Despite its incredible history, the opening days of pro surfing’s longest-running contest suffered a strange anti-anticipation of sorts. After the glitz and glamour of Queensland’s Snapper Rocks and some record-breaking swells, the early rounds at Bells were marred by lazy, onshore three-foot surf.
Sure there were some highlights. Bruce Irons dipped out again, Troy Brooks launched a superman air, and Australia’s most-successful-ever junior, wildcard Ben Dunn, knocked out ’Curl stable-mate and World number six Kieren Perrow. Occy even snagged a last-minute wave to oust rampaging Brazilian Raoni Monteiro, but the Bull’s infamous streaking drunkards weren’t there for him this year.
Thankfully, it was only a matter of time before an Antarctic low and an unseasonally warm offshore wind heated things up.
When Sunny Garcia slid off the ski at the twenty-minute mark of his heat against Taylor Knox, his friends immediately knew something was wrong. Taylor put an arm around Sunny as the big Hawai‘ian clasped the side of his own head. What the hell was going on?
A wave approached and Sunny rode it to shore. He scored a 4.67, walked up the sand, undid his leg rope, and collapsed face first in pain. Paramedics arrived at the contest site, and Sunny was attended to. His wetsuit was cut off and water poured over his body to keep him cool. He writhed on the ground repeating, “My head’s going to explode!” He was injected with seven milligrams of morphine and rushed to Geelong Hospital. The diagnosis? A pinched nerve in his neck that triggered a severe migraine. After riding his heat-winning wave uncontested, Taylor explained: “That was the first time in years I’ve had to remind myself that this (pro surfing) is a job. It’s no fun when you see your friend in pain.”
Luke Egan and Andy Irons’ round four hit-up benefitted from the best waves of the entire waiting period. Six-foot sets poured into the Bells bowl for 30 minutes and just didn’t stop.
Egan drew first blood, opening with an 8.5, and from there things just got better. Andy responded with crisp speed runs, huge bottom turns, and 50-50 skate-style coping glides–and ultimately, the biggest set of the heat right on the final siren.
The result? The pair tied in one of the highest combined heat scores of the tournament–18.30 out of a possible twenty–with the defending two-time world champ winning on a count-back. “I haven’t made it past the quarters in fourteen months,” muttered Egan, “and I dunno if I’ll ever do it again. It’s f–kin’ drivin’ me crazy.” Andy eventually lost to Parko in the semis.
Slater smashed the shit out of one his boards, and gosh, it was refreshing. First he speared it into a wall. Then he punched the thing as hard as he could. It fell, hit the ground, then he punched it again. The reason? A crucial last-nanosecond wave against good mate Pat O’Connell that wasn’t counted because his hands hadn’t left his rails before the buzzer.
Pat was overjoyed. He’d already jagged the only tube of the contest to ratings leader Lowey in round three, then scored another freak barrel to pull him within 0.04 of Taj and a possible final, right in the dying seconds. Head-tingling stuff.
“Oh, my,” screamed Pat afterward. “I’ve had two more barrels at Bells than I’ve ever had in my entire life! I should’ve claimed it!”
Parko’s 9.63–the first and deciding wave he rode against Taj in the final–was just a memory as the Bells champ grinned, poured tequilas, and signed autographs in a drunken frenzy behind the bar at the Bells Beach Hotel that night.
In a post-final intterview, Parko explained how winning was no longer “everything” in his life and that he’d achieved a certain balance with age and the impending birth of his child.
“I’ve always felt relaxed when I’m competing, but here I was real confident and relaxed,” explained Parko of his dazzling performance. “There’s someone now who’s more important than me. I used to think competing and your personal life were two totally different things.”
Later, the champ enjoyed a spew (barf) in a back alley. His shaper Darren Handley and dad Brian were nearby to make sure everything was okay, but of course they too were a little worse for wear. Hell, they had every reason to be.
Dong … –JJ
Official Rip Curl Pro At Bells Beach Results:
1. Joel Parkinson $30,000
2. Taj Burrow $16,000
=3. Andy Irons $10,000
=3. Pat O’Connell $10,000
Current ratings after Bells–event number two of the twelve stop World Championship Tour:
1. Andy Irons1,908 points
2. Joel Parkinson1,800
3. Michael Lowe1,680
4. Taj Burrow1,632
5. Taylor Knox1,476
6. Kelly Slater1,464
6. Mark Occhilupo1,464
8. Jake Paterson1,332
9. Victor Ribas1,212
10. Guilherme Herdy1,200
10. Paulo Moura1,200