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First Australian win in both male and females division since 1991. (Photo: Beatriz Ryder)

OZ Domination at The 2023 Rip Curl Bells Beach Pro

Ewing the new Bells/Winki specialist as Wright goes back to back and reasserts her position as a title contender.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

While the conditions may have not have been glorious, it was certainly an occasion for memorable firsts. The first Bell for Ethan Ewing and the first time a mother and son team have won the same major surfing event (any major surfing event for that matter) – Ethan’s mum Helen Lambert, who has since passed, won Bells back in 1983 and in his acceptance speech he proudly talked about sleeping with his Mum’s trophies next to his bed growing up. “Tell your mum you love her,” Ethan told us in his tear-jerker acceptance speech.

Ethan and his father share an emotional moment post-win.(Photo by Ed Sloane/World Surf League)

It was also the first time we have seen an All-Australian win in both divisions at Bells since Pauline Menczer and Barton Lynch in 1991. In the race against a dire forecast it was also the only time in Bells history that the overlapping heat format has been utilised. Curiously the event finished with two victims of last year’s cut, Molly Picklum and Joao Chianca, wearing the yellow jersey (number one ranking) going into Margaret River, the event where they received the chop.     

Unphased by the brooding presence of Gabriel Medina in his round of sixteen heat, Ewing’s surfing was on another level from the outset. At a wave like Winki, the key is to maintain down the line speed whilst tagging sections along the way. The wave has a tricky pace and a fickle lip. Invariably there is a sweet spot that delivers the best results for the equation of turn impact and maintained velocity and Ewing is simply better at finding it. He’s like those kids that play the arcade dance game where you foot has to land on exactly the right spot every time to earn points – ka-ching, ka-ching ka-ching! Ewing racks up points with the same kind of nimble-footed accuracy.  

As Ronnie Blakey suggested, Ewing’s precise, almost choreographed approach is so impressive that he is single-handedly hi-jacking the judging criteria – forcing the arbiters to re-think what is deemed to be excellent surfing. A well executed and perfectly timed Ewing carve can make many of the forced rotations seem ordinary by comparison. Or to reference the criteria, speed + power + flow + turn variety can trump progression.

This approach was clearly effective against Toledo in the semi-final. Shelving the nightmares of last year’s almost waveless semi against Filipe at Bells, Ewing stuck to his game plan, waited for the waves he wanted and executed the flawless formula described above. Toledo’s surfing featured speed and spin (two rotations on one wave for his 7.17) and more all-round progression and it was certainly a close call between contrasting styles. His 7.17 boasted the biggest spread between the high and the low score of the five judges, a full point (6. 8 and 7.8 by the two Brazilian judges) indicating that amongst the number crunchers there is still some conjecture about what kind of surfing warrants the highest scores. 

There were later objections from Toledo and the Brazilian fans and some ambiguous twitter banter from Medina. Medina went on his account, moments after Toledo was eliminated and wrote ‘Assustador’, which is Portuguese for “scary”. We can’t confirm if he was alluding to the judging or not. But hundreds of comments, such as the one below felt he was referencing the scoring.

“Then when the note came out, I was drinking water, I almost choked. The same thing happened in the previous round with Baker, 9. From where they got that 9. I still can’t believe that 8.43. What is this?!”

Ultimately Ewing triumphed with his clutch 8.43 ride, swinging the scoring pendulum back towards surfers willing to adopt a more classical approach. 

Maybe the closest we have seen to rail-game mastery?(Photo by Ed Sloane/World Surf League)

It may however be a harder formula to succeed with if Ethan finds himself in the final five at Trestles again.

By the time he hit the finals against Ryan Callinan Ewing was high on confidence after his his big wins against the last two world champs. In swollen, high-tide sections at small Winki Pop he manufactured impossibly tight and flowing turns to secure a clear victory. Meanwhile, Callinan’s finals finish in tough conditions indicates he is surging towards his true potential as a competitive surfer.      

As for Medina, in his comeback season he seems yet to regather the menace and strike-power he once held – that ability to turn a heat in a single moment of willful brilliance.

In the women’s event, Tyler Wright showed that she has recovered the fierce streak that enabled her to claim two world titles as she accounted for the last two world champions – Carissa Moore and Steph Gilmore – en route to the final.

Tyler was feeling it at Winki yesterday (Photo by Beatriz Ryder/World Surf League)

In a CT filled with surfers who frequently make bogus diplomatic comments that thinly veil their real intentions, Wright’s open ambition is refreshing. In the lead up to the final she stated that she didn’t really care who she came up against. Winning back-to-back Bells was obviously her only concern.  In Molly Picklum she had a popular opponent. The plucky natural footer from Shelly Beach has enjoyed a groundswell of attention from both within surfing and the mainstream media since she pulled on the yellow jersey.  However, Wright was far more dynamic than Picklum in the final, ditching fins, air-dropping out of lips and committing to combination turns. Picklum’s approach looked more lateral and pedestrian by comparison, but still retains her yellow jersey. Wright moves to number two in the world and although it’s a long way out, she looks to be in the kind of form and frame of mind that establishes her as a clear contender.  

Steph Gilmore’s semi-final finish moves the world champion back to the right side of the cut line heading into Margaret’s but she still has work to do and securing a top five position this year will be much harder with the arrival of Caitlin Simmers and the return to form of Caroline Marks and Bettylou Sakura Johnson. The show moves to Margaret’s where the WSL reaper stands poised with scythe in hand to chop any men who fall below the top 24 and any women below the top twelve. Love it or hate it, it’s happening and right now pro surfing’s favourite son Kelly Slater, is on the chopping block at number 26. As is last year’s final five contender, Brisa Hennessy. No doubt the WSL will be releasing cut-related scenarios over the next few days, eager to get the most out of their Margaret River reality TV drama.     

Who’s made the MYC so far:
Women
: Molly Picklum, Carissa Moore, Tyler Wright
Men: Jack Robinson, Joao Chianca, Filipe Toledo, Caio Ibelli, Griffin Colapinto, Leo Fioravanti, Yago Dora, Gabriel Medina, Ethan Ewing, John John Florence, Ryan Callinan

Click here to check out the full rankings!

Finals Day Results
Women

Tyler Wright – 15.00
Molly Picklum – 12.00
Men
Ethan Ewing – 14.50
Ryan Callinan – 11.00
Semi Final
Women
Heat 1
Molly Picklum – 12.83
Isabella Nichols – 12.24
Heat 2
Tyler Wright – 15.33
Stephanie Gilmore – 9.66
Men
Heat 1
Ethan Ewing – 15.93
Filipe Toledo – 14.30
Heat 2
Ryan Callinan – 15.30
John John Florence – 12.25
Quarterfinals
Women
Heat 1
Isabella Nichols – 12.53
Caroline Marks – 8.67
Heat 2
Molly Picklum – 14.74
Bettylou Sakura Johnson- 14.54
Heat 3
Tyler Wright – 13.30
Carissa Moore – 12.70
Heat 4
Stephanie Gilmore – 12.50
Tati West – 11.00
Men
Heat 1

Ethan Ewing – 13.43
Matthew McGillivray – 12.67
Heat 2
Filipe Toledo – 15.00
Jackson Baker – 14.90
Heat 3
John John Florence- 14.17
Connor O’Leary – 11.44
Heat 4
Ryan Callinan – 11.23
Griffin Colapinto. – 11.10
Round of 16
Heat 2
Ethan Ewing – 14.33
Gabriel Medina – 10.10
Heat 3
Filipe Toledo – 13.34
Jordy Smith – 11.86
Heat 4
Jackson Baker – 10.86
Yago Dora – 9.07
Heat 5
Connor O’Leary – 13.33
Xavier Huxtable – 11.80
Heat 6
John John Florence – 14.77
Michael Rodrigues – 14.40
Heat 7
Ryan Callinan – 13.63
Maxime Huscenot – 10.90
Heat 8
Griffin Colapinto – 16.33
Kanoa Igarashi – 15.10

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