Is this the most open Title Race yet?
Big names struggle as rookies own the new-look World Tour.
The writing’s on the wall for established tour surfers after yet another day of upsets at the Rip Curl Pro, Bells Beach. Joel Parkinson, Kelly Slater, John Florence, and Gabriel Medina were all eliminated in the second half of round three, joining reigning world champ Adriano De Souza on the sidelines after he was eliminated by wildcard Mason Ho yesterday. The most experienced surfer on tour, Kelly Slater, agreed the title race was as open as he’d seen it in a while.
“Everyone who got fifth or better in the first contest is out now, except for Wilko,” said Kelly. “It’s just opened up now. I told (ratings leader) Wilko, if you win a couple of heats you put a lot of daylight between you and number two. It’d be pretty insane to see Wilko pull another win off and be on 20,000 points when nobody else is even at 7000 points.”
The upsets kicked off with Californian Conner Coffin’s last wave win over former World Champ and three time Bells winner Joel Parkinson. With the ability to generate extreme power out of his bottom turns, Conner fired off a series of brutal gaffs on a challenging frothy Bells face to open with an 8.17. A priority bungle at the midpoint of the heat left him chasing a six-plus ride on his final wave, but he didn’t disappoint. Three explosive turns capped with his signature layback on the end section earned him the score plus some.
“When shit hits the fan I just do a layback,” Conner told Stab, laughing. “But I probably shouldn’t do it too much or else they’ll be like, ahhhh, five.”
Kelly Slater was next, going down to Tahitian powerhouse Michel Bourez who, admittedly, is as formidable as they come in rippable rights. The Champ fell just short of pulling an end-section layback that would’ve likely changed the outcome.
“I was halfway through the recovery, and it was a tough recovery, I felt like time was slowing down,” Kelly said. “I was like, if you make this, you win the heat. I was trying to hold on, my back was kinda hurting, and I gave up. I had this negative thought in my head where I fell, y’know? Instead of being able to wipe it clean I was stuck on that. To be honest I don’t think I was surfing very free mentally.”
Brazilian rookie Caio Ibelli then set off a minor online ruckus when he left it to his final wave to beat surfing’s highest paid athlete, John Florence. Caio found a peach of a Bells Bowl, sticking four clean hooks and belts to it for a 7.87. The win came despite a solid performance from the Hawaiian, with John John delivering multiple layback blasts on steep critical sections for a pair of sevens. The online pundits, led by the likes of former pro surfer Jason ‘Ratboy’ Collins, took aim at the judging scale in the heat.
“Something’s gotta change, setting the scale is fucking not easy but geese, get it right, heats can swing either way but these are the best surfers going for world titles, get it right!” he wrote.
Caio wasn’t phased. The former Brazilian junior champ told Stab his main focus was simply to adjust to the unpredictable nature of the heat draw.
“Every heat is a hard heat, everyone surfs so good, if you’re not in your day, or you make any mistakes you’re gonna lose,” said Caio.
The rookie clobbering continued in the final heat of the day with Narrabeen’s Davey Cathels showing superior wave selection and wave knowledge to eliminate 2014 world champ, Gabriel Medina. Only Mick Fanning and Jordy Smith survived, Mick showing impeccable form in easily accounting for Hawaiian Dusty Payne.
The new-look, impossible-to-predict World Tour is likely the result of a change in psychology amongst rookies and those usually competing for their spots on tour (as opposed to a title), said Kelly.
“Heats happen and on paper you think there’s a favourite, then when it starts to happen you see guys with nothing to lose realise it more and more… and they can surf from a dominant place. Maybe the guys who should win sorta surf a little safer or they don’t make really aggressive offensive decisions. They’re trying to defend their place.
“I don’t think there is one guy in this field who underestimates another guy. After seeing what we saw on the Gold Coast and what we’ve seen at this contest, you know, anybody can beat you at any time.”
Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach Remaining Round 3 Results:
Heat 7: Mick Fanning 16.60 def. Dusty Payne 11.57
Heat 8: Jordy Smith 15.33 def. Kai Otton 13.26
Heat 9: Conner Coffin 16.27 def. Joel Parkinson 13.26
Heat 10: Michel Bourez 14.83 def. Kelly Slater 13.70
Heat 11: Caio Ibelli 15.54 def. John def. John Florence 15.50
Heat 12: Davey Cathels 15.40 def. Gabriel Medina 12.07
Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach Round 4 Match-Ups:
Heat 1: Italo Ferreira, Nat Young, Julian Wilson
Heat 2: Matt Wilkinson, Wiggolly Dantas, Mason Ho
Heat 3: Mick Fanning, Jordy Smith, Conner Coffin
Heat 4: Michel Bourez, Caio Ibelli, Davey Cathels
Rip Curl Women’s Pro Bells Beach Round 4 Match-Ups:
Heat 1: Alessa Quizon vs. Bianca Buitendag
Heat 2: Malia Manuel vs. Stephanie Gilmore
Heat 3: Nikki Van Dijk vs. Tyler Wright
Heat 4: Bronte Macaulay vs. Tatiana Weston-Webb
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