They’re the ingredients of any world-beater. A maturity beyond your years; a stable character; a rock solid support crew; and an unflappable sense of self. Coupled with the pure, unadulterated surfing talent of the likes the World Tour hasn’t been seen in a long time and the instinct of a natural-born comp demon, and you’ve got somethin’ a-cookin’.
Kelly Slater put the bun in the oven following his debut win at the Quiksilver Pro, France. “If you want to push your level, you have to look to the new things and that’s where the evolution is coming from, from guys like Gabriel…He’s really setting the bar and he’ll be setting the bar for the next 10 or 20 years,” he said. Medina was 17.
The Champ’s words have proved prescient. Three years on, the Brazilian toppled Kelly from the top of the ratings at the Fiji Pro. He not only won, he trounced the field, wiping away an uncharacteristic, and it must be said, unlucky, loss in Rio to duck, weave, gouge, punt, float and hack his way to a commanding victory. There are few waves in the world more suited to Medina than four-to-six-foot Cloudbreak. Back in 2012, aged 18, he managed a runner-up here to Kelly Slater in bigger, more barreling waves. This year, with the long rippable runners resembling the closest thing to a goofy-footer’s J Bay as you’ll ever get, he was untouchable. His variety of repertoire was beyond anyone. His fluency putting it together similarily unmatched.
Though it will be the sheer headfuckery he was able to exert on his opponents that will be most pleasing. He had the priority discs on a string at times over the final two days, to no greater extent than in the final with Nat Young. With sets at a premium, controlling wave selection was all-important. Medina showed early that he’d paddle his opponent to Vanuatu to avoid giving up the inside at the start, and he did exactly that to Nat Young. It was a classic rope-a-dope, as Medina then turned and handed him priority racing down the line on a left, ducking out, catching another, kicking out, then paddling unopposed into the first solid wave of the final. It was the start of an onslaught that would end with the Santa Cruzian answerless and outclassed in acombo’d drubbing.
That’s a big part of the game at Cloudbreak. So vast is the lineup, with so many take-off spots and so many different kinds of waves – down the line runners, bowly rippable ones, bowling rippable ones that offer multiple barrels – a surfer’s forethought and his ability to enact contingency plans goes along way. Medina was consistently better at it than anyone in the event, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Equal parts the product of the Brazilian bulldog, Adriano De Souza, the uber-pro, Mick Fanning, and the best stretch of coast in Brazil, Maresia, he’s more complete than any other competitor in the feted “New Guard.” He made John John look second rate in the quarters, getting busy and grinding out a win on inside runners while the Hawaiian stared out to sea. He knifed Kolohe’s hot air balloon in the semis, leaving the kid going switch foot looking for a near-perfect score in the dying stages. And he did it all with a sunny disposition born, I suspect, out of the knowledge he’s doing it all within the rules and with minimal fanfare.