Let's face it, Mick Fanning is nowhere near headed to pasture. Though the three-time world champion, four-time Bells champion, and Australian national hero is on the verge of his first genuine tour break in 15 years, if his commanding Round One performance at Bells Friday is any indication, he shouldn't be gone for long.
Fanning looked like the perfect version of himself during his 2016 Bells debut: bobbing, weaving, sticking and moving through the lumps and bumps the lineup had on tap today. But he was also landing punches, even as the waves were doing their best to avoid facial damage. His heat total of 16.93 led the way.
Fanning's ability to link quickly and seamlessly through tricky conditions is awe inspiring, and it's the reason why he's a perennial finalist at Bells. If this is indeed his swan song, he's picked the right location, because he dominates Bells more than anywhere, and wouldn't it be fitting if he surpassed Mark Richards and Kelly Slater by capturing his 5th trophy.
There were, of course, other solid performances during the first half of Round One (before high tide forced an early halt). The day opened with rookie Davey Cathels earning his first CT heat win over Jeremy Flores and fellow rookie Caio Ibelli. Having grown up surfing Bells throughout his club and junior career Cathels looked comfortable. And as he found room to move, the new pride of Narrabeen displayed some of the explosive speed and agility that got him to this level.
After a disappointing early exit at Snapper, Julian Wilson seems to be back on track at Bells. He was up against two Lennox Head legends, Adam Melling and giant killer Stuart Kennedy. All three surfers were within striking distance of each other throughout the heat, but Wilson was the only one with a score in the 7s, and edged the rest.
Kennedy's SCI-PHI weapon looked good, but perhaps too light at times, as the open-ocean bumps of Bells are sometimes best handled with a bulldozer. Julian's arcs were broad, powerful, and sustained, which bodes well at Bells.
The tour's youngest competitor, Kanoa Igarashi, (who still doesn't have his driver's license) had a tough looking match against Italo Ferreira and last-minute replacement, Dusty Payne. But the rookie from Huntington Beach didn't appear the least bit rattled. He surfed with poise, waiting for opportunities to come his way, and making the most of what came. Like Wilson, he won the tightly contested heat on the strength of the heat's only mid 7 score. For what it's worth, Igarashi is into Round 3 for the second time in a row.
Gabriel Medina was in cruise control during his heat win over confused Conner Coffin, and wildcard Timothee Bisso. Medina, like many veterans, is hoping to make up for lost ground here at Bells, where he has a history of solid results. The former world champion isn't nearly as light-footed as he was just a couple years ago, and his added power was obvious today. That said, he's not flying through the flat sections with the same ease he used to, which may present challenges is sloppy surf.
For the first 20 minutes of that match, Coffin couldn't find a decent wave to save his life, or stay on his feet when he did. Yet he still managed to claw his way toward a respectable finish, mostly on the strength of a single vicious maneuver that let him air out his frustration. It proved to be the move of the day, given the 6.27 it earned.
Reigning world champion Adriano de Souza had the last heat of the day, as conditions were deteriorating. He was up against Michel Bourez and wildcard Tim Stevenson, a local favorite. With the waves hard to come by, this one turned into a chess match, and Adriano's chess skills are masterful. He bookended his heat with his two scoring rides, earning a spot in Round Three.
The engines are just getting revved in Round One, with Kelly Slater, Parkinson, John John Florence and current Jeep rating's leader Matt Wilkinson on tap when competition resumes. The next call is 8:00 am AEDT.