Mick Fanning Wins Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach– Barely

The 2012 Rip Curl Pro was marked by close heats, and aptly finished with a clash in the finals between Mick Fanning and Kelly Slater– a heat that might be remembered as too close to call.

Slater had an uncharacteristic start, falling on his first five waves, while Fanning posted a 9.10. But the constant influx of swell enabled Kelly to pull himself out of a combo situation with a fully-rotated air-reverse into the flats– a single maneuver for which the judges awarded him a perfect 10.

As the sets continued pouring in, Slater and Fanning went wave-for-wave. Slater momentarily took the lead until Fanning posted his second heat score, a 9.70, for solidly linked rail-surfing.

On his next wave, Slater responded with some solid rail-work of his own. When asked by a heat commentator how the judges would score the wave, Taylor Knox rightly stated, “I have no idea.” Ultimately, Slater was awarded an 8.07, which wasn’t enough to regain the lead.

In the water, and later on the beach, he was visibly appalled at the judges’ scores, and rightfully so, as it could be argued–and will be argued– that he was underscored.

The judges’ decisions might be justified as compensation for over-scoring him on his 10, a wave on which he performed only one maneuver. However you view it, the final was a reminder that when two of the world’s best surfers are on top of their game, quantifying a winner on a 10-point scale is guessing game at best.

The victory was hard-earned for Fanning, his first event win since 2010. In an emotional contest week meant to celebrate the recent passing of Michael Peterson, Fanning harnessed the final pulse of swell, selecting just 3 great waves to Slater’s 13, and never allowing the 11-time world champ to lure him away from his gameplan.

Whether or not you’re a fan of Fanning, his win at the Rip Curl Pro is good news for the title race, as it places Jordy Smith tightly behind Slater heading into Brazil.