In a perfect world, visitors to the Rip Curl Pro would arrive early on Easter Friday hit the classic Surf Coast point breaks, watch some epic pro surfing at Bells Beach, and then indulging in the party scene at night.
The next three days would be exactly the same, with a large long-period Southern Ocean swell running down the famed Surf Coast reefs groomed by a NW wind.
In a perfect world, you’d see the women’s and the men’s bells rung on Easter Monday, have one more session on the reefs, and head back home exhausted but happy.
Unfortunately Mother Nature is a fickle mistress and all your plans are at her mercy.
Getting it wrong, will mean missing epic heats, surfing crowded waves, or blowing your budget over the first two nights and struggle to pay the $2 for Bells Beach parking by Sunday.
Getting it right involves paying attention, self control, and the a willingness to walk away from the crowd.
It also comes down to priorities. What do you value most? And why have you come to Torquay at Easter?
“How do you know it’s Autumn at Bells? The number plates turn yellow”. It’s an old local’s joke about the arrival of NSW-plated vehicles descending en-mass to the Surf Coast around comp time.
Easter at Bells is the quintessential surfer’s road trip. It involves digging out the steamer, strapping the boards to the roof and slowly making your way down the NSW coast to Bells Beach. The pure surfer doesn’t miss a swell due to a hangover, and they are happy to alter plans to chase waves.
Long range surf forecasts are getting pretty accurate, and if Bells Beach surf isn’t on, there’s plenty of places that will be lighting up.
In 2005, not one Rip Curl Pro Men’s heat was run at Bells. Those in the know made an early bee-line to Phillip Island, scored epic beach break waves, and watched Trent Munro ring the bell at Woolamai.
If it’s hot and small, the Mornington Peninsula and the far side of Cape Otway provide great options. If it’s cold, small, and onshore, there’s probably a swell producing low sending lines into the NSW South Coast.
If the Surf Coast is pumping, the water is going to be as busy as it gets in Victoria. That doesn’t mean you can’t get good waves, you just have to have a different mindset to the average punter.
If you think you’re going to pick off set waves at Winkipop on low tide when the water’s filled with the top 34 and hardened locals, I have a Nigerian friend will to put $US10,000,000 into your account. All I need is your bank account details and password.
To get waves you need to surf when others are hungover, try a sneaky session at Southside, forgo watching the John John – Kelly – Mick heat, or get in the vehicle.
This lucky blogger was scratching into a deep water peak on his 7’8” gun10km from Bells with a mate one perfect big Easter. Halfway through an epic session, Mr Kelly Slater paddled out on a 6’0”. He’d just been knocked out of the comp and took out his frustrations on a heaving bombora, putting on a big wave riding masterclass for two spectators.
In the 1950s the Boot Hill Gang shocked Torquay’s conservative country residents with wild parties fueled by boot-leg liquor procured on a Sunday from the southern Geelong suburb or Grovedale.
At Easter, the tradition continues, but things have certainly quietened down with the surf industry no longer throwing huge bashes after the GFC. Don’t worry party animals the pubs are still jumping over Easter.
The professionalism of the surf industry has also calmed things down with pro surfers no longer partying like rock stars. Their partying is much more discrete, but Matt Wilkinson did give it a red hot crack after his big win.
Partying at Easter is based around the Torquay Hotel and Bells Beach Hotel. There’s serious queues to get into these places, so explore other options. Friday and Saturday nights are by far the biggest nights. By Easter Sunday, many wallets, not to mention the Torquay’s ATM machines, are completely empty.
God bless them. Comp junkees spend many uncomfortable hours freezing in the grandstands from round one until the bells are rung. They can tell you all the head-to-head stats, upcoming heats, and the surfing pedigree of obscure wildcards. They live and breathe surfing for one week of the year and never get wax under the soles of their feet.
The Rip Curl Pro easily pulls the biggest crowd on the WSL tour, and comp junkees are the reason for the big traffic jams into the contest site. And when the event is on hold, the comp junkees are lining up for autographs and selfies at “meet the pros” sessions at local surf shops.
Comp junkees come in all shapes and sizes, but there’s a staggering number of families that make an annual trip to Bells at Easter. The next generation of comp junkees has already been indoctrinated.
Hopefully 2018 will be another classic year like 1981 (won by Simon Anderson on his new three fin surfboard), 1968 (when the comp was called the Bells Beach Easter Rally) or 1965 (the first huge surf year that put Bells on the map). A classic year will please everyone, whether you’re a party animal, pure surfer, or comp junkee.
There are a number of campsites, hostels as well as apartments and hotels in Torquay. You can also head up the road to Jan Juc which also has apartments and Airbnb rentals.
– Visit the Australian National Surfing Museum behind the main surf shops
– Bring a mountain bike. If the surf goes pear-shaped there’s great single tracks to the west of Bells Beach.
– Don’t park illegally at the comp site. By laws officers are red hot at Easter.
– Don’t claim local status to the car parking crew trying to get off a $2 donation to a local sports club. It doesn’t work and they will find you a very special parking spot halfway back to Torquay.
Feature Image: Bells Beach Surf lineup. photo credit: Ocean GrindLast updated on Mar 12, 2020
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