"Friday afternoon. A hundred degrees in the shade. Not a breath of wind. Game time." And so Jake Howard set the scene for the inaugural Surf Ranch Pro.
Surfing hadn't seen anything like it. With the randomness of the ocean removed, surfers had no excuses and nowhere to hide. They had to perform, on time, and under pressure. No wonder then it was surfing's most pressure-resistant surfer, Gabriel Medina, who came out on top.
Medina has shown his ice-cold temperament throughout his career. His first World Title in 2014 secured at the Final event in Pipeline was intense. With Kelly Slater and Mick Fanning waiting for any mistakes, the then 20-year-old had surfed fearlessly to clinch Brazil's first World Title.
And just prior to the Surf Ranch Pro he'd won in Tahiti, defeating Julian Wilson with a buzzer beater to kickstart his 2018 World Title challenge. His will to win meant he never ever gave up on a heat and was always prepared to risk it all to win. The golfer Lee Trevino once said that pressure is playing for ten dollars when you don't have a dime in your pocket. That's the way Medina surfs, every heat.
The Surf Ranch did however throw up a new challenge. "It is the most high-performance wave we've ever surfed," he said before the event. "The thing about here is that you have to surf both ways good, backhand and forehand. And you don't get many chances to get it right."
If that, for once, betrayed any signs of nerves his first wave immediately put the other surfers on notice on what was required. Medina seamlessly negotiated the kinks on the left and instead of going for the final barrel section lofted a Kerrupt flip and added a shuv-it for a little shampoo at the end. The move was no less astonishing for the fact that he'd said was going to do it before he paddled out. It netted him a 9.30, at the time the highest score yet to rise out of the basin.
As the event progressed it was only Medina that failed to melt in the Central Californian heat. He was smart and solid on backhand, and posted a score that put further pressure on his opponents. As the tennis great Arthur Ashe said, "The ideal attitude is to be physically loose and mentally tight." Medina was both.
Kelly Slater, Filipe Toledo, Kanoa Igarashi and Julian Wilson all had singular waves of brilliance and so each had a shot at him. However all fell on big moves that could have taken the win. In a leaderboard-style format designed to have the tension ramped up to the final wave, Medina wrapped up the win before his last run.
It was a masterclass in tempering a new format and surfing environment. He bent the waves and the competition to his will. The victory also slashed the lead on the Jeep Leaderboard and was the start of a run that would eventually land him his second World Title later in the year at Pipe. Looking back now, it was a revolutionary new game for surfing. With the added pressure of the Surf Ranch, no one was better at the game than Gabriel Medina.