BELLS BEACH, Australia -- Eleven-time world champion Kelly Slater has advanced from the round of 32 at the Bells Beach World Surf League event, and fellow American Caroline Marks and seven-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore are into the quarterfinals.
It was a much improved performance from Slater, who is returning from a lengthy layoff last season because of a broken right foot. Slater was eliminated in his second-round heat in the WSL's season-opening event two weeks ago on the Gold Coast.
The 47-year-old Slater beat Australian Julian Wilson 11.84 points to 7.20 on Thursday to move into the round of 16. Slater's next opponent will be Peterson Crisanto, who won an all-Brazilian encounter against Michael Rodrigues.
Florida teenager Marks, who won her first WSL event on the Gold Coast, edged fellow American Bronte Macaulay 7.67 to 5.20, while Gilmore advanced to the final eight by beating fellow Australian Kobie Enright 14.13 to 10.76.
The Bells Beach event was hit by three consecutive lay days due to poor surf, but conditions improved Thursday and were expected to be even better on Friday and the weekend -- up to 5 meters (16 feet).
"Tomorrow's round is going to be dodging bullets," Slater said. "I don't know that it's going to be favoring anybody. I think it's just going to be choosing the right waves and positioning yourself."
The WSL circuit will help determine qualifiers for next year's Tokyo Olympics, in which surfing will make its debut. The 10 highest-ranked men and eight highest-ranked women on the 2019 tour will be among those qualifying for the 2020 Games.