The surfing at Bells Beach starts next week so it's time to unleash what, historically, has been my tip for world number one yet has without fail become "who will be world number two" for the 2011 season. As a Victorian the first event of the year in Queensland doesn't count. The original reasons for that opinion have long since faded but when it comes to surfing it takes me a long time to come around. I'm a surfing traditionalist in many ways. In part I used Snapper as a 'pre-season' test to see who is surfing well and who looks both happy with where they are but also is hungry and focused for the win.
In early 2008 I saw such a fire in Bede Durbidge's eyes so I picked him for the world title. I later found out that hunger was valid after he was left without a sponsor at the end of 2007 and re-mortgaged his house to go on tour. He finished 2nd the following year and that is still one of the most inspiring displays of determination I've ever seen in any sport.
In 2009 I was able to set my jealousy of his perfect life aside to stop degrading Joel Parkinson for being the best surfer to never win the world title, and pick him for the win. After a run-away lead in the first half of the year he was the hunted and was eventually taken down by his best friend Mick Fanning in the 2nd last event of the year and finished 2nd overall.
Last year I took a gamble on a relative newcomer, Jordie Smith, because he looked so content with where he was but had a subtle confidence that he wasn't yet at his best. The video he finished up just before the start of the 2010 season was one of the best I've seen. He finished 2010 in second place.
They suggest the definition of insanity is to repeat the same process over and over again yet to expect a different outcome. So from here on, my annual post-Snapper/ pre-Bells surfing world title call is a prediction for 2nd place!
Surfing has changed a lot in the past year. The ranking system has left the surfers more confused than a Japanese seismologist and the surfing magazines busier than a Brisbane mop shop. Despite having read the ASP rulebook a few times I also struggle with what the hell they are trying to do. One change that I am quite excited about, however, is the gentle nudge/ suggestion/ downright sacking of the head judge, Perry Hatchett last year. In my opinion surfing has the ability to be the most progressive sport in the world but that starts with judges rewarding progressive moves. Here is where my contradictions begin... I said earlier I may be a surfing traditionalist. If that is so, why would I want progressive manoeuvres? I'll put this into dot point for you, otherwise tangents are likely:
-The governing body for surfing is lost. They are planning events in places that are not the best waves in the world, so they are usually sloppy and small;
-Traditional competition surfing rewards good wave selection and good use of the wave face. At a bad location there are no good waves and very little face;
-If they are going to 'judge' based on crap waves then they need to allow the surfers free creativity and reward aerial and fakie (excuse the skate terminology, the surfers haven't named it yet...) manoeuvres more so than they have in the past.
Getting rid of Perry Hatchett was the first step in competition surfing being able to judge creative, progressive surfing better.
"If I cross my arms it means you're fired."
So, with that in mind, I feel that the surfer who will benefit most from that change this year is Taj Burrow. He must have been on tour for 14 or so years and has probably racked up more 3rds than anyone in history. I hesitate to suggest that I pick Taj to win the surfing world title in 2011 but in the name of insanity- and tradition- I think he will. I also have to throw in a special mention for Julian Wilson. I love the kid; down to earth, switched on, a sponsor's dream, and he surfs like demon. Very progressive in his moves too. His Sushi Roll (he created it, so he can name it...) is a fine example of why he will be multiple world champion by the time he retires.
This year is the 50th anniversary of the Bells Beach surf comp. This Easter competition out dates the industry itself. The simple idea that this has been going on for 50 years blows me away. The Rip Curl website has some interesting (although all too brief) videos detailing each decade the comp has been running. During the inevitable lay days I'd like to see the following competitions run (in the name of tradition of course):
-1960's comp: where nobody can wear a wetsuit because they weren't invented yet;
-1980's comp: a handicap competition where those with big single fin boards get a points advantage over those with thrusters, to replicate the development of surfboards;
-The MP hide-and-seek comp: to honour one of the best surfers of the 1970's who, it turned out, suffered from drug induced schizophrenia and used to hide in the bushes at Bells;
-a car park doughey comp: if you've ever been to Bells Beach and never chucked a donut in the car park... well... that's not possible.
The waiting period at Bells is magic. If you arrive there early in the morning you can feel an excited energy. It's late autumn, it's cold, it's slightly windy, it's noisy yet strangely peaceful. You can hear the anxious chatter from many people in the darkness and expect that you're on an edge where not even the birds feel comfortable. It seems to me to be a place where even those on the top of their game know they need to up their concentration. And then they pump "Hell's Bells" by AC/DC through the loud speakers and it becomes surfers against nature.
Finally, I'd like to bring a few statistics into the discussion. Bells has been running for 50 years. Since it became a professional competition in 1973, the most wins is 4, shared by Mark Richards and Kelly Slater. The only wildcard to win it (to my knowledge) is Mick Fanning in 2001- but Adam Robertson got to the final last year after progressing all the way through the trials. The first time I remember taking note of this beautiful event was in 1993 when Damien Hardman won it and in watching it every year since, still my favourite year was when Matt Hoy won in 1997 and the Screaming Jets (fellow Novacastrians) flew down to play a celebration gig in the car park.
In the 1992 movie Point Break, the greatest movie OF ALL TIME, the concept of the '50 year storm' is introduced. Apparently this is a once in a lifetime wave, and Bodie is gonna be there. Roach 'ain't gonna see 30'. And we all discover that 'it's not tragic to die doing what you love'. As this is the 50th year of competition surfing at Bells Beach I expect it to be a corker.
The Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach runs from 19th April until 30th April.
Go chuck a doughey in the car park.