By any measurable standard, the last five years have belonged completely to Gabriel Medina. Since breaking through with his first world title in 2014, the Brazilian phenom has been the only consistently great competitor at every event, year in, year out. There’s a debate to be had about whether he or John John is the best in the world, but from a purely analytical standpoint, it’s not even close.
Medina held a big edge on the 2018 Championship Tour leaderboard heading into the Billabong Pipe Masters, but he ended up needing no cushion whatsoever. When the conditions proved to be absolutely stellar and ideal for a finals day on Monday, Medina took full advantage, putting on a clinic to win this event for the first time in his career. He has been close in the past, finishing runner-up in both 2014 and 2015, but he finally finished the job to complete a brilliant season.
Medina sealed the world title on his own by topping Jordy Smith in the semifinals. The lone remaining contender, Julian Wilson, needed Medina to fall out before the final heat to still have a chance at winning what would have been his first world title. His hopes were almost realized a round earlier in the quarterfinals. Medina went up against American Conner Coffin and was in major trouble early on. Coffin scored a trio of nice waves and had Medina still in a combination position at the 16-minute mark, with the Brazilian putting up nothing but incompletes to that point.
Just as quickly as opportunistic thoughts may have crept into the onlooking Wilson’s mind, he watched Medina score a beautiful Pipeline barrel, settling into a very heavy wave and coming out with the spit before landing an extra frontside air for the icing on the cake. That 9.43 was just the appetizer, because only about a minute later, he paddled hard after spotting a huge wave about to come through the lineup.
Medina dropped into the Backdoor barrel and simply rode it perfectly. I say simply because that’s often how he makes it look. It was anything but and the judges knew that, giving him a perfect 10-point ride to all but lock up a spot in the semifinals, where he could clinch the world championship. In only about two minutes time, he had gone from the wrong side of a combo predicament to the highest heat total of the event. It was phenomenal to watch, if not at all surprising.
Medina’s wins over Coffin, Smith and then finally Wilson completed his third event win of the season and leaves little room for debate. He has finished in the top three each of the past five seasons, winning two world titles. During that stretch, John John Florence has been in the top three on three occasions and also won two world titles.
They are the two best, but Medina has shown to be the more durable and more able to avoid the early defeats that have plagued Florence on occasion. John John’s back-to-back world titles were an amazing accomplishment, but this is now Medina’s era once again.
Brazil is always thrilled when one of its own succeeds. That was obvious Monday as the Brazilian flag was prevalent on the shores and their fans were treated to a double celebration as Jesse Mendes also captured the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing championship. Mendes held off Joel Parkinson by reaching the fourth round, where each of them fell out of the event. He clinched it two rounds later when Medina topped Smith, who had climbed into third place. That semifinal heat gave Brazil both the 2018 world title and Triple Crown championship and they celebrated just as one would imagine Brazilians would.
A pair of tour regulars had less to celebrate as Frederico Morais and Matt Wilkinson fell out of the top 22 and will not be on the CT in 2019. It’s a fairly large shock for each, but it speaks to the depth that continues to elevate the tour. Joan Duru and Yago Dora each reached the quarterfinals, which was just enough for each to sneak into the top 22 and secure their spots for next year.
Jack Freestone remained in as the final qualifier, despite some tense moments after Ezekiel Lau fell out early. Had Lau fallen out of the top 22, Freestone would have come up one spot short.
Thus ends the 2018 WSL men’s season. It was an unusual one that saw the retirement of both Parkinson and Mick Fanning, injuries that sidelined Florence and Kelly Slater for large portions of the year and younger competitors like Coffin, Kanoa Igarashi and Mikey Wright shoot up the ranks. But Medina is the constant and he has proven time and time again that he will only continue adding to his repertoire. These five years feel like just a preview of what’s to come.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: The Garden Island