Round 1 of the Rip Curl Pro presented by Snickers saw proven Bells Beach performers dominate proceedings in the four to six foot (one to one half metre) and slightly onshore conditions on offer today.
Former champions and perennial Top 5 Foster's ASP World Tour surfers Kelly Slater (USA), Andy Irons (HAW), Joel Parkinson (AUS) and Mick Fanning (AUS) made their way through the opening round of the event with ease and will advance straight to Round 3.
Slater (pictured above) and Parkinson, both of whom made the Rip Curl Pro final last year, tied for the day's highest single wave score: 9.17 out of 10.00. Slater may have come out on top last year, but the eight-time world champ pointed to Parkinson as the surfer to beat after watching him the heat before.
"He did a really nice cutback to finish his 9.17 off," Slater said. "He disappeared going back into the white water and then flew out again - it was a good ride. Parko has got to expect to do well here, if you look at his record in the past five years - it¹s better then anybody's."
Parkinson, who won the Rip Curl Pro in 2004, finished equal 5th in the first event of the year on the Gold Coast and is looking to back up that result with a similar or better finish at Bells.
"I definitely consider this event one of my strengths and I love surfing down here," Parkinson said. "Every year I seem to pull a result out of here. I can't count my chickens yet but I'll try my hardest."
Also trying hard to back up his No. 1 finish on the season opener is 2001 Rip Curl Pro Champion Fanning. Posting the highest heat score of the day (17.00 out of 20.00), Fanning's total equaled the sum of his competitors' with local wildcard Nic Muscroft (AUS) earning 10.00 out of 20.00 and Josh Kerr (AUS) posting 7.00 out of a possible 20.00 points.
Fanning and Kerr met in the Quarterfinals of the Gold Coast event last month and, between the two of them, put together one of the highest scoring heats in professional surfing history. Fanning narrowly won the heat and went on to win the event. He rode that confidence into his Round 1 romp with Kerr today.
"I just treated Kerr like anybody else," Fanning said. "That one heat on the Gold Coast was pretty incredible but I just went out there and did what I'd normally do against anyone else today - it didn't really bother me."
In a polar-opposite scenario, Irons finished last in the season opener and didn't take any chances in his heat against wildcard Matt Wilkinson (AUS). [NB: Greg Emslie, who was also seeded to surf in Irons and Wilkinson's heat, missed Round 1 due to the impending birth of his first child. Emslie will still try to make it to Bells
to surf Round 2].
"It was really important for me to avoid Round 2 today," Irons said. "There was about two minutes left and Wilkinson needed a 7.00. I wasn't going to give him any chances. I paddled up the point so he wouldn't get a wave underneath me. Things happen, and it's happened to me before so I wasn't going to give him a chance to get through."
Current World No. 3 Taj Burrow (AUS) squeaked through his heat over rookies Luke Munro (AUS) and Ben Dunn (AUS) today with a last minute victory today.
"I'm lucky to come out with a win in that heat," Burrow said. "It was chunky and just hard to find a clean face to get some nice turns off. I fell a couple of times and just struggled to find that right wave. It was really close and those guys were surfing really good; it was a nail biter for me that's for sure."
Also straight to Round 3 is Bede Durbidge (AUS) who finished runner-up to Fanning on the Gold Coast. Durbidge used the momentum from that result to blast past Hawaii's Fred Pattachia and crowd favorite and former Bells Beach winner Mark Occhilupo (AUS).
"I'm still the dark horse; everybody still treats me the same" Durbidge said. "I have no sponsor so I'm just going to keep working and keep climbing those ratings. It's so prestigious this comp; it would be awesome to get on that podium and ring that Bell."
French rookie Jeremy Flores, Brazilians Adriano de Souza and Leonardo Neves and Travis Logie of South Africa also advanced through their Round 1 heats today.
Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach Round 1 Results - 1st advances to Round 3, 2nd and 3rd surf Round 2
Heat 1: Chris Ward (USA) 14.33; Dean Morrison (AUS) 11.10; Royden Bryson (ZAF) 8.67
Heat 2: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 14.50; Taylor Knox (USA) 11.24; Dayyan Neve (AUS) 8.83
Heat 3: Tom Whitaker (AUS) 12.50; Kai Otton (AUS) 8.00; Neco Padaratz (BRA) DNS
Heat 4: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 13.66; Damien Hobgood (USA) 11.77; Bernado Pigmeu (BRA) 9.13
Heat 5: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 15.67; Raoni Monteiro (BRA) 14.44; Gabe Kling (USA) 10.84
Heat 6: Travis Logie (ZAF) 12.67; Rodrigo Dornelles (BRA) 10.83; Bobby Martinez (USA) 8.50
Heat 7: Taj Burrow (AUS) 13.36; Luke Munro (AUS) 12.67; Ben Dunn (AUS) 11.17
Heat 8: Kelly Slater (USA) 16.84; Mick Campbell (AUS) 9.17; Owen Wright (AUS) 6.00
Heat 9: Andy Irons (HAW) 13.66; Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 12.07; Greg Emslie (ZAF) DNS
Heat 10: Mick Fanning (AUS) 17.00; Nic Muscroft (AUS) 10.00; Josh Kerr (AUS) 7.00
Heat 11: Adrian Buchan (AUS) 11.00; Cory Lopez (USA) 10.17; Luke Stedman (AUS) 7.84
Heat 12: Pancho Sullivan (HAW) 12.93; Phil MacDonald (AUS) 12.84; Troy Brooks (AUS) 11.27
Heat 13: Bruce Irons (HAW) 14.23; Ricky Basnett (ZAF) 10.83; Victor Ribas (BRA) 6.10
Heat 14: Bede Durbidge (AUS) 16.33; Fred Patacchia (HAW) 12.10; Mark Occhilupo (AUS) 11.16
Heat 15: Leonardo Neves (BRA) 13.16; CJ Hobgood (USA) 12.07; Mick Lowe (AUS) 6.13
Heat 16: Danny Wills (AUS) 15.93; Shaun Cansdell (AUS) 8.03; Trent Munro (AUS) 4.17