"No one has ever taken it to Gabriel Medina at the start of heat before, no one has done it to him. You might not win the heat, but you will rattle him." That was Richard "Dog" Marsh's advice to a charged Frederico Morais, before the rookie faced Medina in their Round Three heat of the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach.
Marsh was referring to Medina's preference to always gaining the inside position at the start of the heat. The Brazilian, as a rule, will paddle straight to the inside and do what it ever it takes to hold his position. Marsh gave Morais the choice whether to take Medina on, but on one proviso: "If you do it, do it right. Don't look at your watch and do it till he cracks."
In that heat the pair paddle battled for the first eight minutes with Morias on the inside refusing to cede ground. Eventually Medina did crack and let Morais chose the first wave. It's difficult to say the impact that battle had on the rest of the heat, but it seemed to affect Medina and Morais did go on to win.
Morais' approach and Medina's loss did however pose the question whether a chink in the Brazilian's renowned competitive armor had been found. Alternatively, was it just a high risk strategy that would not normally pay off against one of surfing's gnarliest competitors? One thing is for sure, Medina didn't take loss lightly. While he had been in blistering form on the Gold Coast, the early Bells exit came on the back of a Round Two loss to wildcard Jacob Wilcox in the Margaret River Pro. Even for a notorious slow starter to the year, Medina's World No. 11 spot on the Jeep Leaderboard will have him fired up. A cornered Medina, needing a big result at home is a very dangerous prospect indeed.
After his loss at Margaret River, Medina's response was typical for one of the most focused and professional surfers on the CT. He jumped on the next plane to Bells and spent the next ten days in an intense training and surfing regime, with the sole focus of winning the competition. Now sure, Morais stuck his fingers in the spokes of that plan, but the process and the mentality will remain the same. If anything, Medina will now be working and training even harder. Again, the only goal will be to win in Rio.
While Medina grew up 300 miles to the south of Rio de Janeiro at Maresias, he has been surfing at Saquarema in competitions since he was a grom. In 2008 as 14-year-old he won an amateur comp held in ten foot waves at Ituana. More recently in 2013 he made the Semifinals in the Quiksilver Pro Saquarema, a Qualifying Series event also held in pumping conditions.
If he was rattled at Bells, then there is no better time, or venue, for Medina to reassert his composure, authority and World Title credentials. No one has worked harder or wants to win the Oi Rio Pro more. And if any competitor wants to try to get the inside at the start of the heat, they had better do it right.