Slater tops Seabass in quest to ring bell for 5th time

The year’s second Championship Tour contest got under way Tuesday and 11-time world champion Kelly Slater picked up a first-round victory over Kauai’s Sebastian Zietz to move straight into the event’s third round.

The water was inviting on the first day of the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach waiting period, sending the men into the ocean to get their event started early. Slater is a four-time winner at Bells Beach, dating back to his first victory at the 1994 Bells Beach Surf Classic. He then won three times in five years, capturing the title in 2006, 2008 and 2010. He almost kept the every-other-year streak alive in 2012 but he fell to Mick Fanning in the final — despite earning a perfect 10 during the heat.

But it’s been a bit of a struggle the past two years at Bells, at least by Slater standards. He was stunned by Brazil’s Willian Cardoso in the third round in 2013, then lost in last year’s quarterfinals to John John Florence. Having contemplated retirement this offseason, Slater decided to return in an attempt to win world title number 12. Having taken a third-round loss in his first CT contest of this season, Bells has already become an important stop if he’s going to be a contender for the top spot yet again.

Slater pretty much dominated his heat from start to finish. He held a commanding lead with 10 minutes remaining and still hadn’t even put up his two keeper scores yet. He paddled into a medium-sized wave but the right kept running and Slater kept ripping. He finished with a float, a carve and then cut back left for a redirect off the lip. His body of work earned an 8.50 from the judges. With both Zietz and Christie already in combo mode, he backed it up with an 8.17 to put the icing on the cake and skip ahead to round three.

Seabass has made the third round each of the past two years at Bells, but he hasn’t advanced any further. He’ll need to make one more heat in the elimination second round to at least continue that streak. He earned just a pair of small scores in the opening round, but Zietz has been a very strong second-round performer during his time on the CT. His next opponent won’t be determined until the men complete their first round of competition.

Though Slater represented the red jersey well, there were plenty of early upsets. Jeremy Flores and Brett Simpson won the first two heats of the morning, relegating high seeds Taj Burrow and Adriano de Souza to the elimination round. Slater, Florence, Gabriel Medina and Jordy Smith all held serve, but Oahu’s Mason Ho pulled off a bit of a shocker by topping Mick Fanning and Freddy Patacchia. It’s only Ho’s third ever CT contest and his first anywhere other than Pipeline. He’s been on a bit of a heater for the past year and he should be in the mix for a spot on next season’s world tour.

The women’s opening round was scheduled to get under way once the men finished theirs, though that became a bit delayed as a hold was put on men’s action after just seven heats. Kauai’s Malia Manuel will be in the women’s opening heat against Bianca Buitendag and Laura Enever. Tatiana Weston-Webb will be taking on Stephanie Gilmore and Alessa Quizon.

Both contests can be seen live on Oceanic Surf Channels 250 and 1250.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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