Today, a few of the world's best surfers came together in Torquay, Australia, to kick off the second stop on the 2018 WSL Championship Tour: The Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach. Three-time WSL World Champ Mick Fanning, reigning two-time WSL World Champ Tyler Wright, Jeep Leader Lakey Peterson, two-time reigning World Champ John John Florence and defending Bells Beach event winner Jordy Smith were all eager for the waiting period to get underway March 28.
Being one of the oldest running surf competitions in history, the Rip Curl Pro is home to numerous iconic moments in the sport, including Fanning's event win as a wildcard in 2001, which kicked off his long and successful career. Since then, the Australian has won three World Titles (2007, 2009, 2013) and has had countless event wins -- including four at Bells Beach. Bells is also the location that Fanning has chosen to surf his last WSL Championship Tour event. The 36-year-old will retire once the event is over, allowing Michael February to take his place (February will surf in the Rip Curl Pro in the meantime, as an injury replacement for Kelly Slater).
"There's more than 50 years of competition here," said Fanning. "There's so many great memories and stories I have at this place. The first year I came, in '98, was pretty special. I got to watch Mark Occhilupo win and the waves were pumping. I was just in awe of those guys. It was my first sponsored trip away."
With its rich history, Bells provides the perfect backdrop for Fanning to draw his final curtain. When it comes to the Rip Curl Pro, not many CT competitors are more equipped. "I'm still learning, even today, from Mick's approach at Bells," said Wright, who shares with him Rip Curl as a sponsor. "The fact that he's so loving and kind and gentle and yet he's had this incredible career. And to me, his career will always be overshadowed by the human that he is."
Current Jeep Leader Lakey Peterson was also in attendance. After her last win at the Roxy Pro Gold Coast, the Californian is more motivated than ever.
"That color yellow [reserved for World No. 1] means a lot in our sport now," she said. "I'm feeling super humbled. I'm excited to put that jersey on. I've worked hard to get that thing but the goal is to have it at the last event of the year. I'm actually feeling pretty calm about it."
South African Jordy Smith achieved one of his long lasting goals when he won the Rip Curl Pro last year, ringing the bell for the first time. "To ring that bell was an absolute dream come true," said Smith. "I've been chipping away at this thing for a while now and 10 years later I was finally able to get a crack at it. To be a part of the winners list is something I'm really proud of."
The Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach is one of the events that has continuously slipped through John John Florence's fingers. The two-time World Champ has yet to ring the prestigious bell. "I've never won this event and as a Hawaiian I would love to ring the bell. There's so much history behind it. This wave has a lot of Hawaiian in it.
Although it's been raining on and off the last few days in Torquay, the sun finally came out for the opening ceremony. The Wathaurong -- the indigenous tribe that lives in Torquay -- blessed the upcoming event underneath a bright sky and impressive conditions. If the forecast today is any indication of what the event will look like, athletes will go to battle in clean, double over-head conditions.
Check back for the call Wednesday local time, and watch daily on the WSL and Facebook between March 28 - April 8.