For the first three days at The Rip Curl Classic at Narrabeen there was a commonly held belief amongst fans, commentators, top surfers and critics alike. Everyone from Mick Fanning to Luke Egan was saying it. The consensus was that despite the fact Gabriel Medina was assertively marching through the draw he was only surfing in second gear. That all changed in today’s final when Medina went into overdrive and hopped all over the Narrabeen lineup like a kangaroo on steroids. You had to feel for poor old Conner Coffin as he was condemned to combo land within the first half of the final. Coffin had hustled and scrapped his way to the main fixture. He fought his way out of the elimination round and claimed the prized scalp of Italo Ferreira in controversial circumstances, before out-muscling a spring-loaded Griffin Colapinto in the semi-final. Despite the finals loss, it was a big result for the guitar strumming, smooth-talking Californian who once had the indomitable Brad Gerlach as his guru figure. To his credit, Conner kept swinging for the fences when Medina put it out of reach. A late 8.77 featured one of the best two-turn combos of the entire event and preserved a little dignity for Conner by digging him out of the combination situation. The crowd on the beach applauded the effort, grateful for the additional entertainment on a day when he could have thrown his arms in the air and given up.

Coffin will now be in the all-important top five, surf-off discussion and currently sits at equal fourth alongside Kanoa Igarashi.

Medina had produced massive individual airs throughout the event, but in the final, he combined wrenching turns with soaring rotations to post the highest two-wave total of the contest, 18.77. That included an 8.67 throw away. His coach, Andy King, had spelt out the game plan on the webcast earlier in the day. “It’s pretty simple really. If he catches waves and goes for airs, eventually he’s going to get the completion.” It was his fourth straight CT final. He’d only won one of the last three and you could argue that a surfer with Medina’s menace and talent would likely get at least two from four.

But could he have been stopped?

Fred Morais ( semis ) and Morgan Cibilic (quarters) both had good leads over Medina in their respective heats. Cibilic was in the strongest position after he made the rail bite and burrowed through a classic Narrabeen tube for an 8.67. However, he elected to wait for a similarly perfect wave instead of going toe-to-toe and wave-for-wave with Medina. Left alone to roam the lineup unchallenged Medina was able to find his rhythm and launch at will, following Andy King’s simple algorithm – keep punting and eventually you will get a completion.

In many respects, Medina’s comeback scores through the middle of the heat were a little manufactured and forced. He was rewarded for finding mediocre, semi-close-outs and hurling himself at the lip. It’s arguable that such a strategy lacks risk because too often Medina was doing his work on poorer waves with less critical sections. However, he certainly put the decision beyond doubt when he hucked a giant air on the buzzer for a 9.3. Both Cibilic and Morais might have been better served by backing themselves to go wave-for-wave with Medina after they’d locked in big scores. Such an approach allows you to apply pressure through sheer physical presence, generate crowd reaction, and keep Medina off a few of the waves; therefore reducing his ratio of completions. You are also giving the judges something else to consider, as opposed to simply letting them salivate over the Medina air show. Coaches and surfers would have watched Cibilic and Morais lose to Medina in a similar fashion and be wondering if there is perhaps another way to beat him that doesn’t involve waiting patiently for two perfect waves – which doesn’t seem to be working.

Morgan Cibilic has emerged as the number one contender for Australia. Photo: WSL/Dunbar

Despite the second consecutive loss to Medina, Cibilic’s meteoric rise continues and at number six is now Australia’s best world title contender, five places ahead of Callinan at number eleven. Not bad for a guy who was just about ready to quit professional surfing and get a job, a couple of years ago.    

While witnessing Medina live in full-flight was undeniably entertaining, from the beach it was sometimes more enjoyable to watch the women adopt a more grounded approach. There were a few classic waves rolling through the Narrabeen lineup and it was a joy to see Tatiana Weston-Webb and Caroline Marks hunt down reeling lefts and throw down three-turn combos with flow and form as a focus. Tatiana produced a complete performance against Carissa Moore that included tube rides and well-timed fin blasts. Tatiana is doing her surfing in the top tier of the wave and that’s why she is being rewarded over the likes of Sally Fitzgibbons who is still anchoring too many turns halfway up the face.    

Meanwhile, Caroline Marks kept a cool head and hunted down the best waves to overcome Courtney Conlogue’s tiger-claw backside attack by the slimmest of margins. Marks surfs more laterally on her forehand than here celebrated backhand, but the frontside carve to slash has the hint of Occy to it and when it's performed right in the pocket inspires good numbers from the judges. Under the watchful eye of coach, Luke Egan, Marks again made sure she was on the best waves in the final and claimed a well-deserved victory.  

Caroline Marks chose the best waves and put her frontside slash to good use, to claim victory in the Rip Curl Classic, Narrabeen. Photo WSL/ Miers

Caroline moves to number two in the rankings behind Carissa Moore and a little closer to achieving her world title goal. Meanwhile, Steph Gilmore is in number five with Courtney Conlogue and Sally Fitzgibbons hot on her heels. In order to chase the elusive eighth title, Steph only needs to be in that top five and have a good day at Trestles for the surf-off. Would that devalue the title that takes her one beyond Layne? More importantly, she still has to make the five and get past Carissa Moore, who with four titles in the bag may have her own ambitions of claiming eight.

Did the Sydney/Newcastle experiment work? And will we see it again? Both events were entertaining and produced highly contestable waves. In the context of COVID you would have to applaud the WSL and Rip Curl for pulling off two solid events.

However, when some measure of normality returns fans will expect more. While Newcastle was on, Snapper and Kirra were all time and while Narrabeen was rolling Bells was showing form. What’s the point? When are we going to see the WSL do something really radical and go mobile within a region? Two or three sites live in Australia and a plane that can fly competitors between them based on the swell? Now that would be a concept to get excited about. And don’t say it can’t be done. It already happened back in 1979 when the finalists flew from Sydney/Narrabeen to Bells for the final of the 2SM Coke Surfabout. Not sure we saw that one in the WSL flashbacks because it could make them look a little behind the times.

It’s not an easy thing to pull off and there are obvious costs involved, but wouldn’t it be something to see surfers land the night before and wake up to all-time waves the following day. What's the WSL catch-phrase – 'Bring it On!'