The Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach is the longest running CT event and closes out the Australian leg for the first time since 2014, keeping true to it's 56 year tradition of running simultaneous with Easter. Like West Australia, this event has the potential to go mobile and often runs stints at its neighboring right point, Winkipop. Permit restrictions and spectating factors usually keep it in the Bells arena through Easter, but if the forecast gets rough, it has options to move to Johanna, a local beachbreak and major swell magnet.
After having no problem carrying momentum through a week-long down period at Margaret's, you can guess there are 35 surfers in Torquay praying John Florence didn't pack that same form on the plane to Bells. Words can't describe how truly dominant John was out West, but numbers might. He owned the top four heats of the event, all totaling into the 19 point range. John's Average Heat Score for the year is 16.84, which is 2.44 points higher than the surfer with the 2nd highest AHS, Jeremy Flores. To put that in perspective, that same point differential is what separates Jeremy from the next 20 surfers on Tour.
If you're thinking Bells might be an area of fear for John, you could have a point. He averages a measly 9.5 place finishes over his career and has only two excellent heats (totaling 18 points or over).
If you're predicting a letdown for the Jeep Leader, Tier 1 has plenty of alternative options, holding past champions in Matt Wilkinson and Adriano de Souza. Jordy Smith might be the best Bells surfer ever to not yet ring the big bell. Kolohe Andino is on a roll this year winning 70% of his heats. Owen Wright and Gabriel Medina come in with extra experience from receiving Rip Curl wildcards in their teens, and Conner Coffin placed 5th as a rookie.
Tier 2 gets tricky with a blend of Bells legends and up and comers with momentum.
Mick Fanning hasn't had the start to 2017 anyone would've imagined, but he's simply undeniable at Bells. In the past five years, Mick's won three times, with a 3rd and 5th on his "down years." He owns 33 excellent heats and 65 total heat wins, the most of anyone ever at this event.
Kelly Slater and Joel Parkinson are two more Bells demigods with AHS in the 15-point range and Heat Win Percentages in the 70 percentile. Do they have enough gas left in the tank to take on the quick twitch flare of Filipe Toledo and Jack Freestone, though?
Filipe has been solid in his three events surfed at Bells with two Quarterfinals, a 13th and the sixth highest average heat score on Tour at 14.76. Jack missed last year to a knee injury, but chances are the Australian Junior circuit lured him to Torquay at least a time or two, so he's no newbie out there.
Although he managed 5th last year, be weary of Michel Bourez. You wouldn't expect it, but he finished dead last four straight years from 2015-2012. Another unexpected shocker here has been Ace Buchan, who's only winning 30% of his heats, good for 24th worst currently on Tour.
In Tier 3, we've seen Mason Ho receive the nod from Rip Curl the past two years and he never let us down. This year it's 16 year old Samuel Pupo, younger brother of Miguel, who earned the honors. Competitors beware if he lands a high tide heat at Rincon because the kid will launch crazy rotations with a high probability of landing them.
On the exact opposite side of the spectrum, Glyndon Ringrose won the local trials. Ringrose first qualified for the CT back in 1998, and fell off in 2001. While he's more well known around CT events for driving the water safety ski, you can bet all the competitors will be stoked to surf a heat alongside him. If Glyndon advances a couple Rounds, it will easily be the feel-good story of this event. Remember, local knowledge matters at Bells. It once carried Adam Robertson from Wildcard to runner-up, and the world's best often hire surfers from the local area to serve as an extra set of eyes on the lineup.
There's been a few other surfers with recent success to choose from in Tier 3. Wiggolly Dantas managed 5th last year and Josh Kerr a 3rd in 2015. Injury Replacement Nat Young holds the strongest resume of this bunch with the 5th highest HWP on Tour at 62%, but has recently struggled matching up with the top seeds.
Look for the event to get off to a fast start once again with plenty of swell in the forecast.