From the raw emotion of Italo Ferreira's win over Mick Fanning to Caroline Marks's Occy impersonations, the Rip Curl Pro and Rip Curl Women's Pro Bells Beach provided yet another intriguing installment in professional surfing. Heading into the Margaret River Pro -- the next event on the WSL Championship Tour (CT) -- we now have two unpredictable and exciting World Title races unfolding. Here we rake over the fresh ashes from Bells to see what might be possible in Western Australia.
"Eu Cheguei! (I Made It!)"
Ferreira supplied most of the highlights of the Rip Curl Pro, both in and out of the water. His surfing all week was at another level as only he seemed able to turn the Bells treacle sections into nitroglycerin. His embrace with Fanning at the end of the Final provided further emotional depth and tangible evidence of the respect he gives to, and receives from, his peers on Tour. Yet it was a moment after the event, when Italo was caught post-win, in a port-O-john yelling to himself, "I made it!," that was perhaps the most telling. Having won his first CT event and surfed in his third Final, Ferreira sure has made it. Armed with flawless surfing ability already, Margaret River's powerful break will allow Ferreira to showcase his lethal backhand, and reveal whether he's a genuine World Title contender.
While Caroline Marks fell just short of becoming the youngest-ever surfer to win Bells, her performances so far this season have shown just how good this 16-year-old really is. Despite her tender age, Marks proved she has a firm grasp of surfing history when she said she had been watching videos of Mark Occhilupo surfing Bells to gain both information and inspiration. Occhilupo is universally regarded as one of the best-ever surfers at Bells and the benchmark for backhand surfing at the famous wave. Marks also received some of the highest praise possible for a surfer at Bells, which is a steady stream of comparisons between her surfing and that of Occhilupo. Her third place, coupled with a fifth at Snapper, has pushed her to World No. 3. The power and size of Margaret River will be a huge test for Marks, but no matter what happens next, the first two events on the Australian leg of the CT has already revealed a new surf superstar in the making.
Florence's Next Two Weeks Are Crucial
Last year, John John Florence put in a performance at Margaret River that both set a new performance benchmark and laid the platform for his successful World Title defense. The 2x, reigning World Champion now needs to replicate that form if he is to have any chance of a three-peat. Early round defeats by a rampaging Mikey Wright at Snapper (Wright, incidentally, will be a wildcard at Margaret River, too) and a snarling Ezekiel Lau at Bells have given his opponents the belief that he has chinks in his armor. It also means that he can't really afford any more early-round mishaps for the rest of the year. The pressure is on, and while Florence has proven time and time again that he has the ability and the mentality to deal with it, the next two weeks, suddenly, have taken on a whole new level of intensity. How he performs in the West could define the rest of his year.
Cats and Pigeons
The shock results in both the men's and women's contests at Bells continued the pattern of upsets that went down at the event prior, the Quik and Roxy Pro Gold Coast. With the cats constantly being set amongst the pigeons, it seems that 2018 could provide one of the most surprising and unpredictable World Title races in years. Among the men, favorites like Florence, Gabriel Medina, Filipe Toledo, Adriano de Souza and Matt Wilkinson have failed to catch fire, while only Owen Wright and Michel Bourez have shown any type of consistency. Among the women, the emergence of Lakey Peterson and Marks and the poor starts by Tyler Wright (the 2x, reigning World Champ) and Sally Fitzgibbons (last years' winner at Margaret River) and Courtney Conlogue's injury all mean that the ranking have a new fresh look. With Kelly Slater out of the event and Fanning now retired, it feels like we might be entering a new phase for both Tours, where past rulers no longer reign.
The Rookies Return to The Real World
At the Quiksilver Pro the stunning performances by rookies like Griffin Colapinto, Tomas Hermes and Michael Rodrigues indicated that perhaps the experience gulf might be less of a challenge than in previous years. However, after Bells, where only rookie Wade Carmichael managed to get past Round 3, all the rookies will now be under no illusion of just how big the step up from the WSL Qualifying Series (QS) to the CT really is. Margaret River, too, will offer fresh challenges, with most of the rookies unfamiliar with the raw idiosyncrasies of Margaret River Main Break, or the violent power of the Box and North Point.