Mecurial Medina, John John and The King – all here in these glorious still frames.
“I’m thinking it’s the best event ever,” claimed Occy with his signature commentary desk move, the quadruple head nod. With three decades of involvement in pro surfing, The Occ was probably better qualified than anyone else to comment. There was more shock and awe than any of the G-land events in the early 90s and arguably an equivalent level of perfection to the Mexico Search event of 2006.
Although it definitely has the potential to be surfing’s most captivating stage it’s actually very difficult for Teahupoo to produce the goods. At four- to-six foot it’s a bit of a yawn – like watching a heavyweight title fight won on twelve rounds of jabs, or a tryless rugby match. On the flip side, once it goes beyond ten feet, paddling at Chopes can be impossible and the tow crew take over. The optimal range is that eight-ten foot realm and almost every heat of the entire event was held in those kinds of conditions. At various moments it was also whistle clean and flawless. You certainly couldn’t fault the ASP on the calls they made throughout the waiting period.
It was also an event in which both the underdogs and the usual suspects produced stellar performances. Nathan Hedge’s beyond vertical takeoff in round two earned him a ten and enabled the former WCT surfer to briefly reclaim the attention of the surfing world.
In round five Dion Atkinson recovered from a two wave hold down to come back and post a 19.33 heat total and claim victory over Kai otton. These were but two memorable moments in an event, which featured career best rides for so many surfers.
However, amidst so much glory it seemed like the whole event was geared towards one clash, even if it was a shade premature. When Kelly Slater and John John Florence paddled out for their semi final, fans around the world were screaming for something exceptional. What they got was other-worldy. Within the first two minutes they were both falling from the sky into barrelling blue cement.
A ten for Kelly and a 9.9 for John John that seemed to upset the perfect symmetry of the moment. To put it in context this was the best surfer ever, at the zenith of his barrel riding abilities in once in a lifetime contest conditions. His opponent, twenty years his junior, is a prodigy who many consider the best all round surfer in the world at this point in history. A meeting of this magnitude may never happen again, given the number of variables involved in making this encounter what it was. When the froth settles we will all be going back to this heat for another look.
Ultimately a draw was a fair result but as Pottz suggested, an impromptu change to the rulebook allowing a re-surf might have been more just. Post-heat we all had to sit and watch that excruciating moment where Pete Mel made them sit next to each other like schoolboys who’d had a playground fight, while they waited for the scores to drop. It was the heaviest moment of the entire event but incredible to watch.
By the time Kelly paddled out for the final against Medina one sensed that he had expended the best of his physical and mental energy against John John.
In the opening moments Medina did the unthinkable and forced a paddling mistake from Kelly, which allowed the Brazilian to secure priority and the first significant scoring ride. Gabriel’s surfing has been dynamic, reactive to conditions and right on point all year but his performances have also been enhanced by his knack for tactics and man on man psychology. He paddled an in form Kolohe Andino into a state of confusion in the quarters, and in the finals he refused to be intimidated by Kelly’s presence. Medina has found the magic formula for victory, which includes a combination of confidence, competence and cunning. Brazil might have lost the soccer but it’s looking more and more likely that they have found their first ever world surfing champion. However, you can expect Kelly to step up the psych game at his pet event, Trestles, which is next on the ASP calendar.
World titles aside, for now Medina can revel in the fact that he was the last gladiator left standing on professional surfing’s greatest day. That’s an accolade any surfer would love to have.
All Photos by Ed Sloane