The official waiting period for the 35th Annual Rip Curl Pro presented by Snickers begins today! The world’s best surfers were on site and gathered around the illustrious ‘Bell’ trophy at Bells Beach, Australia, yesterday in anticipation off the kick-off of this prestigious ASP World Championship Tour Event.

Former event champions Kelly Slater (USA), Andy Irons (HAW) and Mick Fanning (AUS) voiced their collective desires to ring the bell again this year and with a solid swell on the way, they may have the opportunity to get started on their quests as soon as this morning.

Slater, who hasn’t won an event since the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach last year, will surpass Tom Curren’s 33 event wins record with a victory at Bells. A win will also keep current World No. 1 Fanning from increasing his lead, something the eight-time world champion is eager to do in his quest for his ninth world crown.

“Mick won the first event of the year and he’s just such a focused guy," Slater said. “He’s got a real fire burning to win the world title this year. He’s started out perfectly so far and this is a good event for him. I know that Mick is looking at this one as an important event because Teahupoo hasn’t been one of his best events, so he needs to stay ahead while he’s there and capitalize on it."

Fanning knows that Slater is all too right and despite winning the first event of the year and entering Bells in pole position, will not be resting on his laurels.

“It’s good to win the first event of the year but it’s only one event and you still have to go and back it up with seven more results," Fanning said. “It’s a good start but the guys on tour can come from anywhere so I have to stay on top of my game. It’s a new event and everyone is on a level playing field again – we all have to start from Round 1. All I can do is go out there and surf and hopefully I surf well."

Irons, who won the Rip Curl Pro in 2002 and 2003, is looking for a solid result at Bells after suffering a shock last place finish on the Gold Coast. “You can’t win them all," Irons said. “I went home and recharged the battery so I’m feeling a bit better now, I’ve had some time to get over it. It’s definitely crucial for me to get a result here now. Bells has been good to me in past years, so hopefully I can do well here this year, regain that confidence and take it into Tahiti."

Local surfer Nic Muscroft (AUS) won the Victoria The Place To Be Trials to earn the final wildcard into the Rip Curl Pro yesterday. Muscroft made his way in the main event via trials victories in 2003 and 2006 as well, but has never advanced past Round 2.

“Last year I felt like I was surfing pretty good," Muscroft said. “I had a pretty good heat score in Round 2 against CJ Hobgood (USA) which was good for my confidence, so hopefully I can go out there, surf well and make it through this year." Muscroft will meet Fanning and Foster’s ASP World Tour rookie Josh Kerr (AUS) in Round 1.

Chelsea Hedges (AUS) will enter the Rip Curl Women’s Pro as the ASP Women’s World Tour ratings leader – a luxury the 2005 World Champion has never enjoyed before.

“I’ve never had a really good start at the beginning of the year so it’s definitely a different feeling," Hedges said. “It’s a good feeling to have a win under your belt, but like Mick said, it’s only the second event of the year and there are several events to go. At the same time, I’m feeling confident and really excited about getting into the second event."

Reigning world champion Layne Beachley (AUS) spoke on behalf of the Top 17 when she expressed her gratitude to event sponsor Rip Curl for bring the women back to Bells. She spoke on behalf of herself when she announced her intentions at the event.

“Bells is one of the favorite events of all the girls on tour and I know there are a couple of girls who haven’t competed here on the pro tour so it’s very exciting for women’s surfing to be back here," Beachley said. “I’m the owner of three bells and I hope to be the owner of four by the end of the weekend."

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