It was an emotional time at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach Thursday. The running of the 51st edition of the contest has been dedicated to the memory of three-time winner, Michael Peterson, who died March 29 of a heart attack.
The competitors wore black armbands in memory of the surfing legend whose funeral was held Thursday on Australia's Gold Coast.
In the early '70s, Michael 'MP' Peterson couldn't be touched in the surfing world, earning the title of Australian Champion in 1972 and winning three consecutive Bells Beach titles from 1973-75.
MP was known as the 'King of Cooly' [Coolangatta], and two of the new generation of 'Cooly Kids', Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson, moved through to the quarterfinals after winning their Round 3 and 4 heats Thursday.
The significance of the day was not lost on either of them.
"It was definitely on my mind," Fanning said back on the beach after winning his Round 3 heat. "When you're in the competitors area putting your singlet on and asked, 'Do you want your armband on?' it really strikes home. Michael was a great guy. There's been so many things said about him, but to me he was just always so super cool. [We] had some great chats. When they did the reunion of The Stubbies contest, I got to paddle out with all the guys I've admired my whole life and I'm sitting with MR [Mark Richards], asking him what happened in the final. He was telling me how Michael was such a competitor, and it really reminded me of Andy Irons -- then to come in on the land and ask Michael [Peterson] how he went through it all -- it was just so like role reversal. It was one of the greatest days of my surfing career for sure."
Parkinson, the defending and three-time Bells champion, also had MP on his mind.
"I spoke to a couple of friends earlier who are up there (Gold Coast) for the funeral," said Parkinson. "It will be a huge day at home but it's a huge day at Bells too. We are blessed with perfect conditions."
When it was pointed out that he'd won three Bells and MP had won three Bells, Parko said that had been on his mind paddling out for his first heat.
"I thought of that when I paddled out. I'm wearing a black armband for a guy, another fellow three-time ringer. So it was good to know that he was probably at my side out there, it was good feeling."
When it was mentioned that people were suggesting there was a connection between Irons' surfing and MP's, Parkinson, who was one of Irons' best friends, thought there was some sort of affinity.
"Andy was such a fierce competitor, kind of the MP of the modern era," he said. "I never got to know MP well, never got to see him in his prime because I was too young, but from what I hear and see, he was probably just as fierce as Andy."
While MP's memory was the catalyst for Thursday's' emotions, they spilled out in other ways. CJ Hobgood, who dropped off the World Tour at the mid-year rotation in September but re-qualified for this year's Tour was almost overwhelmed by his victory over fellow goofy footer Gabriel Medina.
"Maybe I'm getting a little more emotional in my old age," Hobgood admitted later, "I don't experience that feeling of walking up the beach at Bells waiting for a score, and getting the score. I swear, most of the time I've been on the other end, where I've needed a score and just didn't get it, so I was like, 'I think it's close, I think it's close.' It was such a long wait for them to say I'd won -- I just had to let it out. Right now [laughing] maybe I need a moment."
The day can't be wrapped up without mentioning the heat between Kelly Slater and Nic Muscroft, the local wildcard.
The clash was talked about over and over again by the announcers, people on the beach and spectators lining the Bells cliffs. It was even claimed at one stage to be one of the three 'all-time' heats at Bells, a very big call considering the contest history.
Muscroft broke his board on the first wave of the heat. Slater broke his 'go-to board' mid-way through the heat, and with seconds to go, he needed a score in the mid-eights. With 30 seconds to go, Slater took a wave , fell and caught another wave in the same set. With 10 seconds to go, he pulled an air reverse in the shore break and raised a doubled-handed claim as he stepped onto the sand. To add to the drama, the computer-scoring system broke down and the pair had to wait for close to 10 minutes to hear the result. Slater had pulled a rabbit out of the hat -- again.
The swell is on the rise and it looks like we'll be in for a classic day of surfing Friday with someone ringing the famous Bells bell late in the day.
RIP CURL PRO BELLS BEACH ROUND 3 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 12.33 def. Yadin Nicol (AUS) 9.60
Heat 2: John John Florence (HAW) 13.97 def. Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 9.63
Heat 3: Owen Wright (AUS) 13.77 def. Jadson Andre (BRA) 7.17
Heat 4: Josh Kerr (AUS) 15.17 def. Tiago Pires (PRT) 9.07
Heat 5: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 14.10 def. Bede Durbidge (AUS) 12.83
Heat 6: Kelly Slater (USA) 17.00 def. Nic Muscroft (AUS) 16.30
Heat 7: Kai Otton (AUS) 11.83 def. Taj Burrow (AUS) 6.54
Heat 8: Mick Fanning (AUS) 18.46 def. Raoni Monteiro (BRA) 15.20
Heat 9: C.J. Hobgood (USA) 16.70 def. Gabriel Medina (BRA) 15.60
Heat 10: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 15.43 def. Travis Logie (ZAF) 10.96
Heat 11: Brett Simpson (USA) 15.54 def. Damien Hobgood (USA) 12.53
Heat 12: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 18.94 def. Fredrick Patacchia (HAW) 17.37
RIP CURL PRO BELLS BEACH ROUND 4 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Owen Wright (AUS) 15.87, John John Florence (HAW) 15.00, Adriano de Souza (BRA) 14.93
Heat 2: Kelly Slater (USA) 18.50, Josh Kerr (AUS) 13.10, Jeremy Flores (FRA) 9.64
Heat 3: Mick Fanning (AUS) 18.20, C.J. Hobgood (USA) 10.83, Kai Otton (AUS) 10.33
Heat 4: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 17.27, Jordy Smith (ZAF) 15.60, Brett Simpson (USA) 7.00
RIP CURL PRO BELLS BEACH ROUND 5 MATCH-UPS:
Heat 1: John John Florence (HAW) vs. Jeremy Flores (FRA)
Heat 2: Josh Kerr (AUS) vs. Adriano de Souza (BRA)
Heat 3: Kai Otton (AUS) vs. Brett Simpson (USA)
Heat 4: Jordy Smith (ZAF) vs. C.J. Hobgood (USA)
RIP CURL PRO BELLS BEACH QUARTERFINAL MATCH-UPS:
QF 1: Owen Wright (AUS) vs. TBD
QF 2: Kelly Slater (USA) vs. TBD
QF 3: Mick Fanning (AUS) vs. TBD
QF 4: Joel Parkinson (AUS) vs. TBD