Gabriel Medina defeated Julian Wilson in the Final of the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal today at Supertubos, claiming back-to-back wins in Europe and putting a rocket under his 2017 World Title chances. Having shot from No. 7 on the Jeep Leaderboard coming into the Europe to No. 2 -- and within 3,100 points of Jeep Leader John John Florence -- surf fans can now relish the prospect of a four-way men's World Title showdown at the Billabong Pipe Masters, with Medina as the favorite from among the chasing pack that includes Wilson and Jordy Smith.
"I'm really happy right now, I had a goal to just win an event in Europe so to win those two is incredible," admitted Medina. "Now I feel tired, that was a lot of work. Julian got me so many times so it feels good to get one back over him. When he got the score at five minutes I thought ‘Oh my God not again,' but I kept going and I'm so stoked I won in the end."
Seemingly all but out of any kind of 2017 World Title chances just two weeks ago, Medina's historic back-to-back European wins, is testimony to a ferocious competitive drive only matched by his skill set, which is uniquely suited to Europe's notoriously ever-changing beachbreak conditions.
"Before I wasn't, but now I'm definitely thinking about the Title," Medina added, in surely the most telling statement from all those that have gone on record these past two weeks. "[John] has an advantage with more points, but you know anything can happen. I want to surf Pipe so bad, I love that wave and I got some good results there in the past, and nothing's impossible."
While awkward, low-tide conditions made for scant opportunities for most of the 35-minute final, Medina -- the 2014 World Champion -- soon grasped the mettle, adopting a proactive, almost scattergun approach that contrasted sharply with Wilson's more patient, selective method. The Brazilian launched a series of speculative air attempts on his backhand, seemingly playing the percentage game that something, at some point, had to stick.
Having built up a slim lead via a quick-running tube, Medina then inexplicably allowed Wilson to turn the heat with less than eight minutes to go, gifting the Australian -- who's had the better of all of their senior professional Final clashes, most recently in Tahiti this year -- to go on a left for a tight, throaty tube and the score.
Temporarily on the back foot, Medina used the preparatory range-finding efforts to help nail two lefts in final few minutes with a straight air and an air-reverse, and put to bed a tight Final. Their match conspicuously lacked any of the acrimony that has become a hallmark of the pair's past Final encounters, most notably the one here in 2012.
"It was an awesome few days here, we had great challenging conditions before and cute, smaller conditions today," Wilson said. "We always get a good test coming here to Peniche, it can be intimidating, or super exciting going for big airs. I'm glad we got a couple of exchanges in that heat and congratulations to Gabriel."
The day had begun with the prospect of the World Title being awarded at Supertubos for the second year running, but a fired-up Kolohe Andino soon put pay to that, with a one-sided win over Florence, the reigning World Champion. In a wave-starved heat that saw Florence only ride four waves for a combined heat score of a 3.80, a combo away from his 2017 heat average, and more significantly, from Andino.
"It was just really hard to find waves out there," Florence said. "He found two really fun ones but even still it wasn't those ones we were seeing in the morning, I was excited to get out there and get barreled but couldn't find them. I get to go home now and I'm really excited to go surf Pipe and hopefully we get some good waves. If I win at home it will be even more meaningful."
That set up Andino for an enticing clash with Wilson, which didn't fail to live up to its billing. With the swell pulsing for their first Semifinal, a high-scoring, above-the-lip aerial duel was always in the cards. Yet Andino, who by his own admission was in career-best form yesterday, ultimately fell short against Wilson, whose greater Finals day experience was seeing him patiently build form in calculated, save- the-best-for-last fashion.
"I feel like I finally showed how I can surf, especially yesterday so I'm stoked on that," said Andino after the encounter. "Six years on tour and I feel like I've never surfed at 100 percent, and yesterday I feel like I did that so I'm really happy. I'm trying to be honest with myself and get better at the things I need to get better at so I'll continue to work hard on that."
While Medina‘s Semifinal with Kanoa Igarashi was a slow encounter with rips chewing and straightening the small peaks, the prospect of another Final with Wilson, as well as his residual competitive desires made it only ever seem like going one way.
Medina's unprecedented, yet hardly unexpected back-to-back wins in Europe have atoned for his uncharacteristic early-season patchy form, and have now set up a tantalizing showdown at the world's most infamous surf spot in the season finale.
And even the most die-hard Florence fans, no matter how much they would've wanted him to lock up the World Title at the earliest opportunity, will be relishing the prospect of the Jeep Leaderboard No. 1 trying to bring home the trophy literally in his own backyard.
For all the Jeep Leaderboard jumps and World Title scenarios that played out a result of proceedings here in Portugal, you couldn't help but feel that today, surf fans everywhere were the real winners.
Title Scenarios Heading into the Billabong Pipe Masters:
If Florence finishes in 1st or 2nd place at Pipe, he will clinch the 2017 World Title;
If Florence finishes in 3rd, Medina will need a 1st to clinch the 2017 Title;
If Florence finishes in 5th, Medina needs a 1st;
If Florence finishes in 9th, Medina needs a 2nd, and Jordy Smith needs a 1st;
If Florence finishes in 13th or 25th, Medina needs a 5th, Smith needs 2nd, and Wilson needs 1st.