On a day when former world champions Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson fired warning shots, it was unheralded Phillip Island surfer Glyndyn Ringrose who captured the imagination at Bells Beach.
Competing in his first world championship tour event in 17 years, Ringrose didn’t make it out of Sunday’s second round of the Rip Curl Pro, but the 44-year-old cancer survivor still felt like a winner.
Moments after his tournament came to an end with a one-sided 18.40 to 8.83 loss to South Africa’s Jordy Smith, hometown hero Ringrose was all smiles as he was chaired off the beach by supporters.
“Here I am at 44, and the cancer thing definitely did spur me on,” he said.
“I encourage anyone if you do have any issues, don’t be ashamed. Go ahead and get tested and go see doctors, because life’s just so much more worth living than giving up and letting go.”
Ringrose, who was on the elite pro tour in 1999 and 2000, has a renewed zest for life since undergoing successful surgery.
“Luckily with your testicles when they operate and take it out, it’s usually contained within it, so now all I have to do is regular surveillance and blood tests,” he said.
“That really made me think that life is more than this, and that spurred me on to really try hard and give it a good go.”
Fanning, meanwhile, was in danger of suffering the worst Bells result of his storied career.
However, the three-time world champion and four-time Rip Curl Pro winner produced arguably his best form of the season to beat Australian young gun Ethan Ewing in round two before ousting 11-time world champion Kelly Slater in a scrappy round-three duel.
Parkinson typically looked at home carving through Bells’ famously consistent sets, beating Brazil’s Samuel Pupo in round two.
“I guess I’m suited to the wave, but I’ve got a strategy and I haven’t really changed it since the day I first turned up and surfed it,” Parkinson said of his relationship with the Bells break.
Hawaii’s reigning world champion John John Florence wasn’t at his electrifying best but did enough to move into round four with a 14.34 to 11.43 triumph over American Nat Young.
World No.2 Owen Wright progressed to round four after prevailing in an all-Australian duel with Bede Durbidge.
Wright angrily slapped the water when judges called him for blocking Durbidge early in the heat, but the 27-year-old composed himself, peeling off a pair of 8.77 rides for a comfortable victory.
Australia’s Julian Wilson didn’t try to hide his frustration after a heartbreaking 17.07 to 17.04 loss to Hawaiian Sebastian Zietz.
Portugal’s Frederico Morais scored a clutch ride at the death to send 2014 world champion Gabriel Medina packing, Brazil’s Ciao Ibelli pipped Tahiti’s Michel Bourez, while Hawaii’s Ezekiel Lau knocked out American Kolohe Andino.
Sunday’s early heats were held at the Bowl before organisers moved the contest to nearby Winkipop for more favourable conditions.
Round three was halted in fading light with five heats remaining. Parkinson meets compatriot Connor O’Leary, while Australians Matt Wilkinson and Adrian Buchan are also still in contention.
A lay day was called in the women’s competition, with Australians Tyler Wright, Sally Fitzgibbons and Stephanie Gilmore set to contest quarter-finals when the event resumes.