Before Quarterfinal action began in Peniche on Wednesday morning, Rosy Hodge asked Mick Fanning whether he wanted to see John Florence win the World Title outright in Portugal.
In the form that John [Florence], Julian [Wilson], and Gabriel [Medina] are in, anyone can win,” Mick said. “For me personally, I'd rather see it go to Hawaii. I'd love to see a good shootout at Pipe. But I'm sure that John wants to get it done as soon as possible. And I’m sure that Gabe doesn't want him to.”
As the dust cleared, the World Title race will go to Pipe after all, as Gabriel Medina defeated Julian Wilson in the Final to win the 2017 MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal.
“I'm really happy,” Medina said in his post-heat interview. “I had a goal this season: I just wanted to win an event in Europe. I won in France, but I wasn't expecting this one.”
“Now, I feel tired,” he laughed. “That was a lot of work.”
While Medina won the day, much of the field’s heavy-lifting involved making sure that Florence didn’t walk away with his second straight World Title. Prior to Wednesday morning, four contenders were in position to win the title: Florence, Jordy Smith, Medina, and Wilson. As the scenario played out, if Florence won in Portugal, he won the whole thing. If Florence placed second, Gabriel would’ve needed to win the event to take the Tour to Pipeline.
But San Clemente’s Kolohe Andino, who was rematched against Florence in the Quarterfinals after a narrow loss in Round Four, was aggressive and looked to challenge Florence from the beginning of their heat. His opening ride, a righthand barrel that put him deep behind the section, opened up and allowed him to lay down a beautiful turn for a 7.17 ride. Florence was waveless for the first ten minutes while hunting for a high-scoring wave, though the tide at Peniche was starting to suck away and the lineup turned sleepy. At the 10-minute mark, Andino stomped a lofty punt after drawing a solid bottom turn and throwing the tail out to the beach, landing into the flats. It was a 6.83 score. Florence was comboed.
Florence needed a 14-point total with 8 minutes left, but sets with any sort of scoring potential clamped shut. When the heat was over, Florence was still comboed, Andino advanced to his second semifinal in the European leg, and the race was officially headed to the North Shore of Oahu.
“It was a tough one. It was super tough to find waves out there,” Florence said after the heat. “Kolohe found two fun ones, but even still, there weren't waves like what you were seeing earlier in the morning. I was really excited to get out here and get barreled. I was just searching around and couldn't find it.”
Was there any pressure after being unable to close out his World Title campaign in Europe?
"Uhh, a little bit…Well, not really,” Florence laughed. “Because I get to go home. I'm really excited to get back there and surf Pipe. It'd be exciting if I won at home in December, and it would be more meaningful, I feel like.”
With Florence out of the event, the Final would eventually be decided by Medina and Wilson, a match-up full of history and light on love. The two had met in the Finals on Tour five times in their careers, with Julian winning the last three decisions. The most recent was Wilson’s comeback from an 18+ point combo situation in Tahiti two months ago. Intense pleasantries were exchanged in the water in the heat’s opening minutes, enough that, when Wilson was later asked about it, he curtly responded, “We’ll just leave that one in the water.”
The tide continued to rush out and the winds turned onshore for as the Final began in Peniche. Nearly the entire heat took place on the beach’s southern end, leaving Medina and Wilson to look for the clean water along the bank (the two also had difficulty hearing point situations from the intercom, which led to an early heat restart). The closed-out conditions meant that the Final would largely be decided above the lip.
Medina looked to up his wave count early, throwing a number of tail-high rotations for incomplete maneuvers. The heat was a low-scoring affair through the Final’s midway point, with a 7.00 to 2.33 advantage to Medina, largely because the Brazilian chased more sets. With less than 10 minutes to go, Medina had nearly tripled Wilson’s wave count.
Though Julian gained the lead at the five-minute mark after a clean, running lefthand tube, Medina responded with a frontside air, linked with a frontside wrap and tail-slide, and punctuated with a punch-out on the inside corner. Wilson needed a 6.34 on his last wave as the judges deliberated over scores. It wouldn’t be enough. 13.26-10.94 read the final scoreline, advantage to Medina.
A win in Portugal completes a fast rise up the rankings for Medina in the European leg of the Tour. He arrived in Europe ranked seventh, a win at the Quik Pro France put him at third, and now, Medina’s Portugal victory puts him at second, behind Florence by just over 3,000 points. And now, the venue to seal the deal for the 2017 World Tour will be none other than Pipeline. Just as it should be.
“I'm looking forward to Pipe,” said Medina after the Final. “Now I'm thinking about the title. Before Portugal, I wasn’t. I want to surf Pipe so bad. I love that wave, and I've had some good results there in the past. Anything is possible.”