Shaper Johnny Cabianca talks through Gabe's Teahupoo quiver.
“A kid who is 20-years-old and beat Kelly fair and square in the final at giant Teahupoo," wrote Shane Dorian of Gabe Medina back in 2014 when the Brazilian set a competitive benchmark at surfing's heaviest wave. "I am so pumped to see someone new stepping up against the best, leading the ratings and taking huge scalps under immense pressure."
Dorian’s prediction has since proved true. Since 2014 the Brazilian has gone on to set up a dominance at the wave that is close to, if not already ahead, of Kelly Slater. Medina was runner-up in 2015 and 2017, a semifinalist in 2016 and claimed a second win here last year.
In the last five events he has surfed 25 heats, lost just four and logged numerous 10-point rides. He has developed an innate sense of knowing which waves bend just enough to provide an exit out and over the shallow Polynesian reef. His equipment too is dialled in and his understanding and knowledge of boards is often understated. While surfers-shaper relationships like Joel Parkinson and JS, Mick Fanning and Darren Handley and Kelly Slater and Al Merrick were often sighted as keys to their success, the Medina and Cabianca combo is rarely mentioned.
Yet the two have been working together for more than a decade and their symbiosis is one reason Medina turns up to each event so confident and well prepped. For each CT Cabianca shapes 10 boards, no more, no less, based on previous year’s dimensions and adding any subtle changes based on how Medina’s surfing has progressed.
“Gabriel will tell me how he wants to approach the wave and I’ll make adjustments,” Cabianca told Tracks. “For example at Bells and J-bay he wanted to do longer, more drawn out turns so he could attack the lip with more power. So we made subtle changes, made the boards a bit more wider and as he wasn’t transitioning from rail to rail as fast as in previous years.”
For Teahupoo though, there isn’t really too much variation on how you take on the wave. The sole goal remains getting as deep as possible. “In some ways his quiver for Tahiti is relatively straightforward,” says Johnny. “I’ve made ten of his dFK models, which have a bit more rocker, more concave and are a bit longer than the Medina model he uses for beachbeaks. This year we’ve upped the volume by half a litre on his normal boards to adjust for his change in weight and power.”
As with the modern age the length of the boards for big waves have become relatively static. “When Gabriel won Teahupo’o in 2014 it was massive, a solid 10-foot, he was riding a 6’2 so he doesn’t need a much bigger board than that,” said Cabianca. “The smallest board is 6’ by 19 x 2 1/2 with a volume of 29.5 litres. Then we have a 6’ 1/2, 6’1, 6’2 and 6’3. All those lengths are 19 x 2 1/2 and the volumes go up gradually with the increase in size.”
For Medina, fresh off a victory in J-Bay, further success in Tahiti will solidify the defence of his World Title. One of these ten sticks could be the one that propels him closer to his goal.