Bells Beach loses historic Easter Rip Curl Pro surfing slot to NSW

Bells Beach has lost its historic Easter long weekend time slot at the Rip Curl Pro surfing tournament for the first time in 60 years, with the World Surfing League shifting the opening event to NSW.

Whether a leg of the international surfing event will be held at Bells Beach, near Torquay, at all is in doubt less than two months out from the coveted event and major drawcard on the Victorian sporting calendar.

World Surfing League Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach.Kelly Slater (USA) v Peterson Crisanto (Brasil) in round 4, in 2019.Credit:Justin McManus

The Australian leg of the surfing world championships will launch instead at Newcastle’s Merewether Beach at Easter, after a last-minute pitch to host the event further north at Lennox Head was rejected amid community backlash.

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro on Saturday revealed the government had secured the opening round of the World Surf League Championship Tour from April 1-11.

It will be the first time since 1961 that the event will not be held at Bells Beach, reportedly due to uncertainty over hotel quarantine arrangements.

Instead a charter flight of up to 150 passengers will fly from Los Angeles to Sydney Airport ahead of the event, before all passengers complete 14 days in NSW hotel quarantine.

The Bells Beach leg is in doubt over quarantine requirements.

The Australian leg of the WSL competition, which attracts the best international and Australian surfers, is usually held at three locations: Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast in Coolangatta in Queensland, Margaret River Pro in Western Australia and the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach, Victoria.

When COVID-19 forced WSL to cancel a recent event in Santa Cruz, California, organisers quickly turned to NSW to host a fourth championship event.

The Deputy NSW Premier said claiming a WSL event, for the first time in 30 years, was a huge coup for his state.

Riding high: Ryan Callinan slams back off the lip at Bells during his run to the semi-finals.Credit:Justin McManus

“This event will inject millions of dollars into the local economy and broadcast Newy’s (Newcastle’s) iconic beaches to millions of people around the world,” he said.

The WSL is yet to finalise the dates of the three other Australian leg events. However a spokesman on Saturday confirmed they would be going ahead, including at Bells Beach, in accordance with any state border closures.

The Rip Curl Pro, formerly the Bells Beach Surf Classic, has been held annually over Easter weekend at the word famous Surf Coast surf break.

Many of the world’s premier surfers have won the title, including Kelly Slater and Sunny Garcia and Australian world champions Mick Fanning, Taj Burrow, Stephanie Louise Gilmore, Joel Parkinson, Sally Fitzgibbons and Mark ‘Occy’ Occhilupo.

Early morning training session at Bells beach, Rip Curl Pro. 11th April 2017.Credit:Joe Armao

The Victorian government on Friday refused to elaborate on whether the event would be held at Bells Beach this year and were contacted again on Saturday for comment.

“We are working closely with the World Surf League on plans for the Rip Curl Pro,” a spokesman said.

The competition is an invaluable source of revenue and cultural touchstone for the Surf Coast, bringing thousands of fans to the towns over the weekend.

The 2020 competition was cancelled due to the pandemic.

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