-scoring affairs. Eventually, you’d expect his luck to change with the heat draws. But that change of luck won’t take place at Bells, where he’s set to face current tour leader, Taj Burrow, in Round 1.
Once the judges figure out how to score Andino, a surfer of his caliber is bound to take out top surfers like Burrow. Similarly, with John John Florence coming hot off a win at Margaret River, expect him to use his newfound competitive confidence in cold water and open faces to stick it to the world’s best.