We sensed this was coming.
Looking back, Gabriel Medina fired several warning shots in Rio. But his Semifinal loss there left him seething; he'd trounced every heat up until that point and collected two perfect 10's. That was supposed to be his moment.
Victory at the 2016 Fiji Pro, while always doable, would be a much tougher hill to climb with a hungry pack of veterans back on the scene.
If you watched this week you already understand why Fiji is the favorite stop of nearly every surfer on Tour. On the one hand, the tropical paradise disarms even the greatest of egos. Surfers stay in close quarters, entourages are scaled down, and intermingling of would-be rivals goes way up. It's refreshing.
In the water, however, things remain serious, and serious is Gabriel Medina's business. It's been his business all week. Medina stays on Namotu; a risky affair with all the Aussies inhabiting the same island. Its star attraction is the bar, and this year festivities were more rowdy than usual with Taj Burrow's retirement on the schedule.
Fortunately for Medina, his step-father Charlie kept him safe from the down-day carnage. In fact, Gabriel and Adriano de Souza were the only competitors staying on Namotu who survived with their heads of hair intact. Everyone else on that island (and any Tavarua visitors) left with mohawks.
"Basically, we didn't go anywhere near the bar after dinner," De Souza laughed. "Gabe and I would skip dessert and run straight to our room and go to bed."
Not surprisingly, they were all business when competition resumed. In Medina's case, it was a ruthless campaign too. While he earned a 10-point ride in Round Four, his victories were all relatively low scoring. He averaged just over 14 points per heat in his 7 matches.
Kelly Slater, by contrast, was averaging close to 18 points right up until their semifinal match. Slater's return to form was the most welcomed storyline of the event. The champ looked like himself again...and that's all his fans have wanted.
John John Florence came to Fiji looking to gain some ground on Matt Wilkinson, and in the early going it looked like that was going to happen. Florence had the highest score of Round Three, and he needed every bit of his 18.76 points to get past Taj Burrow, in what became Taj's CT swan song.
Wilko would avenge Taj's honor, and his own, in Round Four, by getting the better of John John in the first of two heats they surfed together. But when they met again in the Quarterfinals on Friday morning the stakes were much larger. Wilko's resilience to the Florence onslaught is noteworthy. When the waves got fickle and it came to crunch time, he seemed to have the cooler head, and that's a factor that comes in handy during title battles.
Ace Buchan, meanwhile, is hoping to catch some of Wilko's winning bug. And why not? The Australian veteran has been one of the most under appreciated talents on Tour for years. Ace is an incredibly sharp guy and deep thinker, but sometimes it's better to shut the brain off and just let things go during heats...and that's what he did to get past a very dangerous looking Mick Fanning in their Quarterfinal match.
With his 3rd place finish Buchan moved to 7th on the Jeep Leaderboard rankings, and a quick glance at the Top 10 shows a bit of order being restored. Medina has moved all the way to No. 2 behind Wilkinson, and while John John is on his heels, Medina's track record is far more intimidating at this stage, especially if you're Matt Wilkinson.