In Joseph Campbell's classic, The Hero's Journey, once the hero has accepted the call to adventure, she faces tests, allies, and enemies. Yago Dora, who's surfing as a wildcard in the Oi Rio Pro, may be facing all three of those in one single heat when he faces Gabriel Medina in Round Five.
Medina, of course, was the 2014 World Champion -- the first from Brazil, and a national hero on par with Neymar, the country's god of soccer. If you miss him on the beach, you can catch him in ads for everything from razors to cologne. Competitively, he has been compared to Kelly Slater for his technical prowess, calm under pressure and pure brilliance above or below the lip. No, there's nothing he cannot do on a piece of foam (or epoxy) and three fins.
So far in this event, Dora has surfed every heat -- meaning that he has lost a few, and won a few -- and is still relatively new to competition. The son of prominent coach Leandro Dora, Yago has good training, but delayed his competitive career to free surf and film video parts for most of his teens. While Medina was wowing judges and refining his heat strategies, Dora was going on boat trips and blowing up in magazine spreads and movies.
Which is all to say: Dora will not only be facing his biggest competitive battle ever, but also the split allegiance of a Brazilian crowd on the beach that adores Medina -- but might just have a new hero to love.
And yet, Medina is on a journey as well. Already the hero here, he's now on the defense. So far this season, he has a third place, a 25th place and a 13th, and currently sits at No. 11 on the Jeep rankings. In other words, not quite the track record of an athlete who's on a hot streak. What's more is that, in Dora, he has a formidable opponent. Already this week in Saquarema, despite the heat losses, Dora has taken down two heavyweights -- Kolohe Andino and the current World Champ, John John Florence -- in a massive blow to the establishment.
It's clear that Dora's decision to delay a serious run at contest surfing was a savvy one. On the Qualifying Series (QS), he's already ranked No. 3. This week, he's not only transferring those lessons to the elite arena, but he's carrying the kind of confidence that's essential for success against the world's best. Sure -- Mick Fanning surged ahead in their Round Four heat -- but there's no doubt that Dora can hold his own.
In the near-term, the Medina-Dora battle won't affect much, rankings-wise. Medina has a long way to go this year to get into the Title race talk. Dora will be heading back to the QS, where he's working to make the big leagues next year. But a win for Medina would confirm his capacity for staying even-keeled, and perhaps signify a tack back toward the greatness of which he's capable. A win for Dora, meanwhile, would further underscore his confidence in the face of surf celebrity, and send a collective shiver down the backs of his future opponents.
Watch Dora vs. Medina live on the WSL website, app and connected devices. The next call is Tuesday, May 16 at 7:00 a.m. BRT.