The Face of the Tour in 2012

Gabriel Medina, leading the charge for the next generation of World Title contenders. Photo: Ellis

Shea Lopez

The author of SURFER’s Top 32 Review, Shea Lopez spent 11 years competing on the World Tour and now reigns as our resident expert on the pro surfosphere.

Isn’t it ironic? The ASP gets heaps of shit for straying from the Dream Tour concept of the last decade in favor of capturing the masses with big city stops, then the surf ranges from fun to excellent for all those events. While here on the North Shore at Haleiwa, I have yet to see one competitor attempt to ride a wave in the lake like conditions. In fact, my 36-pound, 5-year-old daughter has been loving the waves.

One surfer that would be able to somehow rip the minimal swell is Gabriel Medina—we all knew that, though. What we didn’t know: He is also capable of dominating a surfer the caliber of Parko, in solid waves, on his backhand, without ever going to the air or spinning around like a ballerina. This spells major trouble for Kelly Slater, who has now lost twice to Medina in the quarterfinals en route to Medina’s two victories in four WT starts since the mid-year rotation. Both of those victories came in events that never dipped below head high, with plenty of power to see Taylor Knox get his best results of the year.

How in the world could a 17-year-old semi-rookie—the way this whole rotation weirdness goes, this is really just a warm up for his first full season in 2012, when he is actually able to compete in the World Title race—win at such a high level of competition? Because he is that ridiculously good.

Think about his man-on-man heats for a second:

When have you seen him fall on a critical wave? Never!

When have you seen him hold back? Never!

When have you seen him amaze you? Every heat!

Now, when have you seen Kelly feel pressured from another competitor like this? Only AI during his incredible five-year run, which would go down as the greatest rivalry in pro surfing history. And AI was much older than Medina is now, and in his prime. Medina, at 17, is still a decade away from his prime.

Before I get too far ahead of myself and claim Medina to be the next Ke11y, you have to examine how far surfing heats has progressed, and who else is capable of Medina-type performances. At the top of that list would have to be Kolohe Andino, based on his incredible three in a row 6-Star victories, which he just added to his two 4-Star victories earlier this year, and his groundbreaking early round performances during the Lowers Prime back in April. This is a kid that knows how to compete and surf at a level very few before him have reached. Plus he’s a regular foot on a tour that heavily favors those surfers. For 2012, the WT, and the world, will see how far and fast he can take his skills.

The other surfer we’ve been able to get a glimpse of for the back half of 2011 is John Florence. Far and away the best tube rider in his age group—and arguably the world—John may be playing catch-up in the smaller stuff and figuring out heat strategy, but his uncompromising desire to push his surfing to perfection will be mind blowing to watch progress.

Behind them await hundreds of equally talented kids busting ass, dreaming of one day finding themselves amongst the top 32.

So where does this leave the superhuman, 40-year-old at the start of next season? And will he even have the juice left in him to dominate Generation Freesurf for one more title? If I see him practicing big spins and inverted stalefish loops I’ll let you know, because those are the moves of the future if you want to stay cutting edge. Kelly is arguably the best athlete to ever walk the Earth. And definitely the most competitive. I wouldn’t put it past him to beat these kids into submission while he takes yet another trip around the world surfing for love and money…lots of money!