Australian surfing star Stephanie Gilmore has returned to form, posting the highest women’s score on the opening day of competition at Bells Beach.
The four-time world champion and three-time Bells winner joined compatriot Joel Parkinson as the standout performers on Wednesday in the clean 1.5-to-two metre swell.
While defending men’s champion Kelly Slater and last year’s runner-up Mick Fanning also won through to round three, Taj Burrow, Jordy Smith and women’s ratings leader Carissa Moore were three big names who will have to go through the second round.
Gilmore, the defending Bells champion, posted 16.30 out of 20 to easily beat American Courtney Conlogue (9.00) and Hawaiian Bethany Hamilton (6.50).
The Rip Curl Pro is the second round of the world tour and Gilmore lost her top ranking to Moore when she was defeated in the quarter-finals last month on the Gold Coast.
Late last year, Gilmore suffered a broken wrist and concussion in a random attack outside her home. In the lead-up to Bells, she described the opening round as a wake-up call and the Australian showed on Wednesday that she’d heeded the warning.
“My first two years on tour I didn’t have great results on the Gold Coast,” Gilmore said.
“I always bounced back at this event and then finished the year well, so hopefully I will do that again this year.
“The Gold Coast was a fine showing of what women’s surfing is up to now and everyone has to try and keep up.
“It really pushes me and I think anyone who wins an event from now on will be a very deserving winner because of that fact.”
Parkinson, who won Bells in 2009, posting the highest heat score of the day with 17.74. After falling twice at the bowl early in the heat, Parkinson noted that American CJ Hobgood had posted a good score at nearby Rincon. “So we followed him over and it worked out for me,” Parkinson said.
“It’s great to get that opening heat win, especially at Bells.
“You never know what conditions you’re going to get in a heat, so to be able to skip round two and maybe get a day off is a huge advantage.” Slater, the 10-time world champion, also impressed with a score of 16.00. Fanning won Bells as a wildcard a decade ago and the Australian two-time world champion secured his heat win with a score of 15.60. But Burrow, the 2007 Bells winner, was third behind fellow Australians Adam Melling and Josh Kerr. Smith was runner-up to Slater in last year’s world tour, but was also third on day one as Australian Adam Melling won their heat.
Moore was second in her heat behind fellow Hawaiian Pauline Ado. Brazilian Jacqui Lima pulled out of Bells a day after she was injured in a head-on car crash at nearby Torquay.
Victorian Nikki Van Dijk took her place and was third in the heat won by Ado. While the round-one winners go into round three, their two competitors face the sudden-death second round. Bells is celebrating its 50th year of competition.