Earlier today, en route to his first Pipe Masters victory, Gabriel Medina beat Jordy Smith in the semi-finals to clinch his second world title. In the final he met his main world-title rival, Julian Wilson, whom he defeated 18.34 to 16.70.
But let’s rewind a second. To set the scene:
– if Medina reached the final, he’d be world champion.
– if Medina reached only the semis, Wilson would have to win the contest to be world champion.
– if Medina got knocked out before the semis, Wilson would have to reach the final to be world champion.
A little more scene-setting: yesterday (with the arguable exception of today) was the most entertaining day of world-tour surfing this year. If you’ve not yet seen any of it, take an hour, fuck, take two, and spend them plonked in front of the Heat Analyzer. It was glorious.
Today was smaller, more orderly, but still big on the sets, still charged with the potential for glory.
The main problem, in terms of keeping the title race interesting for as long as possible, was the lopsided draw. The surfers you’d have given the most chance of halting Medina’s progress – Slater, Parko, Wilson himself – were on Wilson’s side.
During the first heat, which saw Jordy Smith and Conner Coffin advance ahead of the in-form Ryan Callinan, Medina stared out at the line-up with murderous intent. He was a picture of concentration: not the faintest hint of emotion, talking to nobody, plugged into wireless earphones – the ones that make you look like a cyborg – that he deposited into the waiting hand of his nearest acolyte immediately prior to paddling out.
The question on everybody’s mind: what had he been listening to? Brazilian hip-hop? Boney M.? The Darth Vader theme tune?
Whatever it was, it worked. Within minutes he’d swung into a ferocious Pipe beast and earned himself a 8.57 with some phenomenally technical forehand tuberiding. He backed that up with an 8.33 for the highest heat score of the contest to that point. It was formidable.
Meanwhile Wilson, opting for old-fashioned earphones with wires etc., looked on. The contrast couldn’t have been starker. He was smiling, chatting away, apparently still unfazed.
In his Round 4 heat Wilson surfed against an inspired Yago Dora and a Joel Parkinson on the brink of retirement. Dora took the win, leaving Parko and Wilson to battle it out for second place. It was #carnjoycey vs #onyaparko. You could sense the confusion in the hearts of the Swellians. Wilson prevailed.
“It’s over,” Parko told Rosie Hodge in his last ever post-heat interview. He paused for a second, as though overcome with sadness. But then he added: “I’m so glad it’s over.”
In his quarter-final against Conner Coffin, Medina looked in trouble – looked beatable – for the first time in the event. Coffin had him comboed with a couple of sevens; Medina was out of rhythm. And then, out of nowhere, he accumulated a 19-point heat total in about 90 seconds, a mid-9 at Pipe followed by a perfect ten at Backdoor. He’s just inexorable.
Then Wilson squeaked past Joan Duru in his quarter-final – the Frenchman was holding onto priority for the last 5 minutes, needing just a 4.90. And so the world title was still on.
In his semi-final against Jordy Smith, Medina looked in trouble again. Smith was out ahead with a mid-8 and mid-7 when Medina absolutely sold him on a closeout. It was horrible. It was glorious.
Soon afterwards Medina threaded a medium-sized but long, technical tube at Backdoor, in need of a high 8. It came in as a 9.10. “Half a point higher than what I thought it would be,” said Ross Williams.
Smith hit back with a backhand barrel of his own, going hands-free in a sizey but shortish Pipe pit. He needed a 7.78. “It’s definitely within the realm,” said Williams. It came in as a 7.2-something, outside of Smith’s top two waves.
And then it went flat. Medina held on. The best surfer in the world this year, no question.