The GOAT, proud recipient of four Bells trophies, surfing, sort of, against Ryan Callinan in the quarterfinals: pumping, beautiful Bells Bowl and not a single wave over 5.50. Almost half of Kelly's scored rides were wipeouts and his highest score maxed-out at 3.50. | Photo: WSL

Sam George: “Was this the sloppiest display of elite surfing competition in Bells’ fabled history?”

Pro surfing looks like junior tee-ball, where the little kids can just keep on swinging until they finally connect, then get cheered all the way to first base.

I tuned into the last hour or so of the WSL’s broadcast of the 58th annual Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach, the longest-running professional surf contest and certainly one of the most storied.

In the whack-a-mole world of pro contest sponsorship tradition isn’t a word that’s bandied about much, with venues and vibes changing as regularly as surf company CEOs.

Not so, Bells.

Same place, same time, same sponsor, same chilly parking lot. Same prestige, too, hefting that Bells Trophy.

Joining the ranks of The Immortals: Peterson, M.R., Simon, Curren, Carroll, Occhilupo, Irons, Parko, Fanning. And that’s just the men’s division; Lisa, Layne and Stephanie have their own seats on Olympus.

So much good surfing has gone down in those long, broad-based Victorian walls that a highlight reel would need as many sequels as The Avengers franchise.

So is it just me or was this one of the sloppiest displays of elite surfing competition in Bells’ fabled fifty-eight-year-history?

The Slater/Wilson Round of 32 heat, for example, in which the Greatest of All Time won with a score that barely hit double digits. This, in clean, four-to-six-foot Winkipop. But his tepid tally still bested Julian, Oz’s perennial world champion hope, whose highest scoring ride was a 3.87.

I mean, really.

The Slater/Wilson Round of 32 heat, for example, in which the Greatest of All Time won with a score that barely hit double digits. This, in clean, four-to-six-foot Winkipop. But his tepid tally still bested Julian, Oz’s perennial world champion hope, whose highest scoring ride was a 3.87.

Is this really what all the Vicco surf fans froze their Ugg Boots off to see? Let alone the online community who, if they had the sound turned down (you know you do it, too), might’ve thought they were watching an 1987 NSSA District contest at C-Street in some weird Flashback Friday episode.

Like I said, sloppy.

How about Owen Wright, snapping his board on a duck dive, only to ski-race in to the beach and find his backup board unwaxed! Seriously, these are pro surfers. The waves were double overhead on the sets, the shorebreak cracking, and the backup board is un-waxed.

What, did Owen come to the beach that morning with his coach or an Uber driver?

The latter heats were no less, let’s say (and generously, at that) uneven. Again with the GOAT, proud recipient of four Bells trophies, surfing, sort of, against Ryan Callinan in the quarterfinals: pumping, beautiful Bells Bowl and not a single wave over 5.50.

How about Owen Wright, snapping his board on a duck dive, only to ski-race in to the beach and find his backup board unwaxed! Seriously, these are pro surfers. The waves were double overhead on the sets, the shorebreak cracking, and the backup board is un-waxed. What, did Owen come to the beach that morning with his coach or an Uber driver?

Almost half of Kelly’s scored rides were wipeouts and his highest score maxed-out at 3.50.

The semi-final with Toledo vs Callinan: eight-to-ten-foot, offshore, thirteen waves ridden and not a single one in the excellent range.

I won’t even talk about the top bogs and over-the-falls, ass-over-tea kettle wipeouts. Watching all this wetsuit flushing had me trying to think of any other world-class sport where in the heat of competition there’s absolutely no penalty for spectacularly screwing up.

Pro surfing, at least judged by these performances, looks a little bit like junior tee-ball, where the little kids can just keep on swinging until they finally connect, then get cheered all the way to first base.

Like, “Yay, you did it! Finally.”

Pumping, beautiful Bells, clean, offshore winds, two of the best young surfers in the world and not a single ride in the excellent range? Only plenty of nursed turns and few spectacular wipeouts punctuating what was, judging by the aggregate wave scores, about a half hour of slightly above-average surfing.

And speaking of the final?

Pumping, beautiful Bells, clean, offshore winds, two of the best young surfers in the world and not a single ride in the excellent range? Only plenty of nursed turns and few spectacular wipeouts punctuating what was, judging by the aggregate wave scores, about a half hour of slightly above-average surfing.

C’mon, you guys, this is Bells! Where Simon debuted the Thruster. Where Occy won that awesome Skins event. Where Kelly did the epic Air Reverse. Where Courtney got that 10-point ride (Oh, wait, that was this year. At least the ladies delivered.)

But you get the picture.

Ride bigger boards next time or fire your coaches or go back and watch the Michael Peterson/Bells contest segment in Free Ride while repeating over and over, “I will not hop, I will not hop, I will not hop.”

Do something to honor the Rip Curl Pro’s legacy.

To honor the Bells Beach legacy. Something spectacular, not just slightly above average.

And for fuck’s sake, don’t forget to wax your board.


Make America Great Again: The world press reacts to U.S. DOMINANCE at Bells!

It's a good day to be red, white and blue.

I’ve been chatting up our Brazilian future so rambunctiously since the end of ’18 that I forgot any other surfing nations even existed, aside from the funny ones like Canada and Senegal aiming for 2020 Olympic gold.

Oh sure, theoretically I know that Jordy Smith is from South Africa, Micheal Bourez is from France, Owen Wright is from Children of the Corn, Strider Wasilewski is from Poland, Adriano de Souza is from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory etc. but all I really see is green and gold.

I assumed, by this time in the season the top 5 would read 1) Gabriel 2) Filipe Toledo 3) Italo Ferriera 4) Willian Cardoso 5) Joe Turpel.

Well guess who just waltzed through the door and put South America in a chokehold?

Real America!

And the world news is all over it. Let’s take a quick perusal together, after affixing red, white and blue stickers to our Fords. Let’s head to the Associated Press.

John John Florence won the men’s event after fellow American and 11-time world champion Kelly Slater was eliminated in the quarterfinals, while American Courtney Conlogue took the women’s competition at the Bells Beach World Surf League stop.

Florence beat Filipe Toledo of Brazil in a close final Saturday. Toledo needed a score of 6.98 points when he caught his last wave with 12 seconds left, but the judges awarded 5.90 and Florence won 14.30 to 13.98.

American, American, American, Andino, American.

Suck it, everyone.


Rip Curl Pro, Bells, Finals day: John John Florence beats Filipe Toledo and “Whistle-happy refs ruin an otherwise perfect Final Day!”

Nothing trivial or tinkling about a final's day in six-foot waves with Filipe Toledo, John John Florence, Gabriel Medina Ryan Callinan, Jordy Smith and Italo Ferriera…

How did you sleep? Me, poorly.

Tossing and turning all night mulling over the action from an epic day.

We all pondered the effect, mostly the energy balance equations for each competitor and seeing as surfing is a drug free sport minus recovery aiding PED’s like EPO, how much they would be diminished going into the Finals Day.

But we didn’t stop and consider the fatigue effect on judges after a full day of over-lapping heats in giant surf.

Imagine how fried the priority judge was last night after a day on the tools like the one yesterday.

Unprecedented. More on this later, of course.

Seeing as we have all had so much fun analysing in real-time the days action the wrap today will be focussed on turning points, to try and add value to what has already been mulled over.

There were many.

Excuse me though, I need to go pee. Japanese bladder. I once stood in front of the magistrate in Byron Bay Court and (successfully) defended myself on a charge of public obscenity using the Japanese bladder defence. The defence was suggested to me by a certain manager of a certain pro surfer who went on to a long and illustrious career.

Can anyone now successfully defend the current career phase of Kelly Slater using the “wait till he gets in good waves” D? Totally erased in clean six-to-eight-foot Bells Bowl. Kelly lost on all levels. Positioning gone. Bizarre mid-heat Hail Mary paddle up to somewhere near Rincon.

I digress.

Can anyone now successfully defend the current career phase of Kelly Slater using the “wait till he gets in good waves” D? Totally erased in clean six-to-eight-foot Bells Bowl. Kelly lost on all levels. Positioning gone. Bizarre mid-heat Hail Mary paddle up to somewhere near Rincon.

Equipment, not cutting it, even according to the champ’s own admission.

Three ten-point heat totals got him to the quarters where he was brutally exposed. Judges squashed down R-Cal’s heat total to at least keep Kelly nominally in the heat but the 5.67 heat total says it all.

Mercifully, Rosie threw him the angel ring of an injury get out in the post heat presser and he clung to it like a drowning man does.

He said he had been “in denial about how bad it is.”

How much denial can the GOAT tolerate?

I assume you watched the JJF/Medina super heat and have your own opinions on it. My initial take was JJF won it clean.

Other opinions took a contrary view.

The crux rested on the scoring of Medina’s first wave. One huge perfect turn on the outside and a huge perfect upside-down smash on the shorebreak. Judges awarded a 6.67. Looks a clear underscore on the analyzer, by a point and a half. A low eight.

The other contention was Florence’s high score, an 8.87, which Peter Mel said contained “two errors”, including a question mark (dreaded question mark!) on the final turn. You can’t deny the power, aggression and commitment of the turns in between, but bringing it back a half-point seems reasonable.

The turning point. Fifteen minutes to go.

Medina catches his last scoring wave. Please go and look at the “high-line lip float” and study. Insane, yes. 8.5? Maybe even a nine.

Gabe Medina, superior strategist, lets a beautiful mid-sized wave drift underneath him right into John’s paw. Florence tears it about three new orifices, causing Peter Mel to groan orgasmically, “Oh my God!” Eight-point ride. That was the heat-winning wave. A crazy unforced error from Gabe, completely unremarked upon in the booth.

11.21 remaining, John ahead, Medina needing a 7.17. With priority. With motherfucking priority!

Gabe Medina, superior strategist, lets a beautiful mid-sized wave drift underneath him right into John’s paw. Florence tears it about three new orifices, causing Peter Mel to groan orgasmically, “Oh my God!” Eight-point ride.

That was the heat-winning wave. A crazy unforced error from Gabe, completely unremarked upon in the booth.

Back in the line-up John paddled slowly around Gabe in a slow, circling arc. A “soft” Zeke. Glorious hustle! Gabe did not ride another wave. It could have gone either way but for that piece of brilliance alone John John erases last year and takes the bikkies.

How would Italo respond to yesterday’s shellacking in the southern Ocean, where the cold gets in your bones and makes young men feel old and old men feel their mortality creeping in on them. He looked unsteady against a Jordy Smith who, by comparison to the previous heat, looked slow through the turn.

Italo came back with an excellent ride before he was cruelled by an interference call.

Every pro sport has officials who have to make judgement calls. And to eliminate another competitor from the contest via such a judgement call should only be done for the gravest of reasons, with a very high burden of proof.

Beyond reasonable doubt, at least.

Italo took a wave, a clean set wave, doubtful he saw Jordy lurking under the lip and spinning in the whitewater until he was passed him. He kicked out immediately. Jordy rode the wave well for a mid-six. Very, very long minutes passed before the interference call was announced to a disbelieving commentary booth, who seemed coached to not question a major call.

It was what UFC Middleweight Champion Khabib Nurmogomedov would call “Number one bullshit”.

The interference rule was supposed to apply where there was a hindrance to the scoring potential of the wave. Seeing as Jordy was still on his guts in the whitewater before Italo’s track even reached him then rode the wave successfully in what universe was his scoring potential hindered?

Answer: One where severely fatigued judges made a judgement call which should never have been made.

In a proper pro sport there would be an oversight committee where calls like that would be reviewed and if not able to be reversed at least admissions made or alterations to rule interpretations conducted.


There were shades of J-Bay 2017 for Filipe Toledo in his semi-Final against R-Cal. Except he couldn’t close out the final manouevre.

Rcal let him off the hook – major turning point – when he bogged a hard rail-turn on a major set wave. “Shhiiiiiiiiiiitttttt” went coach Dog Marsh on the stairs. Filipe needing a six caught a wave on the buzzer, fat outside, got good work done on the inside.

Fell on the finish.

I wrote “Nope”. Judges went “Yep”. R-Cal should have got that but let him off the hook.

You could feel the fatigue setting in for JJF in his semi with Jordy. Jordy was coming to life, putting a 6’6” Arakawa through the full arc of a turn. Slower, yes, but with variation.

John started to fall on the closing turn.

I do not subscribe to the view that the closing turns from John John were boring or monotonous. There was variation in angle of approach and rotation. Always the turn speed and aggression > Jordy.

Seven Minutes to go, John slipped away outside from Jordy and caught the biggest set wave of the day, carving a deep trench in it on multiple turns before a clean finish.

A cute Norwegian looking gal clapped on the stairs. Where did she come from? Who knew John had a gal? I saw the 9.43 as a historical rebalancing after the injustice of 2017, when John clearly the best surfer of the event was robbed of a final’s berth.

The Final was JJF battling fatigue and Filipe bringing turns that were a bit soft, blurry, lacking in focus.

John fell and fell again. Maybe he’s a cooked goose, I thought.

A set wave came with John holding priority. He allowed Filipe to go. Major turn on the outside, big cutback then Filipe kicked out, dodging the close-out hit. At the halfway point that was it. A big score there and John would have been toast.

A major turning point arrived.

A set wave came with John holding priority. He allowed Filipe to go. Major turn on the outside, big cutback then Filipe kicked out, dodging the close-out hit. At the halfway point that was it.

A big score there and John would have been toast.

Twenty minutes remaining and John had to start again. He showed no nerves. Cut a smaller inside wave into pieces with a blade that was looking duller with each strike. Mid-six was enough to get back in.

His next wave, a 7.63, was far from his best, but good enough to be a heat winner.

Like he did with Gabe he sat right next to Filipe. Not in his grill, but at a competitive distance. Filipe got his wave on the buzzer but it was nowhere near enough. Another 15 minutes and John would have been cooked, properly. A perfectly timed run. Props to his crew, they prepped their man beautifully.

Edit: I just read the WSL rule book: the rule is clear about crossing paths. Which means, shit rule that needs changing. What do you think? I just hate whistle-happy refs ruining the contest and an otherwise perfect Final Day.


Gabe took the Occhilupo high-water mark of the ’97 Skins event and threw it in the rubbish bin like an empty six pack*. Line and length off the bottom, pure edge control, giant slalom S-turns, a total absence of bobble, pumping or line hesitation coupled with perfectly timed massive end section stabs. | Photo: WSL

Open thread: Comment live, finals day, Rip Curl Pro, Bells!

Can't make it to a sports bar? Get your kicks, live, here.

The best joint to watch the finals of a CT-er is a rowdy bar with a gang of pals. Half the fun of the game are the ill-advised words mingled with those fantastic observations that come, uncensored, in the moment.

What we have here, at the advice of a BeachGrit reader who cites the popularity of open threads at NFL events, is a virtual bar.

Grab a seat. Order a whisky sour (or whatever puts you in an argumentative state.)

Surf is six-to-eight-foot and clean.

Topics to consider: Kelly’s ability to grind out a couple more heats and win a fifth Bell, the most in (male) history. Has Italo been stunned into submission after yesterday’s brush with mortality?  Who’s gonna win the super heat tween John and Gabriel?

First up, men’s quarter-finals.

Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach Men’s Quarterfinal Matchups:
Heat 1: Kelly Slater (USA) vs. Ryan Callinan (AUS)
Heat 2: Filipe Toledo (BRA) vs. Jacob Willcox (AUS)
Heat 3: Gabriel Medina (BRA) vs. John John Florence (HAW)
Heat 4: Italo Ferreira (BRA) vs. Jordy Smith (ZAF)

Then the women’s semis.

Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach Women’s Semifinal Matchups:
Heat 1: Lakey Peterson (USA) vs. Courtney Conlogue (USA)
Heat 2: Malia Manuel (HAW) vs. Caroline Marks (USA)

Men’s semis, women’s final, men’s final.

Watch live here (but use a Chrome browser ’cause Safari don’t work).

Or Facebook Live. 

Dive in.


From the Peek-a-Boo Dept: The shark deterrent that you’ve been craving!

Cute and culturally appropriate for all your Middle Eastern surf adventures!

And once again, how wonderful has the 50 year storm been? Brilliantly marketed, brilliantly executed and impossible to turn away from. All those professional surfers in the water at once, a good handful of which look like they’ve never been in an angry ocean. It has been that good and, if for some reason, you found it possible to turn away then here is Longtom for you. Words even louder than the action.

But, real quick, while I was watching yesterday, on the World Surf League website, I saw a strange advertisement pop up. Eyes peering at me from the bottom of a surfboard and smaller eyes also peering at me from the bottom of two legs.

At first I thought the WSL was pranking me with some sophisticated geo-tagging. As you know, I’m busy on a book about the Middle East and in the Middle East men, who would get in trouble for having stickers of curvaceous babes on the backs of their taxis, put two doe-like women’s eyes instead. It’s all very classy and I wondered if the WSL was letting me know that they know where my head’s at.

I was so fascinated that I clicked and… voila! Even better than sexless sexiness, I was ushered into the world of Shark Eyes or…

The Waterman’s Visual Shark Deterrent

Shark Eyes is the world’s most affordable visual shark deterrent. From watermen to professionals to every day ocean lovers, Shark Eyes is for all water users who want to minimize their risk of a shark attack.

The Shark Eyes decal applies easily to water sports equipment and aims to trick the shark into thinking it’s been spotted, thereby removing the element of surprise and deterring an attack. Stay safer with Shark Eyes, which easily applies to water sports equipment, needs no recharging, doesn’t alter performance, and respects the environment.

I think Shark Eyes, combined with our new pet Killer Whales and delivery vessel, means the day and age of shark on surfer violence is officially over.

Who knew that sharks were so sensitive to prying eye stickers?

Did you?

Buy here!