Sean Doherty: The 50 Year Storm In A Teacup
COASTALWATCH | SEAN DOHERTY
Day 3 at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach
These 50 Year Swells at Bells seems to be happening pretty frequently these days. We had two last winter, two the previous winter, one in the summer just gone, hundreds of ‘em, and if you believed the presser that went out this morning we’re getting another one tomorrow. This one seems to have come more from the marketing department celebrating Rip Curl’s 50th birthday, however, than the event forecaster.
Still, it’s causing some consternation, if for nothing else that tomorrow’s swell arrives with 25 knots of onshore southwest wind and it’s going to be white to the horizon. Maurice Cole has been sitting at the end of the dining table this week on the phone taking perverse delight in how unprepared everyone is. “Your step-up is a six-two!?” he bellows, “Bahahaha!” He makes another call. “Six fucking one!? You won’t even get out! Bahahaha!” Cyclone Maurice has been intensifying at the same rate as the system below Bells. He’s made a few people think though, because if it is 12-foot and howling onshore tomorrow it will be breaking half a mile out to sea in an area the size of Jan Juc Oval and a six-one will be about as useful as a bag of cats.
There’s not only been discussion about what board to ride, but also who’s actually going to surf tomorrow. There are elements on the guys’ side of the fence who really, really – and I mean really – want the women to be sent out at some stage tomorrow into Beelzebub’s breakfast. Ever since the women’s prizemoney was equalised last year in an historical move, there’s been quiet rumblings that it equalised things too far, as per capita the women are now getting more. Others have just been straight up with it. Let’s see tomorrow.
The women also got first run at the low tide at Bells this morning and after a week of heated leftovers it looked pretty damn good. It was made even better by Lakey Peterson, who has married local lad Tommy Allen and has done enough time in the Bowl here to know which waves not to catch. That’s half the battle here, and half the women’s field haven’t worked that out yet, as witnessed mid-morning when the tide began to fill in, and Bronte Macaulay lost to Caroline Marks needing just a two. It was hard work. Carissa and Steph still look a class above everyone here, and as long as we don’t lose them out at sea tomorrow should see them in the final here on Saturday.
The big heat of today’s men’s round was the first – Joycey and the GOAT. The loss would be a stinker for whoever got it in the neck. A loss for Julian Wilson would see the Brazilian guys almost too far away after just two events. For Kelly, well, another loss here after a last place on the Gold Coast would set into motion a pattern that could perpetuate all year and the winningest surfer of all time would go out without winning. It’s been eating him up. Kelly says he just wants to surf well, that’d be enough, but Kelly doesn’t do honourable losses.
It was an odd heat. They started over at Rincon, and Julian gave up a wave to Kelly that ended up being one of his scores. Kelly’s board looked down on volume and he had to work to get it moving. The board kept trying to get away from him, but to his credit he kept it on a true line. Julian meanwhile waited, fell on an air reverse, and then started trying to drive hard off the bottom of waves that weren’t pushing back. But it was a heat Julian should have won nine times out of 10, but it felt like he didn’t chase it until it was too late.
Sitting in the loungeroom at home for the past two weeks has been a freshly chiselled replica of Curren’s 6’9” reverse vee, shaped by Maurie Cole. Now, Maurice has been working on a book project about the famous design that carried Curren to the impossible world title in 1990. Maurice thought it couldn’t hurt sales if Tom surfed it in his exhibition heat against Occy at Bells… plus he didn’t want Tom surfing that weird skimboard with the boomerang fins. Out at his shaping shed, Maurice handed Tom the reverse vee, Tom gave it the once over, then put it down and started at looking at several old dusty bangers sitting in the corner.
Tom paddled out on a Black Beauty replica today for his heat with Occ. The Black Beauty lasted two waves before he swapped it out for the skimboard. The board looks like Tom has been shooting it full of expanding foam, and it actually surfed like a foil over dead, high tide water, Curren just gliding over the water like an ancient spaceman. For the record, Occ nailed one big Occ turn and that was enough to win the heat.
It was then up the hill for the procedural trudge to Winki for the afternoon. It was a good call. Coffin beat Bailey in the most handsome heat in pro surfing history, before Callinan took down Bourez. Callinan dropped anchor wide on The Ledge at Lowers and waited, while Bourez caught wave after wave up at the Top Shop. Callinan’s strategy was a peach and won him the heat, which made it all the more strange when Mikey Wright paddled from around the Bells side of the Button, sat up where Bourez had been, and stayed there all heat. With Troy Brooks in his corner Mikey should have had Winki on lock but just kept getting lured up the reef. The tide was still filling in and Uppers wasn’t linking to Lowers. Seth sat at Lowers, caught the only good wave of the heat and that was it. I ran into young Sam from JS on the Winki path who’d just flown down with Mikey and Julian’s step-up boards for tomorrow. Doesn’t look like they’re coming out of the boardbag.
Nothing Phil Toledo is capable of surprises me anymore. He paddled out at Winki, sat in the sweet spot, and waves just came to him. The fact he is actually a great reader of a lineup gets lost amongst everything else he does. He took the short rail scimitar to Lowers and looked the best of anyone all day. I felt for Caio Ibelli. Totally unsung, he shines at Bells, but unfortunately copped Toledo.
And that just left Brother. After wearing a tough loss in the Gold Coast final, Kolohe Andino needed to win some Bells heats to prevent the GC becoming season-long psychologic damage. He didn’t need Jacob Willcox. The tall kid from West Oz could have been one of those kids who fell between the cracks of pro surfing, between heats and Gnaraloo trips. But he’s giving heats a run, has moved to the Gold Coast, and today put two scores on Brother one after the other. In the final minute Kolohe fell on a final turn that would have won him the heat, and I hope that doesn’t become emblematic of his season so far.
And that just leaves tomorrow. They really, really want to start with the women’s quarters, before shit gets wild. It won’t be the 50-year swell, not even the 50-day swell, but it’ll be big, ugly, and later in the day completely out of control.
Just the day pro surfing needs.
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