Big eliminations swept the second day of the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach competition, Stop No. 2 on the World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour (CT). The male and female competitors took to the main stage at Bells Beach in five-to-eight foot (1.5 -2.4 metre) waves to complete the remaining heats of men’s Round 1, men’s Round 2, and women’s Round 2.
Anticipation was at its peak in the final heat of Round 1 as the retiring, three-time WSL Champion Mick Fanning (AUS) entered the water for the last opening heat of his CT career. The four-time Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach event winner faced Sebastian Zietz (HAW) and 2018 CT Rookie Jesse Mendes (BRA) in Heat 12. Although it wasn’t his most outstanding performance at Bells, Fanning won the heat to progress into Round 3, much to the delight of the record number of adoring fans that lined the shores to cheer on their hero.
"It's so awesome to have so much support down here at Bells, and to have my family and friends around is great,” said Fanning. “I'm stoked to get through that heat. It definitely wasn’t my best, but it will do for now. I really want to put on a good performance and continue that form throughout the whole competition. Regardless of my result, I’m just stoked to be down here at Bells, one of the most special places I travel to.”
The opening heat of Round 2 saw contender Filipe Toledo (BRA) pitted against local wildcard Carl Wright (AUS) in a battle to avoid the event’s first elimination. Toledo was eager to shake off his Round 1 jitters and find a rhythm in the Bells Bowl. The electric young Brazilian got the nod from the judges with an epic display of rail-surfing to win the heat. Wright will go home with an Equal 25th finish in his first CT event.
After falling off the CT in 2013, Californian Patrick Gudauskas (USA) has returned to the main stage in 2018. After a 25th place finish at Stop No. 1, Gudauskas was keen to make amends at Bells Beach. Coming up against Kanoa Igarashi (JPN) in Heat 4 of Round 2, Gudauskas looked sharp as he surfed to the sound of a 14.33 total and the heat win.
Michael February of South Africa returned to the elite stage at Bells to again replace the injured 11-time WSL Champion Kelly Slater (USA). Unfortunately, February suffered bad luck in his matchup with Frederico Morais (PRT), breaking his board in half and having to swim to the beach to swap his equipment. Once he returned to the lineup, the waves slowed and he never found a solid opportunity. February will get more opportunities this season as he replaces Fanning for the rest of the 2018 season.
Morias will face 2012 WSL Champion Joel Parkinson (AUS) in Round 3 Heat 8. Earlier this morning, the Australian won his Round 1 heat against rookie Wade Carmichael (AUS) and Igarashi. Carmichael won his Round 2 heat over fellow rookie Tomas Hermes (BRA) and will face 2017 event winner Jordy Smith (ZAF) in Round 3.
Following his Round 1 heat against Fanning, Zietz dispatched CT sophomore Ian Gouveia (BRA) to bounce out of Round 2 and back into the event. Shaking off his early morning loss in Round 1, Zietz was on fire the entire heat, posting the first excellent score of the men's event, an 8.17. Zeitz ended the heat with a two-wave combination of 15.17 (out of a possible 20), which proved unbeatable for Gouveia. Zeitz will now have the unenviable task of taking on Fanning in Round 3 Heat 5.
2015 WSL Champion Adriano de Souza (BRA) rarely finds himself in Round 2 matchups but today faced a potential early elimination at the hands of event wildcard Mikey McDonagh (AUS). Former Rip Curl Pro event winner De Souza surfed to his strengths and attacked the lip to take down 16-year-old McDonagh.
Fellow Brazilians Willian Cardoso, Italo Ferreira and Jesse Mendes will also advance to Round 3 after dispatching Caio Ibelli (BRA), Michael Rodrigues (BRA), and Joan Duru (FRA), respectively.
Following the men’s opening rounds, wildcard Kobie Enright (AUS) upset the competition in women’s Round 2 with a major win over 2017 World Title contender Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) in Heat 3.
In her professional surfing career, Fitzgibbons has never fallen below 5th place at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach event. Today marked the two-time event winner’s first early elimination ahead of the Final Series in nine years. 18-year-old Enright will advance to Round 3, while 27-year-old Fitzgibbons leaves in 13th place.
Six-time WSL Champion Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) won her elimination Round 2 heat today and did not let Paige Hareb (NZL) disrupt her race for a fourth Bells win. Gilmore has dominated the Rip Curl Pro event throughout her career and has yet to fall below 5th place in her 12 years competing at this event. The 2017 event runner-up will be against Johanne Defay (FRA) and Coco Ho (HAW) in Round 3 when competition resumes.
Americans Caroline Marks and Sage Erickson lit up the first two elimination rounds with wins against Australians Keely Andrew and Bronte Macaulay, respectively.
Andrew, current World No. 2, was eliminated Round 2 Heat 1 by the 2018 CT Rookie Marks. Earlier this month, Andrew earned a runner-up finish at the first CT event of the season on the Gold Coast but did not find the rhythm at Bells to match her earlier success. Marks, the youngest surfer ever to qualify for the CT, dominated the heat with a 7.33 and 6.33, forcing Andrew to exit in Equal 13th place.
It has been over 20 years since a Victorian has rung the iconic Bell, and fortunately for Nikki Van Dijk (AUS), there is a chance after defeating injury replacement Macy Callaghan (AUS) in Round 2. Van Dijk will advance to Round 3 where she will surf against Enright and Carissa Moore (HAW).
The final heat of the day was an all-Hawaii affair with Tatiana Weston-Webb (HAW) coming up against current World No. 3 Malia Manuel (HAW). In an intense battle, Manuel fell just one point short of the win and will be eliminated from the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach. A standout from Stop No. 1 on the Gold Coast, Manuel will look to improve her ranking at the Margaret River Pro in Western Australia next month.
Event officials will reconvene at 6:00 a.m. AEDT tomorrow morning for a possible 6:30 a.m. start.