Stab Magazine | John Florence Wins Bells, Regains Status As World's Best Surfer

John Florence Wins Bells, Regains Status As World’s Best Surfer

And Courtney Conlogue wins the women’s event with a perfect 10!

news // Apr 27, 2019
Words by stab
Reading Time: 7 minutes

On this frigid Victorian morning, cars packed into the Bells parking lot at pre-dawn hours, hitting half-capacity by 6:45 am.

It being a Saturday, and the waves being of a remarkable size and quality, it’s no surprise the people of Torquay wanted to get down there early. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that today was the first time I made it to the contest early enough to hear the morning ode to the Bowl, “Hells Bells.”

With Slater in the lineup for his (potentially) last-ever Bells heat, and eight-foot, offshore bombs rolling through the lineup, I’ll admit I felt a shiver on the first guitar riff. The cold had little to do with it.

As it were, Kelly looked lost in the lineup, taking off on mediocre waves and paddling way up the point for no apparent reason. The only thing I can think of is that he wanted an excuse for being out-surfed by Callinan, who belted the Bowl with aggression while Slater flubbed around in the wash.

Not trying to be over-critical, just calling it how I saw it.  

Then, in typical Slater fashion, the Champ stayed out five minutes past the end of his heat and caught a screamer of a Rincon tube, overshadowing the surfers currently in the water and confirming, to himself and the fans, that the magic still exists.

GOAT’s gotta GOAT.

After Toledo handled the trials winner Jacob Wilcox, it was onto the most anticipated heat of the event: Florence vs. Medina at pumping Bells Bowl.

Not that history really matters, but their record heading into the heat was Gab: 5; John: 3.

Medina opened up the heat with a closeout, except that it wasn’t – not for him at least.

The Brazilian floated an impossible lip and made it around the section with three tiny hops. The beach commentators attributed that speed to Medina’s boat-like surfboards, but I’ve yet to encounter a vessel that moves without a sail, oar, or motor and Medina is a fucking motor.  

Later in the heat, John and Gab went back to back on a set – their rides couldn’t have been more different.

John’s wave was smaller and started slow, but he gave it hell through the middle section with three defined gaffs, followed by a sparky end-section whack. Medina’s wave was huge by comparison and started with a grab-rail bottom turn into a massive – and I mean massivefloater to air-drop, after which he dodged a section then belted the closeout with a vertical slam. 

John’s wave offered more flow between smaller maneuvers, while Medina performed two huge turns between lots of dead time.

At first glance, I gave it to John. Looking back at the side-by-side comparison, I’m not so sure.

The judges agreed with my first instinct. John took the lead but Medina secured priority.

Needing just a seven to overtake Florence, Medina passed up a mid-sized line that he’d come to regret. John scooped the wave up and surfed it to an eight, extending his lead further.

Now needing an excellent score to advance, Medina became even more selective as he sat stoically out the back.

“You’d like to think John and Gabe are out there talking shit to one another, but that’s probably not the case,” said beach commentator Christopher Binns. “In reality, it’s probably Medina giving John the thousand-yard stare while John looks at the local seagulls, wondering just how they fly like that.”

Before I knew it, the heat was over. JJF had won and the beach erupted. Meanwhile, Brazil was livid. World Shame League etc.

They’ll get over it.

Next up was the genuinely controversial quarter between Jordy and Italo, which crescendoed with a seemingly illogical, but technically correct, interference call against the Brazilian. You can read all about that here, but the gist is that Italo lost because of a senseless priority rule. Perhaps this was the universe righting itself after Dbah.  

In women’s semi one, Lakey hurt her back on the jetski, which her coach, Mike Parsons, said was not the first time. Courtney got an easy victory and stormed into the finals.

In semi 2, I had Caroline over Malia all day. But for the first time in recent memory, Caroline looked… timid. She second-guessed her takeoffs and triple-guessed hitting the lip, which is a part of her surfing that’s seemed so automatic in the past.

Whatever the reason for Caroline’s shortcomings, Malia capitalized with mid-range scores and advanced. Such is professional sport.

In the first men’s semifinal, Callinan put Toledo on the ropes with the same lip-bashing approach he’d delivered throughout the event. Needing a six-something in the dying minute, Toledo secured on a stretched-out wall and linked negligible turns through the middle section, before lucking into a vertical inside wall that allowed two lethal daggers.

Those knives went straight to the heart of everybody’s favorite Tour bloke, Mr. Ryan Callinan.

Tough luck for the Novacastrian, but a third-place finish is nothing to sneeze at. He’ll head to Keramas with my annual wage and all the confidence in the world. That could be dangerous.

In the final heat before the finals, John Florence came up against the voracious South African, Jordy Smith. Jords got off to a quick lead with a seven and a six, putting the pressure on Florence to catch-up.

John came back with a six of his own, then Jordy responded with an impeccably surfed, if slightly-on-the-small-side, eight-pointer.

Now requiring an even higher eight than Jords’, John took off on the biggest wave of the heat and laid out a beautiful, full-rail carve, followed by a bog, a flat carve, a check turn, and a critical end-section larry. My instinct said mid-seven, because in comparison to Jordy’s last wave, and keeping in mind the earlier decision between he and Gab, John’s effort was clumsy and disjointed.

The judges threw a 9.4 at the thing! In my eyes, a massive overscore, but that’s just how it goes. 

As he did against Gab, John quickly backed up his banger with a mid-seven and won the heat with ease.

I think it’s fair to say John got pushed on the nine, but if you look at the heat as a whole, John was the winner. And that’s all the judges are really there to decide.

Malia Manuel 4671Bells19Cestari

Malia Manuel, Rip Curl Pro runner-up

The Women’s Final

The women’s final was a game of wave selection.

Courtney Conlogue came in with a slight advantage over Malia Manuel, simply based on her power and fearlessness in heavy surf. The Californian took off on the first wave of the heat, which was flat and lumpy, and did her best to earn a high-five. Malia was on the very next line, this one long and pristine, which allowed her to swoop several clean cutties for a 6.67.

Then Courtney took the first wave of the second sequence, which was also difficult to negotiate, leaving Malia on a feathering bomb out the back, on which she performed two clean cuts and an under-the-lip closeout bash for an 8.17. At this point I realized how much the judges love big, clean waves. Malia’s turns on her “excellent” ride were clean but ultimately without rotation or risk, meaning the judges had awarded points simply for completing a large wave.

Courtney saw this, jotted it on her mental notepad, and applied to her next ride.

Paddling in with priority, Courtney’s next wave offered the quintessential Bells wall, which stretched deep into the channel but with a slight yet significant taper. It ran at the perfect speed while maintaining height and power, allowing Courtney to carve through the lip a handful of times before stamping the end section with authority.

Courtney Conlogue 4686Bells19Cestari

Courtney Conlogue, the champ!

Before jumping off, Courtney threw two open palms toward the judges, signifying that she wanted, nay deserved, a 10.

After some speculation, the judges obliged her request, granting Conlogue the first perfect score of the 2019 Championship Tour season and, naturally, putting her in the heat lead.

Needing just a mid-seven to overtake her competitor, Malia took off on an average wave and surfed it even worse, mistiming or avoiding all the major sections and failing to connect on a major turn. If it’s any consolation, that wave probably didn’t have her required number in it.

The minutes dwindled, Courtney blocked Malia on a wave, and a clean-up set made it official – Courtney Conlogue won her third Bell in perfect conditions with a perfect ride, all before 1 pm. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.

And speaking of spending, Courtney’s walking away from Bells with $100,000 USD. How many trucker hats can you even buy with that?


The Men’s Final

At first it was all Toledo, who posted a 6.5 followed by a 7.33 for impressive assaults of the lip. John fell on two massive laybacks, leaving him with no scores of note halfway through the heat. 

Filipe bitched out of a huge section that was menacing but, had he tagged it and ridden away, would have been an eight. Very interesting decision, because why not try? You’re not gonna die. You’ve got jet ski assist. Have a go, Fil!

John made him pay with a steep one out the back, which allowed a lip bash off the start, a hard carve in the corner, and a clean finishing slam. Judges gave John a 7.63 and the lead. 

The clock ticked away and Filipe, left out the back with priority, was forced to take a long, slopey wall on the buzzer. Filipe surfed it as well as he could have, but the downtime killed him. No dice. John wins! And world order is restored. 


Screen Shot 2019 04 27 at 4.43.03 PM

How’s the current top-5? Gonna be a good year indeed.

 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach Women’s Final Results:
1 – Courtney Conlogue (USA) 15.83 
2 – Malia Manuel (HAW) 14.84

Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach Women’s Semifinal Results:
Heat 1: Courtney Conlogue (USA) 14.50 DEF. Lakey Peterson (USA) 9.67  
Heat 2: Malia Manuel (HAW) 9.33 DEF. Caroline Marks (USA) 7.80

Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach Men’s Final Results:
1 – John John Florence (HAW) 14.30
2 – Filipe Toledo (BRA) 13.83

Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach Men’s Semifinal Results:
Heat 1: Filipe Toledo (BRA) 13.40 DEF. Ryan Callinan (AUS) 12.84 
Heat 2: John John Florence (HAW) 16.80 DEF. Jordy Smith (ZAF) 15.24

Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach Men’s Quarterfinal Results:
Heat 1: Ryan Callinan (AUS) 12.67 DEF. Kelly Slater (USA) 5.67 
Heat 2: Filipe Toledo (BRA) 14.17 DEF. Jacob Willcox (AUS) 13.06 
Heat 3: John John Florence (HAW) 16.87 DEF. Gabriel Medina (BRA) 15.17  
Heat 4: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 15.23 DEF. Italo Ferreira (BRA) 8.40


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