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Gabriel Medina Is Still the Man to Beat in France

It may seem like ages ago, but it's only been a month since World No. 8 Gabriel Medina's unexpected Round Three exit from the Hurley Pro at Trestles at the hands of his countryman and old rival, Jadson Andre. Now, "unexpected" is a loaded word and it probably doesn't give enough credit to both Andre's surfing at Lowers, or probably just as importantly, his tactics.

In their clash, Andre effectively out "Medina'd" Medina. Which is to say Andre wouldn't let Medina bully his way into first priority to open the heat. He put the 2014 World Champ under pressure and he stayed extremely busy, catching nine waves, matching Medina's tally. The tactic rattled the former Champ. Bringing a number of seasoned pundits, including both Barton Lynch and Martin Potter, to comment that they'd never seen him fall that many times in an entire event, let alone a single heat.

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So, with the Quiksilver Pro France set to begin in less than 48 hours, Andre's win over Gabby begs the question: Will there be any lingering effects and can someone repeat the trick?

The short answer is: It's unlikely, for a couple of reasons.

His recent results are unparalleled. He's won in France twice in his six seasons on Tour (2011, 2015), has reached four Finals overall, including three in the past four years, and has been the dominate surfer in the tempestuous sandbars surrounding Hossegor. The young Brazilian is c'est si bon, the King of la Plage.

His two victories at the Quik Pro are bested only by Mick Fanning (4), Kelly Slater (3), and Andy Irons (3). That's pretty good company. Not to mention, he holds the all-time best average heat score (14.64) and heat winning percentage (78%).

Stats are nice but they don't paint the entire picture. Medina is perhaps the best surfer on Tour at constructing a heat. To use a terribly hackneyed competitive surfing cliché, he knows how to build a house. Medina's become the Frank Lloyd Wright of competitive surfing. Brick by brick, he adds momentum, building upon his previous rides until the bricks become a wall, which then become a fortress of 9-point rides surrounded by a moat built of 8s. Good luck storming that castle.

Gabriel Medina of Brazil placed runner-up to Julian Wilson of Australia in the final of the Billabong Pro Tahiti.  Medina posted a heat total of 17.87 points (out of a possible 20.00) which included a near perfect 9.20 point ride (out of a possible 10.00) Medina was in beast mode at the Billabong Tahiti Pro 2017. WSL / Kelly Cestari

Finally, despite the unfortunate circumstances at Trestles, Medina relishes surfing under priority, especially in the wide-open spaces afforded by French Continental sandbanks. To some strategists, it's a tactic better suited to 3- or 4-man heats and conditions significantly inferior to the quality typical of the Dream Tour - waves and locations that require patience, places where wave selection becomes tantamount to success and survival.

For most, it's often a tactic born of necessity, you fall behind and need to play catch-up. But for Medina it's the new normal. He's the new dark master of surfing under priority, picking off waves at will, smothering his opponents. He competes like a hungry Tiger shark, perpetually in motion, eyeing the horizon menacingly, changing direction with the slightest whiff of a wave.

Gabriel Medina (BRA) in Round 3. Brutalizing a Bay of Biscay lip on his way to victory at the Quiksilver Pro France in 2015. WSL / Poullenot/Aquashot

What it doesn't allow for is complacency, while simultaneously building rhythm and timing with both the ocean and within a surfer's performance. Holding priority, however, works best when you're trying to kill off a heat, strangling your opponent's opportunities, pinching off their lifeblood - more waves.

Kelly Slater is another master of surfing under priority. It's worked out pretty well for him.

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