Watching on from the famed wooden deck, which overlooks the Bells lineup, Rip Curl co-owner and diligent surfing critic, Doug Claw Warbrick, suggested Mick Fanning is in the headspace to hunt down a victory. “He’s as well prepared as I’ve seen him,” Claw assured me. Claw has not only backed Mick’s career financially, he has also closely observed his methodology for getting into a winning mindset. Claw knows that for Fanning to reach that place where he is fully committed and in the zone it’s an enormously taxing process. Mick’s meticulous psychological and physical preparation has separated him from other competitors for so many years. Few surfers have been willing to go to such lengths to ensure they are surfing at their maximum potential. Claw indicated that the exhaustive nature of Mick’s preparation is indeed one of the reasons he is retiring.  

Watching Mick compete against Sebastian Zietz was akin to seeing a race-car driver do fast laps of a track he has spent his life driving around. Mick has surfed in the Rip Curl Pro at Bells since 2000 and thus he has an almost telepathic relationship with what the wave will do. In a lineup where others are often reduced to scribbles he makes perfect line drawings. Today’s heat was vintage Mick at Bells, the crowd riding through every rail turn with him. If a big set loomed there were half a dozen champion wolf whistlers in the stands to let Mick know it was coming. Sebastian Zietz had a thankless task trying to beat him for all sorts of reasons. Sentiment aside, can Mick win? He knows exactly which lines to draw – he’s like the cartographer that drew the map of surfing Bells – but he will need to turn the volume right up on his turns.

If Mick seems relaxed in his post-heat interviews his Mum, Liz, was finding it all very trying. “What a heat!” she suggested today. “It’s the most nervous I’ve been since he was going for a world title, Only because I want him to go out and be proud of himself.”

It was a good morning all round for the Rip Curl camp. Although Owen Wright had the yellow jersey at this stage last year, he looks stronger and sharper now.

The bottom turn has that distinctive spring-loaded quality; he’s faster out of turns and finding ways to vary the angle of his attack. The bigger the faces get the better Owen’s surfing looks.

Griffin Colapinto has been the most hyped surfer on tour since he confidently hacked, jumped and tunnelled his way to a semi-final at Snapper Rocks. Today he was chopped down to size by the wide-stance tail wafts of Matt Wilkinson. Griff’s last minute air rev’ got lost in the foam but it provided some lofted entertainment on a day for the face-clingers. Big moves on big sections is the Bells mantra and Griff will need to learn the chant if he wants to do well here in the future. The signs certainly still suggest the rookie will be around for a lot longer.

Just when it looked like it was going to go all the Australians way and the Americans weren’t going to chalk up a single victory (Kolohe went down to Bourez) Patty Gudauskas showed up with his yellow sabre and stabbed it right through Julian’s yellow jersey. Watching Julian confidently lay a rail on his opening wave, my initial response was that he didn’t seem bothered by the shoulder. The form was perfect and the eye candy carves fully committed. He looked on track to further improve his position on the Jeep leaderboard.  

Was his second wave under-scored? Pete Mel thought so in the booth, “They kind of gave him a pretty low number for that,” he chirped on the webcast. If you watch the wave closely there is an obvious loss of control in the second turn, the cut back is almost three phase and the finishing turns not particularly impressive – perhaps hampered by a hint of shoulder-inspired hesitation when it came to hitting the lip. The other surfers should have been paying attention. It seems that under new head judge Pritamo Ahrendt the arbitrators will punish any loss of control and also be particularly hard on the two-phase cuttie. It seems they will handsomely reward a single good manoeuvre, but are unlikely to give bonus points for sloppy or half turns.

As KP signalled the event was off for the day John John, who was due to surf next, paddled out for a free-surf on his bright red Pyzel. The lay-back slash JJ performed while Julian was still making his way in would have been one of the moves of the morning. Perhaps he was making a statement; maybe he was just having fun. Either way it was still ominous for the other competitors looking on.