Having won a grand total of zero events in his previous six years on tour, Australia's Matt Wilkinson has done the unthinkable – claiming back-to-back wins in the first two World Surf League events of 2016. Wilkinson overcame South Africa's Jordy Smith in a tensely fought final at Bells Beach over the weekend, and in doing so became the first goofy-footer to win at Bells since Mark Occhilupo took it home 17 years ago.
After cruising into the 4th round with minimal fuss, Wilkinson found himself outclassed by Wiggoly Dantas and forced into a 5th round match-up with compatriot Julian Wilson. The closest heat of the year ensued, and with Wilson seemingly set to advance, Wilko managed to pull off a miraculous 9.57 ride on the last wave of the heat. That equalled Wilson's score, and Wilko advanced in the tie-breaker. He never looked back from there.
"I don't know what's going on," a shocked Wilkinson exclaimed after taking the win.
The Central Coast native had his powerful backhand game on full display, taking down the most successful Bells competitor ever, Mick Fanning, in the semi-final, before claiming his first ever win over Jordy Smith in the final.
"I think every goofy-footer, before you come down here, you watch a bunch of clips of Occy... he'd come off the bottom so hard and rip into the top turn like nobody's ever done. I tried my best to mimic that, but I've got some kind of different turns in my surfing. What I lack in the big power-wraps off the top I feel like I can make up for getting the fins free".
The win means that Wilkinson retains a solid lead atop the world rankings, as he begins to consider an unthinkable world title push. Either way, he looks certain to overtake his previous best finish of 18th by some distance.
Fanning's semi-final appearance was the next best of the Aussie competitors, and no other Aussie managed to qualify for the quarter-finals in what was a disappointing event for the locals. Joel Parkinson, Kai Otton, Stuart Kennedy and Adrian Buchan were all knocked out in the third round.
The women's event saw California's Courtney Conlogue narrowly defeat Aussie Sally Fitzgibbons in a final that went down to the wire. Conlogue's defining 9.03 ride was enough to see off Sally by just .10 of a point, as the American stormed to the top of the leaderboard following a runner-up finish on the Gold Coast.
1st: Matt Wilkinson (AUS)
2nd: Jordy Smith (ZAF)
3rd: Mick Fanning (AUS)
3rd: Italo Ferreira (BRA)
5th: Nat Young (USA)
5th: Wiggolly Dantas (BRA)
5th: Conner Coffin (USA)
5th: Michel Bourez (PYF)
1st: Courtney Conlogue (USA)
2nd: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS)
3rd: Carissa Moore (HAW)
3rd: Tatiana Weston-Webb (HAW)
5th: Alessa Quizon (HAW)
5th: Stephanie Gilmore (AUS)
5th: Tyler Wright (AUS)
5th: Johanne Defay (FRA)
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