"The 51st gathering of the tribe" at Bells Beach, Victoria experienced a bittersweet opening today after last week's passing of the event's very first victor, Michael Peterson. M.P. must have been shipping positive ripples from someplace in the universe, because clean, long lines swept the Bass Strait as the women commenced round one of the 2012 Rip Curl Pro. As Californian Courtney Conlogue said, with a huge smile on her face, "Anytime you have glassy waves with 3 to 5-foot surf, you're stoked."
Oh, and, the sun was shining.
Rookie Lakey Peterson, another Cali gal, created waves of her own when she dismissed three-time Bells winner Steph Gilmore in heat three. The two surfers actually finished with identical scores of 14.17, but Peterson earned the right to skip round two following a count-back: her third-highest wave beat Gilmore's. Local wildcard Nikki Van Dijk didn't go easy on her heat mates, either. The Phillip Island native pulled an impressive 12.90 total.
"It was tough out there," Peterson said. "Steph's always such a force to be reckoned with, and same with Nikki. She's doing really well. I've been here for about a week now. I got here early just to figure out the wave. It's really good, but it's really weird, too. You have to know exactly where to be, or else you're done. I was just having a fun time and I'm glad I made it through."
Knowing where to sit and which waves to pick off proved no trouble for last year's winner, Aussie Sally Fitzgibbons. In heat five, spectators gawked at her first ride as she effortlessly linked snaps and carves on an absolute bomb that netted a 9.57. Hawaii's Coco Ho secured several high-scoring waves herself and maintained a lead through much of the heat--until Fitzgibbons posted a 9.27 on another beautiful wave that was well overhead.
"Oh, the swell was unreal," Fitzgibbons said. "I'm really, really happy to be back at Bells and to get a couple of nines is a great start. Last year was obviously one of the pinnacles of my career, and the memories sort of flood back when you pull up to the carpark. To see my face up there with all those great champions ...that memory's still really vivid and I'm going to try and repeat that, for sure. I knew with Coco in the heat and Sage as well, I thought, 'Oh, she's going to have solid scores.' I got one nine, then knew with 15 minutes to go that there'd be one or two more big sets, so I was patient and knew that Bells would deliver."
Current World Champ Carissa Moore (Hawaii) also offered nothing but kind words about Bells after she easily advanced to round three. As the tide turned, Moore chose to sit at the Bowl (instead of Rincon). She raced a high line and completed massive roundhouse cutties, nearly finishing a couple of rides on the beach and ultimately earning a 16.50 total.
"I love carving and the Bowl at Bells is so much fun to do that," Moore said. "It's beautiful today down here. It's definitely different [pressure-wise] coming into events as the World Champion, but I lost in the quarters at the Roxy Pro, so it's nice--I get to play catch-up and deflect the target right now."
"I got a baby Bell last year and it was really cool," she added, "but that big one's looking really nice and shiny!"
Courtney Conlogue and Australia's Laura Enever also scored notable heat totals in the 15-point range. They will continue straight on to round three, along with Lennox Head's Tyler Wright.
"I'm just having a blast and to have a heat with these great conditions is absolutely amazing," Conlogue said.
RIP CURL WOMEN'S PRO BELLS BEACH ROUND 1 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Laura Enever (AUS) 15:00, Paige Hareb (NZL) 12.83, Rebecca Woods (AUS) 9.67
Heat 2: Tyler Wright (AUS) 12.77, Malia Manuel (HAW) 11.57, Jacqueline Silva (BRA) 9.60
Heat 3: Lakey Peterson (USA) 14.17, Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 14.17, Nikki Van Dyke (AUS) 12.90
Heat 4: Carissa Moore (AUS) 16.50, Pauline Ado (FRA) 10.43, Justine Dupont (FRA) 9.50
Heat 5: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 18.84, Coco Ho (HAW) 15.50, Sage Erickson (USA) 11.90
Heat 6: Courtney Conlogue (USA) 15.93, Sofia Mulanovich (PER) 14.17, Sarah Mason (NZL) 12.57
RIP CURL WOMEN'S PRO BELLS BEACH ROUND 2 MATCH-UPS:
Heat 1: Coco Ho (HAW) vs. Rebecca Woods (AUS)
Heat 2: Malia Manuel (HAW) vs. Jacqueline Silva (BRA)
Heat 3: Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) vs. Nikki Van Dijk (AUS)
Heat 4: Sofia Mulanovich (PER) vs. Justine Dupont (FRA)
Heat 5: Paige Hareb (BRA) vs. Sage Erickson (USA)
Heat 6: Pauline Ado (FRA) vs. Sarah Mason (NZL)