Sean Doherty: The Cowboys From Bells
COASTALWATCH | SEAN DOHERTY
Easter Monday (Day 2) at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach
The day starts with "Hells Bells", ye olde Bells ritual etc etc.
What is not part of Bells lore is that it is followed immediately by Pantera’s "Cowboys From Hell", played loud enough to start shaking rocks from the Bells cliff. It’s a little abrasive for 7am on an Easter Monday morning, but it’s nice to be woken up and actually doing something after a lifeless ocean across the Easter weekend.
If this morning was Pantera, John John was Dimebag Darrell –complete with underbeard, but hopefully without him taking a bullet in a Torquay nightclub later this week.
John got sent out early at Winkipop this morning on a negative tide, meaning three turns was doing well before the wave closed out on dry reef. John was clinical, finished clean, won through easy. There were signs of his best, hints of the big riffs, and with the forecast starting to fill in black later in the week we might see pyrotechnics on some big Bells walls.
On Easter Saturday John John turned up at the protest paddle-out in town, protesting against turning the Great Australian Bight into a Jurassic oil field. John paddled out, hung around, and did more press about the Bight than he’s done about his surfing this year. By simply turning up on Saturday he raised the profile of the cause several times over. The day before he’d used a rare Instagram post to congratulate his local food truck – Pupukea Grill, next to the servo at Sharks Cove – for getting rid of plastic straws. He could be the most important surfing activist we've got and talking with him you get the feeling he wants to do more, for more causes, the only thing preventing him from doing so is that this activism thing is fucking hard work and it puts you right out there and exposes you. John does exposure on his terms.
To my great surprise the WSL have also been right behind the Fight For The Bight. I say surprised because their environmental arm, WSL Pure has previously worked more with popular, safe causes – plastics, clean water – where they don’t have to go head-to-head with anyone. But these days safe activism doesn’t do a lot. I watched a George Monbiot interview the other day and he torched the whole idea of these micro-consumerist campaigns, the whole plastic straw thing. Plastic straws might save a few theoretical turtles but not much else. He said you need to challenge The System, and by backing this oil campaign and devoting air time to it, the WSL – while not exactly attacking the system – are at least getting dirty on bigger systemic issues. I’ve found myself tipping my hat to them… right up until the point where I got to Bells this morning and found the pass the WSL gave me saw me parking a mile from the event amongst a fleet of Wicked campers. Three steps forward, two steps back.
Within two minutes of paddling out for her heat this morning, Caroline Marks firmed as the favourite to win Bells. I don’t think anyone saw her winning at D-Bah but winning here at Bells makes a lot of sense. Even though the tide was on the make, Winkipop was still unforgivingly quick and yet she was managing to drive hard off the bottom, throw herself upside down at the lip, and then keep on driving down the line. The Occ comparison is not overused or overblown. She might be more Occ than Occ himself. Steph meanwhile looked classy this morning, but class won’t beat the kid. Steph is going to need turns to beat Caroline Marks.
Occ – the real Occ – surfed the Bells Bowl this morning which was firing on the bottom of the tide but would only stay that way for an hour. We’ve been here a week and the huge contest structure and carpark mall down the hill at Bells hasn’t seen a heat fired in anger yet. It’s been all Winkipop. We haven’t caught a single wave at a primary venue.
Occ is here to surf an exhibition heat against Curren, who’s also in town and has been ghosting around the place drifting into the houses of anybody owning musical equipment and starting up a jam. He was at Gerlach’s yesterday. He might still be there. Steph tells a great story of Curren turning up at her place unannounced. She had a call from an unknown French number and it was Tom. “Tom Curren? Where are you?” The reply came back, “I’m, err, umm… in your driveway. Any chance I could, you know, like, stay tonight?” He had no boards and no luggage and stayed a week, by the end of which he’d recorded an album, ridden every board in Steph’s garage wearing a stackhat, done 500 laps of her hallway in his rollerskates, played several gigs and retuned every one of her guitars to some hitherto unknown drop-down tunings. He’d leave the house of a morning and come back at 10 with a tray of hot chips. When Steph commented it was pretty early in the day for chips he replied, “Oh, it’s fine. I ate oysters for breakfast.” Curren and Occ might have eight-foot Bells Bowl later in the week. If there is a God, it will happen.
The guys in the first heat of round two almost became breakfast themselves. Maybe. Halfway through the heat between Jack Freestone, Owen Wright and triallist Harry Mann the three of them clambered up on the skis after Jack Freestone saw a large shadow out the back of the Winki lineup. Owen thought he’d seen something too, although thought at the time it was more likely a large patch of seaweed. The seaweed shark held up the show for 10 minutes before they were sent back out. Just as they did, a clubbie on a racing ski came steaming in reckoning he’d been chased onto the rocks by an actual shark. The Show rolled on. Apart from the odd seven-gill, the only sharks around here have two legs and surf at Uppers on big days.
The late heats today proved that while the past five years has seen the tour collectively wrap their heads around Bells, they’ve still got a long way to go with Winki. It was pretty poor Winki, but nobody seemed to have a workable plan for dealing with it. At one stage there Reef Heazelwood sat at Upper Uppers, 50 metres from Jesse Mendes, who was 50m from Mikey Wright who was so far down the reef he was almost out of sight. It was the newly christened “Elimination Round” where people actually get eliminated. It was scrappy.
The forecast was initially a dog’s breakfast, but the last three days of the waiting period are taking shape nicely. The low has dropped. The winds are notching around out of the valley. Maurice Cole, the walking Bells forecast, is calling 10-foot. It hasn’t been much of an Easter but there might be salvation yet.
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