It feels like only yesterday that Mick Fanning was saying goodbye to Bells (oh wait...), but big news is unfolding already about the Margaret River Pro, which kicks off April 11.
First, Kelly Slater has withdrawn from the event due to his ongoing foot injury. Bede Durbidge was the first in line as a WSL injury replacement but declined the spot. The injury wildcard will now go to Miguel Pupo, by way of his ranking just behind Durbidge on the WSL Championship Tour (CT) last year. Pupo fell off Tour at the end of 2017, but is currently ranked No. 5 on the Qualifying Series (QS), where he's been pushing hard to requalify.
Pupo, for his part, does not have a particularly outstanding track record at Margaret River, a wild and woolly break on Australia's west coast. In the years that the event ran during his tenure on Tour, he had two finishes in 13th place, and one in 9th. But what the Brazilian does have going for him in West Oz is some confidence from the past few months on the QS, where he's quietly climbing. Plus, he and his wife became parents this past year, which has likely lent him a fresh perspective and, perhaps, the kind of focus that only comes from juggling surf sessions with diaper duty.
While the Brazilians score another member of their ranks in Pupo, Australians can rejoice, too. Their national treasure, the bemulleted Mikey Wright, has been awarded the Commissioners' wildcard spot by way of being the top-ranked Australian on the on the QS. Wright, you may recall, became the bête noir of Snapper Rocks last month when he eliminated not one but two World Champs, Gabriel Medina and John John Florence.
And finally, in something of an unintentional symbol of a balance of surf powers, an Australian and a Brazilian will each be wearing the yellow Jeep Leaders' jersey at Margaret River. Julian Wilson, who won the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast last month and Italo Ferreira, who won the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach Thursday, are at equal-World No. 1 on the men's CT rankings. As soon as the horn signals the start of Round 1, Heat 1, however, the gloves will be off and the battle will be on.
And as for Slater? One can only hope that he's on the road both to recovery and the WSL booth, for more scintillating commentary (see above).
Catch Pupo, Wright -- and yes, possibly Slater -- at the Margaret River Pro live daily on the WSL and Facebook from April 11 - 22.