Gabriel Medina wins the 2018 Tahiti Pro, Owen strikes back and Brazil gets ready for another World Champ. In head high waves at The End Of The Road, Gabriel Medina stood head and shoulders above the pack and delivered the KO punch to Owen Wright.
In the dying seconds of the final exchange, Medina claimed the 2018 Tahiti Pro title and, once again, announced his intention to go full out for his second world title.
It was a savage display of intent from Medina. Not just in the final, but in every heat. His ability to adapt to a soft swell that never looked to be getting out of 2nd gear was, for me, the most defining quality he possessed over his opponents. He took to the sky, was sure-footed in the clamping tubes and the sharpness and speed transitions through turns looked powerful and direct.
Owen Wright came close to winning. Hell, the lead changed four times in the final. It came down to the final set. Owen had to go. He had no choice in the matter. His performance in the final was perfectly arranged around his strengths (big rail game and an ability to find tubes in a dying swell) and had Medina been left stranded, big Owen would have won. But during the entire event, one got the sense that Gabriel would get what he needed when he needed it most.
Like Medina, Wright was accurate and purposeful. In my opinion, he’s by far the best tall surfer on tour thanks to his ability to ‘shapeshift’ his size to suit a variety of waves. Limber and light on foot when he needs to be, few can crush a 6’3” frame into the tight corners and alcoves of a 3ft wave better than Owen. It’s his ability to flow and connect, and more importantly, to surprise with a turning radius as sharp as anyone. It’s hard to surf like you’re 5’8” when you’re 6’3”.
A lot went down at the 2018 Tahiti Pro (including the swell) and once again, ‘The End of the Road’ leaves some careers and the WSL at a crossroad: Where to from here?
Here are 5 talking points from the 2018 Tahiti Pro.
- Medina closes. Every time.
It’s very rare that you meet a strong person with an easy past. You sense that with Gabriel Medina. Some life event, someone or something happened to shape him into the cold, calculating finisher he is.
Ruthless. Mercenary. Meticulous. No one closes better than Medina. He strikes when his opponent least expects it, always surfs to his strengths and never folds. Period.
John John Florence talks a big game, Julian errs on the side of caution, Italo occasionally shows too much respect and the other contenders are largely ‘also-rans’. But no one finishes the job with a higher level of directed intensity than Medina.
Not since Andy Irons have I seen a competitor get under the skin of his rivals and completely demoralise them. Medina humiliates his opponents. He wants to inflict maximum damage on every occasion, so that the next time you draw him, you remember both the loss and the trauma.
Don’t be surprised if that killer instinct starts to rattle the unflappable Filipe Toledo of 2018. He knows how strong Medina is in the closing quarter of the year. He will be the last man standing in the way of Filipe’s 2018 World Title bid. And by far the most dangerous.
- Jordy Smith wilted.
I’m probably going to get it in the teeth for saying this, but Jordy quite possibly lost his world title run along with his Round 3 loss to Michael February. It wasn’t just the inexplicable priority decision making (or lack thereof), wave choice or the inability to turn the heat around, it was that Smith simply did nothing about it. In short, he folded.
This seems to be a running theme in the Smith narrative. Close heats. The big ones. The seemingly small ones. Every. Single. One. You can’t win a world title by falling asleep at the wheel. And we all know what happens when you do that.
Jordy’s backhand performance looked way sharper than last year, his speed is up, the undeniable flow and polish is still amongst the best in the world, but the concentration and the focus was, unfortunately, once again, missing.
It’s frustrating enough for his fan base to see another world title go begging, it’s got to be even tougher for him to have let the opportunity slide. The world knows Jordy Smith deserves a world title. It also knows that it’s not gifted through raw talent alone. There are expectations. Big ones. And everyone’s watching. The lovers and the haters.
Remember, the crowd that applauds your coronation is the same crowd that will applaud your beheading. People love a show. They want you to bleed and fight. They want a scrap.
And Jordy Smith can most certainly give them one. Time to deliver the KO punch, big guy.
- February finally shines.
The relief on Michael February’s face after his round 2 win over Connor Coffin said it all. It was more the look of ‘the ransoms been paid, you’re free to go’ than the look of victory in paradise.
Yes, it was quite possibly the most talked about 2.5 in the history of professional surfing, but it was as valuable as a perfect 10 to MFeb’s year. He finally broke free of the 13ths and 25ths and got his year rolling in the right direction.
After his round 2 victory, February’s approach looked confident and he had belonging and purpose. The round 3 victory of Jordy Smith was less error prone than the Connor Coffin match up, the decision making more considered and the surfing steadier and with more connectivity.
But it was the round 4 heat where February’s tube prowess really presented itself. The days of surfing Kalk Bay were clearly presented and a damn fine reading of waves at a location he’s never surfed before.
It was always going to be a tough one to beat Toledo in the quarters but MFeb pushed hard with some clean tube rides and he can take pride in a well-deserved 5th place.
- Underscoring. Where exactly is the scale set?
It happened a lot, but the best example was just how badly Jesse Mendes was underscored in his round 3 heat loss to Wade Carmichael. Tell me he didn’t get the score against ‘Ozzie Jesus’?
His surfing was vertical and sharp and definitely better than the mid 4’s they threw back at him. Play the heat here and you be the judge.
It’s frustrating and unfair to the athletes when the judging scale deviates from the criteria the judges themselves set and lay down as law. If you say you’re going to reward a particular approach, then do it. And apply it to every heat.
- Wilko could be back on the QS in 2019.
An almost impossible scenario to even contemplate considering the man was a World Title contender not that long ago. It’s a cruel reminder of just how tough the tour is when a surfer of Matt Wilkinson’s calibre is currently ranked 31st.
Every year it gets harder not just to try and break into the top 10, but to keep your WSL job ticket is just as tough. The point is that if a guy like Wilkinson is battling to just find his groove, it takes something extraordinary to win a world title.
Something that Gabriel Medina is all too familiar with. Will Slater surf at the Wave Ranch, will Blink 182 dedicate their song ‘What’s my age again’ to him? Will Toledo win and strengthen his cause before the European leg? Will Gabriel Medina once again ‘thank God’ for sending him a wave, even if it is in a wave pool?
I’ll be there watching and look forward to your company as always.