Bells was primed and ready for impressive performances Monday, with perfect lines rolling in for the men's Round 3, another elimination round.
The action opened with Kelly Slater (USA), the venerable 11-time Champion, vs. Keanu Asing (HAW), the wily rookie who could give any of the Top 34 a run for their surf money. Asing delivered on his promise: He took on the solid surf with ease, laying down technical carves and (mostly) timing his turns well. But while he put up a good fight, Slater was the superstar that fans know and love, scoring a 9.50 on his third wave and backing it up with a 7.40 to combo the young grasshopper.
Heat 3 featured another standout at Bells, power-surfer Adriano de Souza (BRA). The Brazilian won here in 2013, and took on the clean, early morning conditions with expertise. He quickly powered ahead of Adam Melling (AUS), whose pair of six-point rides left him needing "to get gangster," as Ross Williams put it (otherwise known as needing an 8.90) to avoid elimination. Melling knew it, too, and with just six minutes left, he indeed broke out his best gangster (otherwise known as a big air-reverse) that wowed the crowd -- but not the judges.
Among the most exciting matchups of the morning was the bout between two of the Tour's young titans, Kolohe Andino (USA) and Owen Wright (AUS). Andino led the heat for the first half with a 7.33 and a backup 5.50, while Wright barely made a dent in his scoreline. But when Bells delivered bigger sets it was the Aussie who fired up. He quickly found a 7.17, but still needed another 5-point-range score to overtake his competition.
The final few minutes saw a flurry of action, with Wright and Andino each snagging a set wave in quick succession. Their massive hacks were technical, but their performances weren't identical: Andino scored a 7.43 while Wright scored an 8.93, snatching the heat win from the Californian's clutches.
One of the day's most anticipated heats followed as wildcard Mason Ho (HAW) challenged reigning World Champion Gabriel Medina (BRA). Their battle didn't serve up the fireworks that fans expected, but there was no shortage of tension: After a slow start and minimal scorelines, the final moments saw an intense exchange. Ho's last wave earned a 3.00 and Medina's earned a 6.00, sending the wildcard out of the competition.
Some of the most lopsided heats of the round included Joel Parkinson vs. Matt Banting (Parko won), Jordy Smith vs. Matt Wilkinson (Smith won) and Mick Fanning vs. Brett Simpson (Fanning won). Simpson didn't go down without making his mark: With time ticking down and his loss imminent, he threw a massive air-reverse, and claimed just as big for good measure.
By now, it was tough not to feel sorry for anyone who has to face current Tour leader Filipe Toledo. The spark of his success this year first caught fire at the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast, where he won about a million new fans with his mind-blowing performance in the Final. So far at Bells, this hot streak of his is only getting hotter by the heat, so to speak.
In Round 3, it was Hawaiian Sebastian Zietz who had to contend with Toledo and his lethal combo of lightning fast progressive maneuvers and technical turns.
Seabass had an early lead and laid down some impressive turns of his own, but by the second half it was clear that Toledo had barely gotten started. The videos of his 9.00, followed by a 9.57, say it all.
Before Round 3 finished, there were a few surprising take-downs: The tenacious Jadson Andre vs. Taj Burrow (Andre won), charger Jeremy Flores vs. fan favorite John John Florence (Flores won). Florence made some uncharacteristic mistakes and came up short by .05 of a point (yes, that's one one-twentieth).
Round 4, a non-elimination round, featured some two-man battles in three-man heats. First, an intense faceoff went down between Slater and De Souza while Kerr was largely relegated to the sidelines, save for one great wave with a solid air. He and Slater lost out and will compete in Round 5.
Next, it was the Aussie show when Parkinson and Wright fought for the top spot in Heat 2. Despite Parko's signature, polished surfing - including a massive floater -- Wright was still in fine form and won by .27 of a point. The third surfer -- in this case, Medina -- was the odd man out, without enough of a scoreline to really get into the game.
Smith owned the spotlight next, when he topped an in-form Fanning, while Nat Young steadily worked a series of solid waves, but couldn't meet the bar. And in the final heat of Round 4, it was Toledo who dominated yet again, setting up the promise of an action-packed appearance in the Quarterfinals.
Catch the next call and more action Tuesday at 7:00 a.m. local time LIVE on worldsurfleague.com and on the go with the new WSL app.