Fanning targets Bells
By David Carroll
TWEED Heads surfer Mick Fanning will look to extend his lead in the world title race with a strong performance in the Rip Curl Pro at Victoria's Bells Beach this week.
The second event on the world championship tour (WCT) is set to commence Wednesday with Fanning determined to build on his early advantage as he seeks to claim his first world title.
After a solid finish to his 2006 campaign, Fanning shot to No.1 on the WCT ratings with a win in the opening event at Snapper Rocks last month.
"I think that if you can get a good start in the first two events it really helps towards setting up a world title chance," Fanning said.
"Being in Australia for the start of the year always helps too and everyone is looking towards getting a really strong result at the Rip Curl Pro."
Fanning has developed a strong affinity with the waves at Bells Beach, taking out the event in 2001 after being granted a wildcard entry but his best result since was equal third in 2003.
"Ever since I was a little kid I had been watching people ring the bell and talk about the feeling you get, so to do it that one time was huge," he said.
"I wish I was a little bit stronger so I could have lifted it above my head, but I am really excited to try and win it again ... hopefully this year."
While Fanning is hoping to build on his lead in the ratings race, the event has attracted a full-strength field including current world No.2 Bede Durbidge, 1999 world champion Mark Occhilupo and tour rookie Josh Kerr.
Eight-time world champion Kelly Slater, who beat 2004 Rip Curl Pro champion Joel Parkinson in last year's final, will defend his title.
In the women's event, Tweed Heads' Chelsea Hedges will look to add another win to her credit after taking out the season opener at Snapper Rocks last month.
"After seeing Mel Redman-Carr win three events in a row last year, anything is possible," the 2005 world champion said.
"It will be great to get back down to Bells again. I love surfing on my backhand and I love surfing Bells so it will interesting to see what happens down there."
Kingscliff teenager Stephanie Gilmore, in her first full year on the elite tour, will be hoping her stint on the junior series will pay off.
"I think it always helps to get some quality time in before the comp starts," Gilmore said.
"Lucky for me I've done a few years of pro junior events at Bells leading up to qualifying. That and I tend to like any right hander really."
Meanwhile, Byron Bay's Kieren Perrow has won the world qualifying series event at Margaret River in Western Australia.
Perrow made the most of the solid two-metre conditions to easily account for Portugal's Tiago Pires in yesterday's final.
Perrow finished with a two-wave score of 14.34 with Pires (9.5) unable to match him.
In the women's event, Brazilian Jacqueline Silva downed Australian young gun Jessi Miley-Dyer.
Gold Coast-based Airini Mason and Sunshine Coaster Julian Wilson have won their respective divisions at the Billabong Pro Junior Series event in New Zealand.
Wilson downed Wollongong teen Parish Byrne in the men's final at Raglan yesterday while Mason downed Cabarita's Ashleigh Smith to claim the women's crown.