Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach


Venerable surfing competition held at Bells Beach, Victoria, Australia, during Easter Week; inaugurated in 1962, it became Australia's first significant pro surf contest in 1973, and remains the sport's longest-running pro contest. The Rip Curl Pro is also the only event to appear on every world pro tour season schedule since the circuit's 1976 founding. Closely linked to the nearby surf industry city of Torquay, set amid the cold, wet, dramatic Victorian coastline, "Easter at Bells" has for decades been one of the great surfing and social experiences.

Local surfers Peter Troy and Vic Tantau, cofounders of the Bells Beach Boardriders Club, staged the inaugural Bells contest in January 1962, armed with a folding bridge table and a small box full of small, inexpensive trophies. "Peter and I put the word out that we would be holding a competition at Bells the first weekend the waves were nice and big", Tantue later said. "Then we just set up a card table on the beach and judged the whole thing ourselves." It was a single-division, men's-only contest, won by Sydney surfer Glynn Richie, with local George Smith awarded a special cash prize of one Australian pound for riding the day's biggest wave. The Bells contest soon earned a reputation for providing bigger-than-average surf, with six to eight-foot waves common; the 1965 event was met with steel-blue 18-footers.

Torquay-based Rip Curl Wetsuits signed on as the primary Bells sponsor in 1973 and put up $2,500 in prize money, with Queensland surfer Michael Peterson winning the $1,000 first-place check; the women's division went pro two years later, with winner Gail Couper awarded a brazenly inequitable $200. (Far and away the event's dominant surfer, Couper won Bells ten times between 1964 and 1976.) Bells was part of the debut world tour pro circuit in 1976, with Hawaii's Jeff Hakman becoming the event's first foreign-born winner.

Hundreds of dramatic world tour matches have taken place at Bells, in front of tens of thousands of bundled-up spectators; a 1986 semifinal duel between Tom Curren and Mark Occhilupo is often cited as one of pro surfing's greatest bouts. The 1981 Bells contest, however, is rightfully thought of as the event's high-water mark, as the second-to-last day of competition was met with perfectly groomed 12- to 18-foot surf, and Sydney regularfooter Simon Anderson changed the course of surfboard design history by riding his just-invented tri-fin Thruster surfboard to victory. Bells '81, a short documentary surf movie, was released a few weeks later.

Bells was the opening event on the men's world tour schedule from 1992 to 1995, and in 1994 it was the opening event for the women's. Winkipop, a first-rate pointbreak just a few hundred yards east of Bells, has occasionally been used as an alternative venue. Johanna, a sand-bottom break 95 miles to the southwest, has also been tapped. The annual induction ceremony for the Australian Surfing Awards is held in conjunction with the Bells contest.

Bells: the Beach, the Surfers, the Contest, by Michael Gordon, was published in 2011.

A Bells juniors division (17 and under) was held from 1963 to 1972, with the 1965 event canceled due to heavy surf; the women's division was added in 1964, cancelled in '65 and '73, dropped for three years in the early- and mid-'00s, then resumed in 2007. The 1967 and 1971 Bells events doubled as the Australian National Titles. Bells winners:

1962: Glynn Richie
1963: Doug Andrew, Glynn Ritchie
1964: Mick Dooley, Gail Couper, Nat Young
1965: Robert Conneeley
1966: Nat Young, Gail Couper, Wayne Lynch
1967: Nat Young, Gail Couper, Wayne Lynch
1968: Ted Spencer, Gail Couper, Wayne Lynch
1969: Ted Spencer, Vivian Campbell, Wayne Lynch
1970: Nat Young, Gail Couper, Michael Peterson
1971: Paul Nielsen, Gail Couper, Simon Anderson
1972: Terry Fitzgerald, Gail Couper, Simon Anderson
1973: Michael Peterson
1974: Michael Peterson, Gail Couper
1975: Michael Peterson, Gail Couper
1976: Jeff Hakman, Gail Couper
1977: Simon Anderson, Margo Oberg
1978: Mark Richards, Margo Oberg
1979: Mark Richards, Lynne Boyer
1980: Mark Richards, Margo Oberg
1981: Simon Anderson, Linda Davoli
1982: Mark Richards, Debbie Beacham
1983: Joe Engel, Helen Lambert
1984: Cheyne Horan, Kim Mearig
1985: Tom Curren, Frieda Zamba
1986: Tom Carroll, Frieda Zamba
1987: Nick Wood, Jodie Cooper
1988: Damien Hardman, Kim Mearig
1989: Martin Potter, Wendy Botha
1990: Tom Curren, Lisa Andersen
1991: Barton Lynch, Pauline Menczer
1992: Richie Collins, Lisa Andersen
1993: Damien Hardman, Pauline Menczer
1994: Kelly Slater, Layne Beachley
1995: Sunny Garcia, Lisa Andersen
1996: Sunny Garcia, Pauline Menczer
1997: Matt Hoy, Lisa Andersen
1998: Mark Occhilupo, Layne Beachley
1999: Shane Dorian, Layne Beachley
2000: Sunny Garcia, Megan Abubo
2001: Mick Fanning, Neridah Falconer
2002: Andy Irons (no women's event)
2003: Andy Irons (no women's event)
2004: Joel Parkinson (no women's event)
2005: Trent Munro, Sofia Mulanovich
2006: Kelly Slater (no women's event)
2007: Taj Burrow, Stephanie Gilmore
2008: Kelly Slater, Stephanie Gilmore
2009: Joel Parkinson, Silvana Lima
2010: Kelly Slater, Stephanie Gilmore
2011: Joel Parkinson, Sally Fitzgibbons
2012: Mick Fanning, Sally Fitzgibbons
2013: Adriano de Souza, Carissa Moore
2014: Mick Fanning, Carissa Moore
2015: Mick Fanning, Carissa Moore