Bells Beach is losing NSW's historic Easter Rip Curl Pro surf slot
For the first time in 60 years, Bells Beach missed its historic Easter long weekend time slot in the Rip Curl Pro surfing competition, with the World Surfing League moving the opening event to NSW.
Whether a leg of the international surfing event will take place at Bells Beach, near Torquay, less than two months away from the coveted event and a big drawcard on the Victorian sporting calendar is in question at all.
Instead, the Australian surfing world championship leg will be launched at Newcastle's Merewether Beach at Easter, after a last-minute pitch was refused in the face of community opposition to host the event further north at Lennox Head.
On Saturday, NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro announced the government had secured the World Surf League Championship Tour opening round from April 1-11.
It will be the first time that the event will not be held at Bells Beach since 1961.
The Sunday Age was told by sources close to the World Surfing League that they felt the last-minute snub was partly linked to quarantine problems surrounding getting in groups of foreign surfers.
Martin Pakula, Victorian Minister of Tourism, declined to address questions about the quarantine allegations, why the event had been relocated, or whether this year's event would take place at Bells Beach.
"We are working on plans for the Rip Curl Pro 2021 and for future years with the World Surfing League and will have more to say in due course," a government spokesman said.
Instead, before all passengers complete 14 days in NSW hotel quarantine, a charter flight of up to 150 passengers will fly from Los Angeles to Sydney Airport before the event occurs.
Maurice Cole, Surf Coast surfboard shaper, said news of the Bells Beach snub had left 'devastated' local and international surfers.
It was difficult to understand why the Easter weekend event will be moved away from Bells, the birthplace of both competitive and Australian surfing culture, the local surfing identity said.
"Bells is one of the most coveted surfing things; it's the world's oldest surfing competition, the birthplace of this contest," said Mr. Cole.
Who was the agency that let it get away with this? ”
The Australian leg of the World Surfing League competition is normally held at three places, drawing the best international and Australian surfers: Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast in Coolangatta in Queensland, Margaret River Pro in Western Australia and the Rip Curl Pro in Bells Beach, Victoria.
But organizers turned to NSW to host a fourth championship event when COVID-19 forced the league to postpone a recent event in Santa Cruz, California.
John Foss, president of the Surf Rider Foundation, said moving the Easter event away from Bells Beach would also have a significant effect on the city of the Great Ocean Path, with months of tourism revenue lost to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr. Foss said that many local surfers were aware of recent reports that the event might be relocated to Lennox Head and then maybe Newcastle, but he said that the group had not been consulted or announced.
I am shocked; the decision to take the world's longest running surfing event and move it from its prized Easter date is very hard to process. It's absolute crazy,' said Mr Foss.
It's not really a good look to throw the Bells tradition under the bus and it's left a lot of people feeling let down because we've all been absolutely kept in the dark.
We love to see the pros around town and they love to come to the area. It's a part of the calendar that you're preparing for your whole year.
For the first time in 30 years, the NSW Deputy Premier said that claiming a World Surfing League event was an enormous coup for his state.
He said, "This event will inject millions of dollars into the local economy and broadcast the iconic beaches of Newy (Newcastle) to millions of people around the world."
The league has yet to finalize the dates of the other three events in the Australian leg. However, in line with any state border closures, a spokesman on Saturday announced that they will go ahead, including at Bells Beach.
Over Easter weekend, the Rip Curl Pro, formerly the Bells Beach Surf Classic, was held annually at the world renowned Surf Coast surf break.
The title has been held by several of the world's top surfers, 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.
The rivalry is the Surf Coast's invaluable source of income and cultural touchstone, attracting thousands of fans over the weekend to the cities.
Owing to the pandemic, the 2020 competition was cancelled.