Can dark horses dominate Bells?
The Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach is the longest-running surf event in history, and the winner's list reads like a who's who of surfing. Legends like Michael Peterson, Tom Curren, Mark "Occy" Occhilupo, Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson have rung the bell-shaped trophy over the years at the iconic Australian break.
That doesn't mean dark-horse surfers don't have a chance on the long, cold walls that the Southern Ocean often delivers around the event's Easter window. The holiday comes late this year, which bodes well for bigger autumn swells. A number of surfers whose names aren't always in the headlines, especially those with a power-based, carving approach have a distinct advantage here.
In 2013, rookie Nat Young from Santa Cruz, Calif., did some of the best backside surfing at Bells since Occy, finishing second. In 2009, local Adam Robertson powered through the trials all the way to the podium, where he finished second, and 16-year-old Nicky Wood also won the event as a trialist in the mid-80s.
A solid groundswell is on the way and should arrive just in time for the weekend. Could 2014 be the year that a surfer comes out of nowhere to win? Here are five guys who could do it.
Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach preview
Bells Beach can be a fickle mistress, but with the right wind, tide and swell direction, it's an amazing right-hand racetrack. Known as one of the most iconic surf spots in the world, the Bells Bowl has seen its fair share of history over the past half century. This year should see much of the same.
1. Dion Atkinson
Atkinson is a rookie surfer who made the WCT this year after battling it out for years on the qualifying series. He's from South Australia, the next state over from Bells in Victoria, and loves big, cold waves. He's not the flashiest surfer in the world, but meat-and-potatoes surfing gets it done at Bells when it's 6-8 feet. If Atkinson wants to make a mark on this year's tour, this is the place to make it happen. The wave suits his surfing better than any other on the circuit, and he surfed there many times during his junior career.
2. Bede Durbidge
Durbidge has been looking like a forgotten man over the last few years. He finished second in the world in 2008 and third in 2009, but then dropped way down in the ratings. A third place at Margaret River over the weekend seemed to have rekindled the fire in his belly. Being forced to re-surf his Round 3 heat against Taj Burrow enraged Durbidge, who normally has a relaxed demeanor. He rode that emotion all the way to the semifinals, where he narrowly lost to Josh Kerr. Durbidge's money turn is a big, swooping frontside carve, which could do damage at Bells.
3. Adam Melling
Melling is a surfer's surfer with near-perfect technique and style, especially in right-hand points and reefs, but he has a hard time living up to his potential. He's lived on the qualification bubble the last few years, and his best performances and results have come at places like Sunset Beach and Jeffrey's Bay -- both of which have drawn comparisons to Bells. If he gets his confidence up, he'll be tough to beat.
4. Sebastian Zietz
Kauai's Zietz hasn't had a great start to his second year on the WCT. He lost in Round 2 at Snapper Rocks and in Round 3 at Margaret River. But pumping Bells is a place where he can turn his year around. He doesn't have a huge amount of experience at the spot, but his lead-foot approach suits the wave well. Zietz won the Triple Crown in Hawaii in 2012, and a big day at Bells isn't totally unlike Haleiwa or Sunset.
5. Raoni Monteiro
Monteiro is one of those guys who seems to narrowly keep his spot on tour year after year despite not having a sponsor and not getting big results. But last year he scored huge upset win over 2012 world champion Joel Parkinson at Bells, even with Parko scoring a perfect 10 in the heat. Mick Fanning went on to beat him in Round 5, but Monteiro's tough, scrappy approach to surfing heats and familiarity with Bells' many moods could make him a threat.