Medina’s mishap proves costly as Australia claims its first WCT win for 2020
It was the final we deserved. A pair of goofy foot tube maestros at the top of their games. The only two surfers with perfect tens in their score-cards and the same duo who had contested last year's Teahupo’o final, only this time the waves were way better. Sure Teahupo'o had lost some of its menace overnight, but it still provided a spectacular stage for finals day.
Owen’s surfing all contest had been a kind of ballet, an execution of perfect barrel form that borrowed heavily from the Lopez school – shoulders slung low, body movements kept to a minimum, perfect trim achieved by ensuring not a single toe was out of place. Everything purposeful and nothing superfluous.
There was also another critical factor – the U-turn take-off that regularly allowed Owen to fade right and get that little bit deeper. With his extensive paddle power he always seemed to have a split-second more time to set his line than the competition.
Medina’s approach is a little more flamboyant. The big thighs pump hard, and the upper body jives to match the contours of the tube. It’s almost as if he can will his way through a barrel, and then the exits are always dramatic – stand-talls, big fades and fly-away kick-outs. Medina is a showman at heart.
With both surfers in superb form it ultimately it came down to what Barton Lynch rightly pointed out as “decisions”. Early in the heat Owen made a bad decision, utilising a hard-earned priority on a wave that clamped and offered him nothing. Owen’s mishap allowed Gabriel to take command, posting a 7.83 and a 7.10 and making better wave choices. The momentum was clearly in Medina’s favour and a kind of dull sense of inevitability consumed the final. Medina would cruise to victory and continue his quick-march towards another world title, the ruthless competitor again capitalising on the mistake of an opponent who was rattled by his frantic energy. Medina can be unnerving even when waves aren’t being caught.
However, Gabriel, in turn, made a critical priority mistake by allowing Owen to slide into a throttling inside, double up. Owen seized the wave like a seagull that had been tossed a lobster. His form was too good to make a mistake on such a gift and by the time he exited the barrel in fist-clenching jubilation, he’d turned the entire heat and claimed the lead with a 9.17. Moments later he grabbed another grinder under priority and stretched the requirement for Gabriel to well over nine points. Medina, accustomed to being the one to snatch miraculous victories, sat out the back a little dumbfounded. The ocean didn’t give him a chance at a final act and a tearful Owen was left to celebrate before a flotilla of supporters who were happy to see him claim the win.
Owen was all heart and Ozi honesty when Strider approached for the obligatory post-heat grab. “I can’t be happier mate. I was against the ropes. I knew Gabby was going to be the toughest competitor … I teared up out there.” The day before Owen had told the WSL team he would prepare for finals day by playing with his son Vali. Maybe that was what gave him the edge. A meaningful distraction from all the pressure.
Owen’s victory restores faith amongst Australian fans who were starting to wonder if they would see an Ozi climb the podium in 2019. Wright’s use of the helmet must also deliver validation to the skull-cap as a useful tool for heavy wave events. Owen surfed with a lot of confidence and the helmet no doubt helped him feel more comfortable about hucking over the ledge of bone-rattling waves.
While the day belonged to Owen, Medina makes another massive leap up the Jeep Leaderboard. Now sitting at number four his menacing presence is well and truly felt by the other contenders. Filipe will wear yellow going into the Freshwater Pro while Jordy drops into number two on the Jeep Leaderboad.
Smith gets the most improved award for his Teahupo’o performance. While he was obviously out-classed by Owen in the semis, the fact Jordy wrangled his way to a third place finish indicates that he has worked hard on his backside barrel act. He may need to call upon it again if the title race comes down to big Pipe lefts. In the short-term he needs to figure out a way to beat his more fleet-footed rivals (Gabriel and Filipe) at the wave pool. Calling on Air Jordy.
Jadson Andre also deserves props for his valiant performance. He surfed superbly against Owen Wright in the quarters and came close on a couple of impossibly late drops. Jadson will be back next year (he’s number two on the wqs) and will be viewed as a genuine contender at Chopes. Seth Moniz also established a rep as one of the best backside tube riders on tour, folding his malleable limbs into a range of highly-functional body-positions. A similar tag can be attached to Caio Ibelli who employed under-the-lip snaps, no-hands rides and fully committed rail grabs to make him an event standout.
For now the competitors have three weeks to prepare for the wave-pool. You can imagine the front-runners climbing over each other to get access to the Ranch.
How does one ensure fair and equitable access to the pool in the lead-up to the event?
It’s not like you can just show up early to The Ranch and paddle out or say let me in. Not unless you are on good terms with the owner/inventor, you know who? The WSL will no doubt have a system in place to give everyone a chance to get familiar with the Ranch’s new, exciting features – but the scramble for warm-up waves amongst the front-runners will be a contest all of its own. See you at the pool party.