Commentator hints at history-making Bells win
World Surfing League pundit Shannon Hughes expects experienced competitors to have the edge at Bells Beach’s unique surf for the upcoming Rip Curl Pro.
This month’s event will be the first since 2019, but Hughes has predicted status quo in the final standings despite the long hiatus.
Four-time Bells champions Kelly Slater and Stephanie Gilmore loom as favourites in their respective halves of the competition draw to add to already bulging trophy cabinets.
Either Slater, Gilmore or wildcard entry Mick Fanning could win their fifth Bells Pro, which would move them to second behind current record holder, Lorne legend Gail Couper, who has 10 Bells’ victories.
“Those names really stand out as favourites as far as having experience of those kind of waves,” Hughes said.
“Bells is a wave that rewards experience really well, so that’s one you’d expect those surfers to be able to step up to.”
With the world’s biggest surfing stars on their way to Torquay, local and international fans will hope that the weather plays its part in providing ideal conditions for surfers to show their best at Bells.
“The hope with Bells is always that we get it maxing out – a good eight to 10 feet, maybe even bigger – with those good clean offshore winds making it look a bit like J-Bay,” Hughes said.
“Hopefully that’s what we have on offer in terms of swells and we’re able to see that really critical rail work come into play.
“Speed, power (and) flow are absolutely what the judges are paying attention to at a venue like Bells.
“It’s very different to Pipeline, from Oahu and Portugal, where they’re looking for barrels or progression.
“Typically we’re looking for big commitment on the end section particularly, where you get that closeout and surfers have to match their power with the wave.”
Hughes predicted that a lower swell could entice surfers to take to the air to impress judges if competitors are forced closer to the shore, evoking memories of Kelly Slater’s famous air show for a perfect score at the 2012 event in a heat with Mick Fanning.
“On any given day, regardless of the conditions, a 10-point ride is available out there, the judges will always be looking for that,” she said.
“It just depends on what the surfers bring to the table to wow the judges.”
This year’s Bells Pro will be Hughes’ first as a commentator since ending her competitive surfing career to rise through the media ranks in recent years.
She said she and the international surfing community had a palpable sense of excitement to be returning to the venue of the world’s longest running surfing event.
“The idea of being able to ring the bell as their trophy, that’s something that every surfer wants a piece of and something a lot would have as a major goal for their career. It’s not taken lightly,” she said.
“So many events in the calendar have come and gone over the years, but to know at Bells they can be winning an event that was won all the way back in the ’60s is something really special, and that’s something that all surfers want to take back home with them.”