Missed opportunities in Portugal but Medina is still in the box seat.
It’s hard to say who missed the bigger opportunity in the Meo Rip Curl Pro – Julian Wilson or Gabriel Medina.
Julian has been surfing with supreme confidence throughout the European leg and you might have expected him to waltz past WCT back-marker Joan Duru in their quarter final meeting. However, in the soft Supertubes conditions there were few barrels and Julian struggled to find sections with the necessary punch for his revived aerial attack. It was frustrating to watch him try and force the heat. Julian’s dismal 5.10 heat total was obviously indicative of just how much he struggled to find a rhythm. Perhaps Duru, the quirky Frenchman who often wears a heavy chain around his neck, simply had more to surf for. Heading into Pipe he is now sitting on the qualification bubble at number 23 on the Jeep leaderboard. Meanwhile Wilson was left to lament the fact he didn’t create an easier scenario for himself going into Pipeline.
Medina’s title-crushing elimination came at the hands of a wing-heeled Italo Ferreira who, unlike Wilson, had little trouble executing his dynamic above-the-lip repertoire. In an exciting aerial dual between the two surfers the lead see-sawed several times, but ultimately the light-footed Italo was higher and more inverted when it mattered. Italo went on to claim his second title at the Rip Curl Pro, Portugal and remind us that there will surely be a moment when he emerges as a serious world title contender. Meanwhile Medina surfed out of his skin, but would have been disappointed not to claim his second title before a Portuguese crowd who were right behind his quest.
For now all eyes turn to Hawaii and more than a month of mind games and preparation leading up to an event that has Medina in the box seat. If Gabriel makes the final at Pipeline he wins the world title. If Gabriel makes the semis then Wilson or Toledo will need to win the event to claim the world crown. Any result worse than a semi-final for Medina and the two other contenders will still need to make the final to take the title.
So the least Wilson or Toledo will need to do is make the final, while even if Medina loses early in the event (unlikely) he can sit around and hope that someone else takes down his rivals before they reach the final.
Last year both Wilson and Medina also arrived in Hawaii in contention for the crown. Medina was the major contender of the two, but his hopes were dashed when eventual contest winner, Jeremy Flores, defeated him in round three, gifting the title to John John Florence.
This year Medina will have the advantage and as a former two-time Pipe Masters finalist, the world title odds are unequivocally in his favour. Toledo, an infamous Pipe under-performer, will be the least favoured, but in small to medium Backdoor he will still be competitive. Julian Wilson has won the Pipe Masters before (against Medina in 2014) and poses the biggest threat to Gabriel. Wilson will however be reliant upon forces beyond his control to claim the title. If no one stops Medina before he makes the final, then it doesn’t matter if Julian wins it again. Glory will belong to Gabriel.
It’s not quite as close as fans (particularly Australian ones) might have liked, but there are still a raft of scenarios that can play out on the fickle Hawaiian shores. All three contenders will now have to decide how they prepare. When to go to Hawaii? Whether or not to surf the Triple Crown? (Unlikely for all three) How many risks to take in the lead up? Incurring a pre-contest injury is always at the back of your mind in Hawaii. Hopefully we haven’t seen the last of the drama in this world title race. Bring on Pipe at its menacing best. Bring on the world-beating wild-cards, bring on the pre contest psych-out sessions. Bring on a world title that has to be earned right down to the wire.