Reigning ASP World Champion Mick Fanning (Gold Coast), defending Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach champion Taj Burrow (Western Australia), reigning ASP Women's World Champion Stephanie Gilmore (Gold Coast) and former ASP World Champion Sofia Mulanovich (Per) gathered at the Rip Curl Pro event site at Bells Beach to ring 'The Bell', marking the official opening of this year's Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach.
8-time World Champ Kelly Slater wasn't at the conference today, but he has confirmed that he will be competing this week's event.
Despite winning the first event of the year, Slater was uncertain as to whether or not he would attend the Rip Curl Pro. After 14 years on tour, the 8X ASP World Champion has been adamant that he will compete selectively in 2008 in order to pursue other interests.
Slater officially withdrew from the event late last week but had a change of heart after seeing the swell forecast for the March 14-29 waiting period. He arrived in Australia today.
"A combination of things influenced my decision to come to Bells," Slater said. "I had called ASP Tour Manager Renato Hickel to ask to be officially taken out of the event and that is when he asked me if I had seen the swell forecast."
Current forecasts indicate that a new swell could see the event start early in the waiting period and that Easter Friday is poised to produce six to eight foot (two metre plus) waves akin to the classic Bells Beach conditions Slater won the 2006 Rip Curl Pro in.
"I was also checking out some media online and I came across some video interviews that the Geelong Advertiser had done with the locals about whether or not I would come," Slater said. "There were some pretty strong responses about wanting to see me there. So that, the swell and some changes in my personal life and suddenly it was perfect timing for me to get away. All the signs pointed this direction so it seemed like the thing to do."
It seemed like the thing to do in 2006 too. Slater was in an identical predicament in the 2006 lead up to the event as he was prior to this one - a win in the season-opener, a world No. 1 rating to start the year and serious indecision about whether to attend the event or not. Slater won the Rip Curl Pro and his eighth ASP title that year.
"The decision to come was a little more clear this year," Slater said. "In 2006 I decided to come at the last minute to get my mind off some personal things and to get a little more focused. This year, the similarities to 2006 are the excitement of a looming swell and a great week of surfing I want to be a part of."
Slater will face Brazil's Adriano de Souza and wildcard and former ASP World Tour surfer Troy Brooks in Heat 10.
A large swell is expected to impact the Victorian coastline on Friday, providing sizeable waves for the Rip Curl Pro. Check in is at 7am on Tuesday morning, with a 7.30am call on competition.
Stay tuned to the action on the Rip Curl website.