Fueled by a complex low-pressure system that had been rumbling through the Southern Ocean, on April 18th, 1981, Bells Beach lit up. Maxing at 15 feet on the bowl, humble Sydney native Simon Anderson paddled out on a 6'6" self-shaped tri-fin.
Pundits and rivals considered it a dubious decision, but the blue-collar craftsman from the Northern Beaches was confident in his creation. Dubbing his design the "Thruster," he whipped Cheyne Horan in the Final on it. Almost over night, the business of high-performance surfboard building changed.
When it's on and the surf is pumping, Bells has always had a way of showcasing the latest and greatest. Between 1973 and 1975, nobody was better on the Bowl than the enigmatic Michael Peterson. Armed with his eccentric fang-tail, he tapped into the early contest format and figuratively, and literally, smoked the field.
A few years later, Anderson came trotting down the trail with his unconventional design concept, further validated by the likes of Tom Curren and Mark Occhilupo. When they met at Bells in '86, it was Curren on his famous Al Merrick-shaped "Black Beauty" that came out on top.
And now we get to see how things shake out in 2019. After a week of waiting for the swell to arrive, the forecast for the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach appears to finally be lining up with a solid swell on tap for the final days of the waiting period.
Depending on what happens and how local conditions cooperate, things could get really interesting for the men and women on Tour. If all the elements come together, it will be the best surf of the 2019 CT thus far and a great barometer of who's really got their game together.
On April 20th, 2006, another complex low-pressure system set up an all-time day at Bells. The timing couldn't have been any better for the final day of the event.
"[It's] the best day I've ever had at Bells in my lifetime," said Kelly Slater, who won the contest in quintessential Slater fashion. With the win over Joel Parkinson in the Final, Slater tied Curren's record of 33 Tour victories and for the first time in his career, the GOAT beat Parko in a surfer-on-surfer heat.
In a statement that all the young guns on Tour should take note of, he added, "I tend to do a lot better when it's big here rather than when it's small."
Slater will face Julian Wilson in the first heat of the Round of 32 when the contest resumes. The last time they met was in the Semifinals at the 2018 Pipe Masters, where Wilson won the heat. If Slater can find some form on the Bowl, getting Wilson back could be just the spark he's been looking for to launch his 2019 campaign.
With his swooping turns and full-rail carves, John Florence is another one that could shine in these conditions. If he's been looking for a statement-making moment to show the world that he's back, the upcoming swell could surely be it.
"I made John a couple of 6'1"s in case Bells is big," explained Jon Pyzel, John's shaper, before the start of the 2019 CT season. "He's also got one of his favorite Ghost models that he's ridden a lot, so he should be well armed."
For the women, Stephanie Gilmore and Carissa Moore have to be considered favorites. Gilmore's the defending champ and has four Bells wins to her credit since 2007. Big Bells suits her style perfectly, and as a fan of MP, Mick Fanning and other past champions, she draws a lot of inspiration from the Bowl.
Moore has three Bells wins and given how she performs at waves like Honolua Bay and Lower Trestles, her powerful approach will suit the impending swell perfectly.
Sally Fitzgibbons also has multiple event wins and appears to be in impeccable form this year. Don't be surprised to see her get into the mix.
One of the last epic swells to grace the Rip Curl Pro came in 2011 when Parko beat Fanning in a Final for the ages. This impending swell has the potential to serve up some truly memorable moments. Hopefully, Torquay's fickly weather and winds cooperate so history can be made again in Victoria.