Australia's best hopes Joel Parkinson and Mick Fanning cruised through their first round heats on Friday, but it will take their absolute best to stop a menacing Kelly Slater at the Rip Curl Pro.
Eleven-time world champion Slater made it clear he is in the best possible space to make it back-to-back world tour victories at Bells Beach.
He dismissed Aussie duo Adam Melling and Jacob Willcox, building his scores through his first round heat and then producing a ride of pure magic at the death to secure victory.
Slater had posted an 8.33 which looked enough to win the heat comfortably, before Melling dared to challenge the 41-year-old master with a quality 8.37 ride late in the 30-minute encounter.
It wouldn't have been enough to win anyway on combined scores, but Slater uncorked something special just in case - launching three turns in a brilliant 9.7 ride to put an exclamation point on victory.
Slater says he's fully committed to this year's world tour.
Unlike last year, when he finished second to Parkinson for the overall title, he will surf every round.
Notice was served of his intent with victory over Parkinson in the season-opener on the Gold Coast earlier this month.
Slater's effort on Friday suggests the American can win a 12th world title - and an unprecedented fifth Bells.
"I've had so many years where I'm half-in, half-out. It's hard to put your heart into something and commit when you're not doing that," Slater said.
"To have a comprehensive performance, not through just one heat or event, but through the whole year, you've got to make a plan for yourself.
"And that's what I'm doing."
Earlier Parkinson and Fanning won their heats to join Slater in round three.
Parkinson did what he needed to with a 7.93 and 8.27, while Fanning's combined 14.83 from his best two waves was enough to see off Hawaii's Sebastian Zietz and Indonesian Oney Anwar.
But fellow Australian Taj Burrow was a shock first round loser.
The world No.6 lost out to Brazilian Willian (Willian) Cardoso in his heat, and now faces a sudden-death second round showdown to survive in the competition.
Others directly through to the third round include Australians Josh Kerr and Julian Wilson.
Surfers also paused to remember three-time Bells winner and Australian surfing great Michael Peterson, whose ashes were scattered at the Victorian beach on Friday - exactly one year after his death of a heart attack aged 59.
With more good swell forecast at Bells on Saturday, the women's second and third rounds are expected to be surfed.