It's strange to think that it was six long years ago that Gabriel Medina first came to France, posted two-10s, won a global grommet contest, and announced his skinny ass to the world.
Today, at only 21, he won in France again. He's twice the size of that little pretzel who spun and whizzed to victory back in 2009, but the same swagger was unmistakable. He never really looked like losing this contest at any stage, notching another two 10s along the way. The defending world champion is probably now wishing he'd started his season the way he's finishing it.
As for the contest itself, organizers wished they could have finished it the way they started.
It would have been great to send the final out at first light this morning, in the perfect, mist-shrouded tubes of Culs Nus, followed – on the dropping tide – by the semis and then the quarters, because things got weird as the day progressed.
Okay, French beachbreaks are tidal and temperamental, I get it. But I'm not sure I've seen a day where the waves have transformed the way they did today. The quarters were just right, the semis were too low, and the final too high. It was a nightmare to call, and if you looked closely you could see local contest director Alain Riou hidden in a potted plant just behind the portable toilets. Even with the judges mobile in a candy-colored RV, something that looked part Mad Max and part Xanadu, there looked to be no advantageous spot to sit on the bank.
It appeared that as the tide dropped during the day and the waves degenerated, becoming post-apocalyptic at times, the contest was going to turn into an episode of Survivor, where some Machiavellian chess move would win the day. It didn't seem like it would be won purely on surfing. It looked like the kind of day custom-made for Adriano, and if not for a piece of divine intervention, that would have been the case.
Just as it's hard not to notice the freshly beefcaked presence of Gabe Medina, it's equally striking to watch Adriano interviewed by Rosie Hodge post-heat, and at first glance think that he still looks like a grommet. Most of Adriano's four-foot-three stature is heart, however, and as conditions got funky today, you had a sense he was going to will himself to a win – and the world-title lead. In one of the more mind-boggling tour statistics mentioned all week, Gabe had never beaten Adriano, the diminutive Latin American Yoda having some kind of Jedi hold on the kid.
That was until Gabe Medina's second-10 of the event, the one that came like a bolt of lightning out of a clear, blue sky. The all-Brazilian semi had become a crapshoot on the bottom of the tide, Adriano and Gabe riding skis up and down the inside of the bank looking for something, anything, that resembled a surfable wave. Again, they were the kind of waves Adriano dreams of surfing heats in, and once he got to the lead and Gabe looked increasingly desperate, you began to imagine a world with Adriano as its surfing champion.
Where Medina's perfect-10 came from, no one can be sure. But in the context of a horseshit heat, it was closer to a 12, a throaty backhand pit with three turns to finish. And if ever you needed a signal that Medina's season had turned around, that was it. The second semifinal was equally chumpy and terrible, and again it was decided by a single Hail Mary tuberide, Bede Durbidge catching the one wave of the heat that didn't close out while Julian Wilson sat there and watched a gilded chance to place himself square in the world-title race slip through his fingers.
Even though Bede had surfed a great event, taking out world title compatriots Fanning and Wilson in green-on-blue attacks, the final seemed a foregone conclusion in regard to momentum, and that proved to be the case. Medina is hard to deny right now. He's done most of the damage this week on his backhand, and watching him surf, you can see all those extra pounds at work. Gone is that skippy, lightweight, backhand bottom turn, and in its place is a drawn-out, smooth, backfoot drive that has launched him at lips all week. And while his air game has been next-level this week and has given the excitable Frenchies something to coo about, it's been his drive off the bottom and the space between the notes where the real improvement in his surfing has become clear.
In the women's semifinals, Carissa Moore got lost at sea and missed a chance to put some clear air between her and Courtney Conlogue in the ratings. Drawn against fellow Hawaiian Tatiana Weston-Webb, Carissa just never got going as the ocean disappeared and strange, unexplained rips chewed up the break. While Carissa remains undoubtedly the best surfer on the women's tour (fluid, powerful, edgy), the one skill she's yet to master is winning ugly, and when the going gets weird, she's suddenly vulnerable. She now heads to Maui neck-and-neck with Courtney, with both girls having real game at Honolua. Should be interesting. Tyler Wright's win, meanwhile, was a welcome return to form after a patchy year.
So where does this leave us as we follow our noses down the E1 to the sardine capital of the Europe, Peniche?
Mick Fanning and Adriano are basically locked at the top of the ratings, and both have won in Portugal before. Owen Wright and Julian Wilson missed chances to make ground in France today, but both have history in Portugal. And then there's Medina. There's probably a calculator somewhere that will tell you it's possible he can win the world title – and what a world title it would be. Even if he doesn’t win, with the way he’s surfing, he's sure as hell going to ruin someone else's chances.