First and foremost: Get your forecast on! If you intend to nail your picks for Bells you'll need to be on top of conditions. The contest takes advantage of a variety of breaks based on tides, so a surfer who would normally excel in one kind of break may end up with poor results if the event changes location. Bells' four options for breaks include the Bells Bowl, Winkipop, Rincon and Johanna.
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The traditional powerhouses will be hoping the Bowl is going off. Classic Bowl is ideal, as it means that the swell is good and the wave will be in full swing. The Bowl is ideal for a heavy-footed approach, but still demands perfect timing.
Winkipop is an excellent wave (I think it's the best in the area). With limited room and a fragile cliffside it can only be a backup site, but it's a great preview for J-Bay as it's a dream when it's head-high. Fast, clean and loved by all, Winkipop always comes through when the swell is weak.
Then there's the option of high-tide Rincon. This section of Bells will undoubtedly be used every year as it's consistently contestable. Pace is key as this wave tends to move slow then fast then slow again, peeling next to the rocks. Rincon can be tricky, but it's beloved by most surfers because it's a high-performance wave that produces blastable sections and ramps for big airs.
And if conditions really suffer, competitors will take the 2-hour drive from the main site to Johanna, a powerful beachbreak that typically features tricky rip currents and challenging lineups.
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We won't know for sure where the comp will run until each morning's call, but here's a crude scale with which to guesstimate: Lots of big swell, think Bells Bowl. Mediocre swell, think low-tide Bowl and high-tide Rincon. Small-to-weak swell think Winkipop. No swell at all think Johanna. My picks are based on mediocre swell, which is the most likely scenario based on the current forecast.
Tier A: Mick Fanning (AUS)
Mick won the 2014 Bells event in every condition you could think of. His first round was big and sloppy Bowl. Then he had a few rounds in tricky, low-tide Bowl and a few at challenging, high-tide Rincon. The Semis and Final finished up in clean, head-high Winkipop where he blitzed past Julian Wilson (AUS) and Taj Burrow (AUS) with his trademark power and speed. This year, Mick is surfing better than ever before. The dude looks like a cross between RoboCop and a ballerina! If you want to get a little creative with your picks go right ahead, but Mick is your blue chip stock. Start 'em.
Tier B: Jordy Smith (ZAF)
I hate to be dramatic but, press play and then explain to me why you wouldn't start the big fella. Start 'em.
Tier C: Adam Melling (AUS)
In many ways, Melling reminds me of Taylor Knox (USA). He's powerful and loves to carve, but he also makes simple mistakes that cost him heats. Whether it's wave selection or falling too much, Adam is a sleeping giant that his adversaries take advantage of way too often. Still, he looks better this year. His turns look less anxious. He seems to have ironed out those shaky moments in his surfing. And the kicker? Melling is looking solid above the lip, which will catch the judges' eyes. He always surfs with a ton of speed, but these little improvements will push him into his personal best. This could be a sneaky pick for you to get some points over your friends. Start 'em.
Tier A: Miguel Pupo (BRA)
Miggy was ripping at the Gold Coast, bagging a solid result. But Bells is a place where Pupo has yet to get a decent finish -- last year, for example, he was bounced in Round 3. It's tough for me to tell you to sit him but Tier A is filled with heavy-hitters. It's possible that Pupo will get a great result at Bells, as his surfing is well-suited for those big walls. But when you look at the list, he may be the least likely to win the event, which is really what you're looking for in this Tier. Sit 'em.
Tier B: Glenn Hall (IRL)
After Glenn's spectacular win over Gabriel Medina (BRA) on the Gold Coast, he's found himself in Tier B, which just happens to be the toughest I've ever seen it. It's easily the most heavily stacked tier in Fantasy ahead of Bells. I like the fight in Micro, but with apologies, this is an easy sit.
Tier C: Keanu Asing (HAW)
I actually think Keanu's surfing is suited for Bells. He's strong and loves to lean into a healthy carve. In fact, his style and attack is similar to the Hawaii's 1980s wonder-boy, John "Shmoo" Shimooka, who got a third at Bells. But where I see the rookie getting in trouble is with his lack of pushing the limits in competition. I don't think he will make silly mistakes in his Round 1 heat, but it's going to be tough trying to out-power Jordy Smith. Sit 'em.
Darkhorse: Bede Durbidge (AUS)
Bede was on fire at Snapper. He looked fresh and, as always, smooth and loose. He showed some spunk, boosting a pretty sick air in one of his heats and proving that he'll take advantage of any section that comes his way. Bells is a place where Durbudge has racked up a lot of solid results. This year, he seems to have dirtied-up his surfing just enough to maybe even ring that bell. Look out for the White Fijian.
Ross Williams spent 10 years as a Championship Tour (CT) competitor. Currently, he's a World Surf League (WSL) analyst and contributes a Fantasy surfing column before each event on the elite Tour, as well as provides up-to-date Fantasy intel each morning at 7:30 a.m. local time on the Dawn Patrol Morning Show. Set your Fantasy surfing picks and watch the action unfold LIVE daily on this site. The event window for the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach is April 1-12, 2015.
Follow Ross Williams on Twitter (@rosswilliamshi) and Instagram (@rosswilliamshawaii).