Bells Beach, Victoria, Australia (Wednesday, April 3rd) Defending Rip Curl Pro champion Mick Fanning was today eliminated from the 30th Anniversary event after losing a rematch of last year?s final to fellow Australian Danny Wills. The US$250,000 World Championship Tournament (WCT) resumed after being placed on hold this morning, with six heats of round three completed before competition was again postponed.
Inconsistent, yet clean 3-4 ft (1.3m) surf was initially on offer, before strong onshore winds played havoc with wave faces and forced organizers to wait until tomorrow.
The highly anticipated rematch between Fanning and Wills unfortunately coincided with the poor weather change and less than ideal conditions. Both contestants started their campaign slowly, before Wills lucked into a good wave in the ?Rincon? section as his opponent held priority. The 26 year old took command with an 8.0 score, and then solidified his lead with two more strong rides.
?It?s good to get a little bit of payback on him,? reasoned Wills afterward. ?It was a tough heat. We both sat there and it was hard to pick the right ones. The one he gave me when he had priority, I just figured I?d go, and it ended up being a good wave. That was the turning point for me and gave me some confidence. I ended up getting a couple more, so was really happy.
?I was a little bit rattled ?cause I didn?t have the right board for ?Rincon?,? he added, of the changing conditions. ?I came down here prepared to surf really good ?Bowl?. This board ended up feeling pretty good, though, so I hope we get some more swell.?
Fanning, 20, who won last year?s tournament as a wildcard entrant, had to settle for equal 17th today. Having enjoyed amazing success throughout 2001, highlighted by his Rip Curl Pro victory and then the World Qualifying Series (WQS) title, his second consecutive third round loss on this year?s WCT comes as a major disappointment.
?I?m pretty pissed off,? said Fanning. ?I gave ?Willsy? an 8.0, but I didn?t think it was going to be that good. The wave turned out to be sick, so I was just kicking myself from then on.
?I wasn?t nervous at all,? he continued. ?I was probably the most psyched I?ve been all year. I just had a shocker and got smoked.?
World #14 Trent Munro (Aus) set the pace earlier, posting the day?s best single ride and the event?s highest three-wave tally for a total of 24.65-points. Against former world #2 and fellow Australian Luke Egan, the 23 year old collected a 9.0, and created a lead whereby his opponent required a near perfect 9.41 score.
?I feel good,? began Munro. ?My rhythm felt so smooth and the waves came to me. It was great surfing out there with just one other guy.
?I started off with a 33rd,? he continued, of his last WCT result. ?So I?m definitely looking forward to a lot better a result here. Last year at Bells I finished 33rd, too, but I?ve come down here a few times through the year and basically just tried to get more familiar with the break. I think all the experience helps.?
2000 world champion and three-time Rip Curl Pro winner Sunny Garcia (Haw) has moved closer to equaling the record of four Bells? trophies. Against Fabio Gouveia (Brz) in today?s opening clash, the 32 year old was quick off the mark and never let up. Despite acknowledging a painful back cramp, his powerful attack hinted no disadvantage.
?The left side of my back is really tight and started cramping at the beginning of the heat to where I couldn?t feel my legs,? explained Garcia. ?Just trying to surf against the world?s best on a regular basis is hard enough, but when you?re having problems paddling and your back is cramping, it?s even harder. I?m just getting old and falling apart (laughs).
?It?s always nerve-wracking being in the first heat when the waves aren?t that good,? he continued. ?We sat here all morning watching really good waves, but there would be 30-40 minutes beetween the sets. It?s a hard call, especially for me since I?m the President of the World Professional Surfers (WPS-body within the ASP). I don?t want to surf unless I know I?m going to go out and catch three waves. Fortunately for me I got three good waves at the beginning of the heat, and was able to pick and choose at the end.
?I?ll have the masseuse work on my back and shoulders, and hopefully a few pain killers during the next couple of rounds should help me out and see me through some heats.?
World #5 Jake Paterson (Aus) eliminated #25 Neco Padaratz (Brz) with the second highest tally so far for 23.6-points. The Australian waited selectively for his rides at the ?Bowl? section, while Padaratz paddled around impatiently, and ultimately paid the price by allowing his opponent to catch the heat?s best wave for an 8.2 score.
?I can?t believe he did that,? said Paterson, of the Brazilians decision to paddle up the point. ?He had priority and the next wave I caught was my highest score. Bit of a mistake on his part and cost him the heat, for sure.
?It doesn?t matter who you?ve got these days, everyone is ripping,? he continued, of now facing Garcia in round four. ?Sunny?s won this event three times, so if I beat him, maybe I?ll win (laughs).?
World #26 Nathan Hedge (Aus) then caused an upset by fighting back to oust world #4 Taylor Knox (USA). The Californian held a comfortable lead, but following a great exchange by both surfers, Hedge was able to claw back into contention with the heat?s highest score of 8.25. He then sealed victory with his last 7.1 ride, as the final minutes counted down without either catching another wave. He?ll now do battle against Munro in round four.
?I?m over the moon,? began Hedge on the water?s edge. ?I was pretty confident ?cause I?ve been watching it all morning. I knew 35-minutes out there was a long time to come back, as you only need three waves, and with jet skis? Luckily enough some good waves came and Taylor got the first wave, and the second was better.
?Trent and I are good mates,? he added, of his next opponent. ?I saw him going to town (during his heat), so he won?t be getting an inch off me either.?
Tour newcomer Lee Winkler also posted a big win, eliminating world #8 and fellow Australian Mick Lowe. Despite the onshore wind creeping in during their match, Winkler made the most of conditions for a comfortable win, as Lowe needed a tall order of 9.71-points.
Those still to surf round three include reigning world champ CJ Hobgood (USA) against Marcello Nunes (Brz). 1999 world champ Mark Occhilupo (Aus) will face Rodrigo Dornelles (Brz). While current world #1 Joel Parkinson (Aus) meets Flavio Padaratz (Brz).
Full heat details and surfer profiles are available on: www.aspworldtour.com