Showing the grit, skill and determination of street fighter, Julian Wilson came back from combination to defeat Gabriel Medina in an epic Final at the 2017 Billabong Pro Tahiti. Wilson is the seventh different event winner on the 2017 Championship Tour, a season already full of enough twists and turns to fill a mystery novel. His comeback win against Medina was another unexpected turn of events in a season chock full of cliffhangers.
With the swell turning a more southerly direction on Finals day, Teahupo'o was looking a lot like the end section of Fiji's Cloudbreak. Rain squalls and morning sickness turned to smooth conditions and slate gray skies as the day went on.
Semi-consistent, overhead set waves focused on the point during the Final. In typical Medina fashion, he jumped out to an early lead, putting Wilson into a massive 17.87 combination and needing two big scores with time ticking away.
Wilson started his comeback with a late, air-drop-entry-to-tuberide that scored 9.23. He was back in the heat. After Medina caught three straight closeouts, Wilson found his opportunity. Typically, the Brazilian puts his opponents under intense pressure, squeezing the life out them like an Amazonian Anaconda. But he left the door just ajar for Wilson this time, and the Aussie exploited it.
With five minutes remaining, he stroked into a solid set wave, pulled into a deep tube and emerged after the spit. For his effort he was awarded a 9.73. The score was more than enough to seal the win, he'd saved the best for last. Amazingly, Wilson's last two rides of the Final were his two highest-scoring rides of the entire event. Call it clutch, call it mana, call it whatever you want, Wilson was now a Billabong Pro Tahiti champion. With his victory, Wilson jumps to No. 5 on the Jeep Leaderboard, while Medina moves up two spots to No. 7.
Wilson and Medina took divergent paths to the Final, revealing a contrast in approach and tactics. As WSL analyst Peter Mel pointed out numerous times during the webcast, Medina's ability to manufacture scores under priority is unmatched, and his knack for reading the wave at Teahupo'o is uncanny. He regularly turns 4-point waves into 8-point rides. He also gets under his opponent's skin like a spikey chunk of urchin spine.
Medina advanced through the upper half of the draw like a sniper, picking off high seeds one after another. First was former World No. 1 Matt Wilkinson in Round Five, then No. 4 Owen Wright in the Quarterfinals. Against Wright, Medina posted the first and solitary perfect 10 of the event on his opening ride. But it was his Semifinal clash with Kolohe Andino that captured the essence of Medina at a wave he's made his own.
A battle of wills broke out in Semifinal 1 between the Californian and the Brazilian. It was like a flashback to 1987, with the two longtime rivals engaged in an old-school chess match, matching wits in a game of psychological warfare not often seen on the CT.
After both surfers sat stubbornly for over 10 minutes, Head Judge Rich Porta ordered a restart. The heat turned on when Medina got the better of Andino, first faking a move up the point, only to sneak down into the bowl and get the wave that ultimately made the difference in the heat. It was highly entertaining if you like your pro surfing mixed with a bit of salty behavior.
Julian Wilson's path to the Final, however, was sublime by comparison. The 2014 Billabong Pipe Master winner took down red-hot rookie Joan Duru in Round Five, followed by a smash job on 2013 Billabong Pro Tahiti winner Ace Buchan.
Compared to the first Semifinal, Semifinal 2 between Julian Wilson and new World No. 1 Jordy Smith was a downright languid affair. From the get-go, Wilson took over control of the heat and never looked back, nearly doubling up Smith's total heat score. No matter what happened in the Semis, it was going to be Wilson's best-ever result in Tahiti. For Jules, his run to the Final launches him into a growing pack of Title contenders, riding serious momentum on the back of a 3rd at J-Bay and 5th in Fiji. If there was a triple crown for the Dream Leg, he'd be the taking home the trophy.
For Smith, it signals his return to the top of the Jeep Leaderboard for the first time since his win at J-Bay in 2011. He'll be wearing the Yellow Jersey when the Tour hits Lowers in September, a wave that Smith has had great success at in the past, including wins there in 2014 and 2016. Smith's clearly not getting ahead of himself, however. "Still a long way to go, but no better place to be than in the front, eh?," he said, when asked about donning the yellow singlet.
Yes, there's definitely still a long way to go in the race for the 2017 World Title, with three crucial events still remaining before the Tour storms the North Shore for the Pipe Masters in early December. But with Wilson and Medina now fully vetted into the Title chase, there will be many more curves in the road before a World Champion is crowned.
The next stop on the 2017 World Surf League Championship Tour will be the Hurley Pro and Swatch Women's Pro at Trestles. The heated WSL Title race will continue in San Clemente, California, as the world's best surfers will take on Lower Trestles from September 6 through September 17, 2017.
Billabong Pro Tahiti Final Results: 1 - Julian Wilson (AUS) 18.96 2 - Gabriel Medina (BRA) 17.87
Billabong Pro Tahiti Semifinal Results: SF 1: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 15.16 def. Kolohe Andino (USA) 13.90 SF 2: Julian Wilson (AUS) 14.26 def. Jordy Smith (ZAF) 7.33
Billabong Pro Tahiti Quarterfinal Results: QF 1: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 18.23 def. Owen Wright (AUS) 13.94 QF 2: Kolohe Andino (USA) 14.33 def. Wiggolly Dantas (BRA) 7.67 QF 3: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 14.50 def. John John Florence (HAW) 13.10 QF 4: Julian Wilson (AUS) 15.16 def. Joan Duru (FRA) 9.00
2017 WSL Men's Jeep Leaderboard (After Billabong Pro Tahiti ): 1 - Jordy Smith (ZAF) 37,850 pts 2 - John John Florence (HAW) 36,900 pts 3 - Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 35,950 pts 4 - Owen Wright (AUS) 35,350 pts 5 - Julian Wilson (AUS) 33,200 pts