Has it dawned on you yet how special that win was?
I don’t think so, not yet anyway. You had a feeling though that with all those legends back at Bells and with the waves so good that it would be a special year to win.
Was that the best Bells you’ve ever surfed?
I think so, for sure. We’ve probably had Bells as good before, but not over that period. When you surf Bells you might get one good day, but after five days of it you get into a good rhythm and you can start fine-tuning. By the end of the contest and the end of the swell everyone was ripping.
You’re always saying how Bells is the kind of wave you can never master; did you feel like your surfing evolved at all over the five days?
Definitely. Also with the consistency of the swell you never felt too nervous about really going for it, because you always felt like you were going to get another chance. There were plenty of opportunities to go for it and fall because there was almost always another set. You could kind of throw caution to the wind and go for it. I learned a few things, going off what the judges were scoring. The judges were liking my wraparound cutback so I started using it a little more. If there wasn’t much going the wrap was still there and scoring. But Bells is one of those waves I really love to surf. It’s a real rail wave and it has that snowboarding feel, especially at that size. I love feeling like I’m hanging on by my toes and just carving. I guess my relationship with it was always good, but it’s definitely got a lot stronger over the past few days.
[There’s a huge crash behind the house as a recycling truck picks up thousands of bottles]
Sounds like he’s cleaning up after my party last night.
The final didn’t start too well for either you or Mick when you both couldn’t get out?
That was my routine [paddling out behind Rincon] and I wasn’t going to change anything. I had an idea I mightn’t get out but I just jumped in anyway and started getting washed down. I didn’t want to waste any energy so I just let myself get washed down. Then I looked across and saw Mick doing exactly the same thing! Eight foot Bells at high tide when it’s consistent; it’s always going to be hard to get out.
How was the feeling going into the final against Mick? There’s a fair amount of history there, but you haven’t surfed a heat together since Kirra in 2009.
Really? I didn’t know that. Over two years, huh? I thought that if I kept winning I’d probably get Mick in the final. Mick had been the best surfer in the contest, for sure. But in the final the waves changed just a touch. Just a little bit. When I jumped on the ski, Pottz climbed on as well and he said, “Be careful with the sets, because it’s all changed.” It had got a bit bigger and the tide had come in. Before you were catching the sets, but now I started looking for the medium ones. I kind of remembered that from the year I was in the final here with Kelly . When the tide come in I went a couple of sets that were big burgers and energy wasters, while Kelly got a couple of those inside things. I got second to Kelly that year but I learned from it. I had to lose that one to win this one.
You lead the final from the first wave, but you surely expected Mick would come back. How were you feeling when he got that score and paddled back out with a few minutes to go?
He got back into the lineup with two-and-a-half to go, and Mick is one of those momentum guys who when he gets one wave will almost always get another soon after. But I knew there wouldn’t be too many good waves. A big, lined swell like that meant there wouldn’t be too many more waves, if any, and if a wave did come I just had to make sure I was on it and hope there wasn’t another one behind it. Sure enough a wave has come and I saw the first one and went, well, I have to go and hope there’s not another one behind it. If there’s one behind it I’m done.
You took the first wave to block Mick who’d caught it… when did it dawn on you it was actually a sick one and you should actually start surfing it for a score?
I was too late to do a turn on the first section and I’ve seen it had this weird barreling bit. I wrote myself off when I pulled up into it; what am I doing? You don’t get barreled at Bells. I came out and went, whoa that kind of worked, then there were these two unbelievable carve sections and a crack at the end and I threw a claim. As I’m falling I’m thinking, geez, that’s the best wave of the heat. I turned around and saw the expression on Mick’s face and I knew it was all over.
You had a moment in the Bells shorebreak. Between beating Mick, beating a couple of injuries, winning the 50th anniversary contest in pumping surf and in front of a huge crowd, there must have been a bit going on in your head.
It was great. I don’t know why but when I’ve won Bells before I’ve never come in all the way down there near the Winki Button, I’ve come in close to the crowd. It was so good to get washed right down toward the Button because I got to see the whole beach and feel the energy. There were so many people there. It made the experience better.
Mick carrying you up the beach was a cool touch.
Yeah, I carried Mick up the beach when he won the world title off me in Hawaii and as buggered as we both were he got under me and chaired me up the beach. We were both exhausted, and he was taking all my weight. I wanna thank him for doing that.
He reckons you’ve put on weight.
I’m sure he would have said that after surfing three heats and getting hammered all day. I would have felt 180 kilos.
Did it bring any of 2009 back having Mick in the final and having him chair you up the beach?
I suppose it did, yeah. The win for me kind of felt like I’m back in a 2009 rhythm. The confidence and all the things I did well back then, I did well here at Bells. Now I feel like the year has started in full force.
What was your vibe coming out of the Gold Coast contest?
I was disappointed. I felt like I was surfing great right up until the contest, then when I got into my heats I wasn’t in rhythm. Sometimes extra effort doesn’t always work, and it felt like I was trying too hard. At Bells I relaxed into it a bit more and what happened on the wave just happened.
It was the 50th anniversary of Bells… was there a moment where it dawned on you that you were part of something pretty cool?
I think going to the anniversary ball with all the ex-champions was a pretty touching thing. I sat on a table next to Simon Anderson and across from Mark Richards. I was like, wow, awesome. That’s where I felt it, sitting across from MR. His aura is amazing. He has a real self-confidence. I could see how he won four world titles. He’s a great person and a really smart guy. Being next to him and him getting up and ringing the bell on stage. How many did he win? Three?
What did you talk to MR and Simon about?
We were taking about the Newcastle Knights footy team mostly. But we talked a bit about Bells. Talked some story. To be part of that history is amazing.
And it was your first Bells without Andy there. There must have been moments where he visited you this week?
Especially after having Lindy and Axel stay with us for a month. That was awesome. I would have loved to have dedicated my win to him on stage but I just didn’t get a chance. It’s the most prestigious event in Australia I wanted to dedicate the win to him.
It’s Anzac Day today… remember your Anzac Day final with Andy?
Yeah, it was a real hot morning down at Johanna. That was awesome. He was on fire. That’s when he was unstoppable. In the first minute of that final he got a 9.8 and I was done. I couldn’t match him. I got him back in the semis the year after I think. I got a 9.5 on my opener and it was really inconsistent so we sat there for another 20 minutes. A set came, he got the first one and had a shocker. I got the second one and got a 10. We paddled back out and we’re sitting there together and I’m freezing and I went, “I’m going in to warm up and save myself for the final.” I had a 9.5 and a 10. He went, “Fuck you! If you’re paddling in I’m coming too! I’m not gonna sit out here embarrassed on my own in front of 10,000 people!” It was hilarious. One of my favourite Bells memories, because that’s about the only time I ever beat him like that.
Three Bells puts you in esteemed company… MP, Sunny, Kelly, MR.
It feels great. There was so much history there, walking past all the photos of the old winners as you walked down for your heat. I really feel a part of it now. There were a couple of past winners come up to me after and congratulate me. Paul Neilsen came over, and also the 1962 winner, the first guy to win I think, Glen Ritchie. He congratulated me which was really cool, the first Bells winner and latest.