In an eerie half-light that hung over Bells Beach yesterday, the 50th anniversary of competitive surfing at this storied venue got underway in the traditional manner: with the opening strains of AC/DC's "Hell's Bells" echoing off the sandstone cliffs. With the swell in the solid six-to-eight foot range at first light, the chiming of the bell may well have sent shivers down a few spines.
Some of today's surfing was equally spine chilling. Alejo Muniz took out Ace Buchan and Adam Melling sent Taj Burrow to Round 2 before Mick Fanning and Kelly Slater set levels for everyone else to match.
Fanning creased his board going for big forehand snaps, paddled to the beach, and was back in the line up with an identical backup board within minutes. Slater changed boards mid-heat after scoring seven and nine point rides, but he just swapped from a thruster to a quad.
Both guys, who are super fit, were sucking hard after their heats. Bells is a tough wave to ride with lots of paddling and duck diving. Matty Wilkinson and Joel Parkinson were the only other guys to come close to the standard set by the No.1 and 2 seeds, Slater and Fanning.
"It was hard work out there," said Kelly sucking for breath, "I still don't really know Bells that well, and especially at this size. I was watching where Robbo (wildcard Adam Robertson) was sitting and keeping an eye how deep to go and where to sit."
Mick Fanning was also puffing hard and bummed that he creased his board. When asked if he'd gone for a bigger board to replace the one he'd creased, he explained he'd ridden the same shape and size board.
"My back-up board is exactly the same and I would rather not have creased a board and been put in this situation. I'm one board down, and it's just the first heat. I went up for a top turn and was just a fraction late as I hit the lip. You've got space about a foot long to hit and I just missed it and felt the board give."