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The Wash-up – Bells 2018

 

Contest Wash-Up

Julian who?

The Gold Coast seems like a lifetime ago.

Maybe time went so slowly because the first few rounds were so pedestrian. I was growing weary of the 2-hits-out-the-back, 3-cutbacks-through-the-trough, safety-tag-the-end-section Bells bowl monotony. Nobody seemed inspired enough to take the contest by the balls. It was almost as if everyone was too scared to crash Mick's party, despite Mick himself walking a fine line of luke-warm success/elimination in the early rounds.

When the R3 carnage began, I felt even more deflated. Maybe it was losing most of my fantasy team, maybe it was that most surfers were busy beating themselves before their opponent got the chance. The controversy of Zeke's mind-games, barely raised my pulse. The novelty of a wide-open title race left me cold. Where was the shredding?

It was R3's Italo vs. Filipe that brought me back from my catatonic state, and the R4 move to Winki seemed to perk things up even further. Even Mick seemed to suddenly jolt out of second gear in order to overtake his old pal Wilko. Bells was building.

Finals day was better again. Mick managed to push the narrative just enough to make us start to believe in fairy tales, while Italo was tearing the bottom half of the draw to pieces. The set-up for the final was perfect, and the players could not have been better matched.

In the end, Slater's half-joking-but-inarguably-genuine request for Mick's 2nd place finish was delivered. It was only mildly deflating; Italo's relief at the siren was almost matched by that of Mick. Their embrace out in the Bells line-up was a memorable moment for the sport, and it only served to endear both surfers to the public even further.

Mick may have won the hearts, column inches and legacy, but Italo won the damn contest.

Both deserved their victories.

 

Surfers

Italo

My 5 year-old, who is only just starting to develop a passing interest in surfing, asked me the other day who my favourite surfer is. I realised that I couldn't answer. I offered that Slater was the best of all time (he knew that) and that John John - "that's a funny name" - was probably the best surfer in the world at the moment. I then mumbled something along the lines of Filipe being the most exciting to watch.

"What about Mick Fanning?"

Mick's a legend, I told him, and is definitely one of my favourites.

That satisfied him enough to move on to whatever he was doing next, but I realised that I hadn't answered his question.

I don't think any of those four are my favourite surfer at the moment.
When I was a young goofy footer, falling in love with surfing and immersing myself in the culture, Tom Carroll was the man. I wanted to be a no-bullshit, nuggety Pipe Master just like him.
Then the momentum generation hit and suddenly Slater and Machado were my heroes, providing the yin/yang balance of competitive hunger with pop-soul style.
Taj, Andy, Joel and Dane no-doubt all had their stints at the top of my list at some stage too, but having a 'favourite' isn't really as important as an adult, so I didn't dedicate a lot of time to the thought.
Now that I have kids, I've decided that it's important to have an answer ready so as to simplify the conversation. I want to be able to quickly name a surfer so that I can spend the conversation describing what makes a great surfer and making surfing seem interesting, rather than diffusing the topic with conditional answers and shades of grey.
If he asks me again, I'll have an answer this time:
My favourite surfer is Italo. He is fast, exciting, stylish and a genuinely likeable human being. I'll show my son some free-fall hooks in the Bells bowl, some unbelievably progressive airs and maybe some heaving, south Pacific barrels. Plus he has some classic claims. Who could ask for more?
One interesting thing about Italo's win, is that he did it without winning his R1 or R4 heats. He got 2nd to Gabriel both times, and yet still stepped up to beat him when it counted.

Steph

A few days ago I wondered to myself, what with all of the Mick hype, how many more seasons Steph had in her. Surely she has nothing to prove; she's universally loved/respected and could easily make her living off-tour. She still seems fairly hungry though. I figured that, if she could just win one more title, she might mic-drop the whole tour and go out on top.

Maybe this is shaping up as the year?

 

Caroline Marks

For all the hype thrown at Griffin, how good is the other rookie sensation? A 5th and a 3rd in her first two contests is unheard of, especially at her age. I'm excited to see her at Margies.

 

John John

John as had his worst start to the year since 2014, when he finished 25th and 13th at Snapper and Margies to start the season. He backed that up with a QF-or-better finish at 7 of the 9 remaining stops, including 3rds at Bells, Tahiti and Portugal, a runner up Trestles and a win in France. He finished 3rd in the world that year.

John's not being ruled out by anyone just yet, and rightly so; he's a better competitor now than he was then, and he's about the return to Margaret River in less than a week.

I don't think John was quite as rattled by Zeke as some like to make out, but it will be interesting to see how he responds in a few days time. He's already in WA blowing minds.

 

Mick

There has been so much written about Mick already that I feel I'm wasting your time rehashing too many details. He was solid without being great for most of the contest, and I was so happy that he was there for the final. We saw flashes of what made him such a consistently successful Bells surfer, but we also saw moments that proved just how perfect his timing is in choosing to retire. #cheersmick

I will add one more thing: What was with all of the obsession aound Mick's stickers? Who's using his black stickers for the event,  and who gets to use them now that he's retired? Why did he switch to the search stickers? What do they mean to Mick? What does Mason think? My only question about the stickers was: who honestly gives a shit?

Oh, and if stickers are your thing and you want a Fantasy Surf Sessions sticker, just sign up on our landing page, and give me a polite request with your address details via the SS email.

 

Slater

He just can't leave himself out of things. He made a brief visit to the commentary booth during the event, taking the time to curse Mick with a 2nd place finish. Bastard.

 

Patty G

Positive vibes and unwavering energy were his M.O., and they served him well when others were imploding around him. A 3rd will do wonders for his seeding, so maybe we'll get to see even more of Pat in the later rounds this season. I'm definitely OK with that.

 

Filipe

Why do Filipe and Italo always have to meet so early in contests this year? They are two of the most exciting surfers on tour and it's crazy that one of them has to be eliminated by R3. Italo's ratings jump to =1st after Bells should allow both of them to demolish a few other surfers before locking horns in the quarters or later, which is definitely a good thing for surfing.

 

Michel

How good was he early on? I honestly thought he could be the one to defeat Mick, but it wasn't to be. He seemed to run our of juice in the quarters. I hope he can come back reinvigorated for WA.

 

Jordy

Unlike Mick, he didn't lose with style. It was a narrow loss, which always smarts, but the onus was on Jordy to eliminate any doubt from the judges' minds by bringing his A game. Which he didn't. Instead, surfed a little safe and he whined: "The scale's really just all over the place. They tell you one thing and they judge another". Sure, it's the scale. Who knew that poor wave selection and falling on your final wave weren't what the judges were looking for?

 

Wade Carmichael

Did you know that he rides for Piping Hot? I didn't even know that they were still around as a surf brand. I decided to look them up to see if they had any other team riders, only to find that Sally Fitz rides for them as well. How did I miss that? Obviously that sponsor marketing is doing wonders for my brand awareness.

Anyway, Wade showed us why so many surf commentators are quietly singing his praises. He buried rail like he meant it and eliminated the reigning champ at Bells.

 

Rookies

Rodrigues, Hermes and February fell from their initial highs, while Mendes and Gudauskas found some form and got their first wins of the year. Yago is now the only rookie without a win in 2018, joining Asing, Gouveia, Ibelli and Duru in the winless club. Will any of them finish the season above Mick Fanning?

Wildcards

It was another lean year at Bells for the wildcards. Where was our 2018 Robbo?

Meltdowns

There were so many heats where a quality surfer just fell apart when it mattered. Kolohe set the pace in R2, with an absolute mess of a heat against Bourez. Joel Mick and ADS followed suit the next day, handing their opponents the heat on a platter through poor wave selection and uncharacteristic falls. Then, both Wilko and Owen seemingly gave up against Fanning in R4 and the QF respectively.

 

Judging

There were a few questions being thrown around (mostly inspired by Jordy), that the 'new scale' was impacting performance. Like, asking surfers to be more progressive, critical or creative was suddenly a bad thing for the sport. Sean Doherty put it well when reviewing the R3/R4 carnage:

Jordy's loss was symptomatic of the whole event. It's been flat. Bum notes all round, tepid performances, and not even the emotional high tide of Mick Fanning's last event has been able to float this thing off the reef. The new crushed judging scale has seen barely a wave over eight ridden and we've been tripping out wondering if it's the waves, the scores, or the surfing itself that have been on the nose here this week.

Me thinks the latter.

BeachGrit's Longtom seemed to agree, with his always-on-point observations thus:

Italo dropped the hammer on Zeke Lau, rendering tactics irrelevant and, in demonstrating what pro surfing could be and should be in 2018, effectively passed  brutal judgement on his peers and the CT so far this year. His damning indictment left the charge of mediocrity stamped on the foreheads of a majority of the Top 34. There’s been a continuing error parroted by surfers and commentators alike that the “criteria has changed” this year. The criteria is exactly the same. Judges have decreed that the levels of performance with respect to the criteria have to be much, much higher to get a good score. Effectively they have changed the answer to the question: “What is good surfing?” It is no longer the conservative muck dished up for far too much of the last 5 years.

If the criteria is rewarding surfing like that of Italo and Medina, while failing to celebrate safe turns and soft finishes, then I say it's doing a brilliant job. Griffin seems to like it as well.

 

By the Numbers

1 - number of event wins for Italo. Also his current rank on tour.

0 - number of head-to-head wins Gabriel has had over Italo in their careers (despite the fact that he beat him twice in non-elimination, 3-man heats at this event alone)

22 - event wins for Mick, the 4th highest of all time on the men's tour.

7 - Bells finals for Mick, a record

27 - event wins for Steph, putting her 2nd of all time behind Layne (28)

5 - surfers with 4 Bells titles (Mick, Slater, MR, Steph, Lisa Andersen)

8 - top seeded surfers to lose in R3 (66.67%)

5 - consecutive 13th place results for Jordy Smith (since Trestles 2017)

14.79 - highest AHS for the Bells event (Italo)

0 - number of heats won by Ian Gouveia at this event in 2 attempts

10.45 - JJF's AHS for 2018

15.85 – John's AHS in 2017

6 - days between the Bells final and the opening day of the Margies waiting period

 

Event awards

Best wave: The way Italo demolished Zeke in the quarters was ruthless. His 8.83 may not have had the high-impact end manoeuvre of some of his other waves, but the flow between each of his turns, as well as the positioning and speed, made it my favourite wave.

Best heat: There were 5 waves surfed in total during the Filipe vs. Italo R3 heat, but it was still the most exciting battle of the event. It also served as a wake-up call for my interest in the contest.

Best Manoeuvre: Zeke's hassling of John?  The chop-hop claims by Filipe and Italo in the early rounds? No, it's Italo's under-the-lip-to-projected-freefall re-entries that littered the event. Chose one of the many available.

Some of Mick's top turns were definitely in the running as well.

Most impressive: Italo beats Caroline Marks 'Occhilupo' by a nose.

 

Thanks for reading, the Margies data will start to drop in a few days!

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Balyn McDonald
Editor-in-Chief
Balyn grew up on the east coast of Australia, nourishing his passion for surfing through a diet of empty beach breaks, Taylor Steele VHS cassettes and poor amateur competition results. As one of the head writers/analysts for Surf-Stats, he is as comfortable tearing through spreadsheets as he is 6' left-handers.

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