Veteran Mick Fanning has come out of retirement to eliminate Japanese world No.1 Kanoa Igarashi in their World Surf League Bells Beach showdown.
A four-time champion at the famed Victorian surf break, Fanning went toe to toe with the Olympic silver medallist with their Thursday heat going down to the wire.
Igararashi needed 8.94 to move past the Australian 40-year-old but with the score delivered after the close of the heat, he only managed 8.0.
Fanning’s combined total for his best two waves was 15.77 to his rivals’ 14.83.
He was joined in the round of 16 by a swag of Australians including Owen Wright, Jackson Baker, Ethan Ewing, Connor O’Leary and Morgan Cibilic.
Former world No.1 and 2019 Bells champion John John Florence banked the best score of a day, earning a 9.93 to also advance.
Fanning won Bells as a wildcard in 2001 and last surfed the event in 2018 before his retirement, when he lost to Italo Ferreira in the final.
“As a wildcard you want to come in and put on a performance,” said Fanning, who was swamped by fans on the beach.
“Going up against the world No.1 I had nothing to lose I just came here to have fun.”
After catching six waves in the 30-minute heat he said he was feeling “gassed”.
“I didn’t realise my fitness level wasn’t up to it,” he said.
“This old boy ain’t fit.”
Wright, the Olympic bronze medallist knocked out Griffin Colapinto in the first heat, outscoring the American 13.67 to 12.34 in a tight 30-minute eliminator.
World No. 7 Colapinto came into the competition as one of the form surfers after cracking his first title in Portugal last month.
After a slow start Wright was trailing Colapinto with four minutes to go in the heat before he scored a 7.50 with his third wave to take the lead.
The Californian couldn’t respond, allowing Wright to keep alive his hopes of climbing the rankings.
Wright came into the event ranked a lowly equal-31st and needs good results here and at the next stop at Margaret River before the field is cut to 24 for the remaining events.
The 32-year-old was emotional after reaching the last 16 for the first time this year and said he kept his focus on ringing the prized trophy’s bell for the first time.
He has finished equal fifth at the famed surf break five times.
“I haven’t passed that (round of 32) for a while so it was good,” Wright told the WSL.
“I never count myself out to win, especially here at Bells as my whole goal is to ring the bell – it is every year.
“I was out there thinking of the bell and that you never know how you’re going to get to that bell – a shaky start could be it.
“I put that last wave to bed in the last five and by the time I got back out there was a minute left so it was a crucial wave.”