BELLS BEACH, Victoria (Tuesday, April 7, 2009) Round 1 of the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach presented by Snickers was completed today in three-to-four foot (1 metre) waves in the Bells Bowl, and the implementation of the new format, rendering the opening round an elimination man-on-man affair, saw surfers lifting their competitive game to survive a dramatic day of action.
Event No. 2 of 10 on the 2009 ASP World Tour, the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach is a pivotal point in the season and today's action saw 16 of the world's best surfers sent packing after just one heat. Despite the criticalness of the format, some incredible performances were logged at the historic venue.
Jordy Smith (ZAF), 21, stamped his authority on today's proceedings, eliminating highly-touted event wildcard Matt Wilkinson (AUS), 20, from Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach competition. The intercontinental clash was reminiscent of the two's famed battles during their junior careers.
"I am really good friends with Matt (Wilkinson) and it felt like an old times junior heat out here," Smith said. "I surfed my first overseas contest out here and it was against him. I was lucky the tide was a bit lower and it was walling up nice on the inside today."
Smith's mastery of the Bells Bowl today saw the young natural-footer attain the day's highest heat total of an 18.70 out of a possible 20, securing two excellent-scoring rides for a blistering and fluid series of forehand maneuvers.
"My normal shortboard is 6'2 ½" and Bells is kind of a sloppier and longer face so I brought my 6'3 ½" and it tends to get through the flat spots a bit better," Smith said. I surfed earlier this morning on the higher tide and struggled a bit so I was thankful for the low tide out there this afternoon."
Smith will take on Damien Hobgood (USA), 29, in Round 2 when competition continues.
Owen Wright (AUS), 19, wildcard at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach, caused the upset of the day, defeating incendiary American Dane Reynolds, 23, in Round 1 of competition.
"I am really happy," Wright said. "I went out there knowing that I needed to get a wave under my belt straight up and put the pressure on him. I did that and got the wave, surfed it all the way through and managed to get a little back up."
Wright's tenacity and solid game plan provided him with the win over his marquee opponent and the young goofy-footer will need to employ the same tact as he continues here at Bells Beach.
"Dane (Reynolds) is an excellent surfer," Wright said. "I let him have what I thought was average wave and he got a 6.8. He is definitely a solid competitor and I am just stoked to get through the heat. I had been watching a lot of heats and I thought that those guys that get the bigger score early are the one going through. I really focused on getting that first wave and ended up getting it."
Wright will face reigning nine-time ASP World Champion and defending Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach Champion Kelly Slater (USA), 37, in Round 2 when competition resumes.
Dayyan Neve (AUS), 31, into his third full season on the ASP Dream Tour, survived a hard-fought Round 1 heat against 2009 ASP Dream Tour rookie Marlon Lipke (DEU), 24. With the new event format in full swing, Neve was vocal about the heightened drama associated with the elimination man-on-man Round 1 format.
"I was stoked to make it through that heat," Neve said. "I have been nervous for weeks. I am not a big fan of the new system. For the sport, I think it would be better to have the extra round to get all the top seeds down like Kelly (Slater), Mick (Fanning) and Joel (Parkinson). Get all the crowd watching the top seeds as much as possible is good for the sport I think. So yes, I am not a big fan of it and I hope they change it soon."
Neve will taken on fellow Sydney-sider Kai Otton (AUS), 29, in Round 2 when competition continues.
Event organizers will reconvene tomorrow morning at 7am for a possible 7:30am start.
The Rip Curl Women's Pro Bells Beach presented by Ford New Fiesta begins its waiting period tomorrow and both events will be on call for a possible start.
The Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach pres. by Snickers will be webcast LIVE via www.live.ripcurl.com.