Rivalries push the high-stakes nature of competitive surfing. The head-to-head heats create friction and animosity. And it's those rivalries that keep us coming back for more, no matter where in the world or what kind of waves the battles go down in.
Eleven-time world champ Kelly Slater, who knows a thing or two about rivalries, has said he loves to see surfers who don't like each other to go at. Look no further than his epic clashes with Andy Irons to see this in all it's glory.
Who else would whisper, "I love you," into the ear of their arch nemesis before paddling out at Pipeline? Only Slater.
The two surfers were able to eventually reconcile their differences before Irons passing in 2010, which left the door wide open for the next great rivalry on the Championship Tour. Gabriel Medina and Julian Wilson were happy to pick up the torch and run with it.
Over the course of their 10 years on Tour together, the boys have evenly split their duels with a 5-5 head-to-head record. They've met in six Finals, and once again, split the series with a 3-3 record.
The first time they met in a Final was in Portugal back in 2012. In challenging conditions, Wilson took the event win and literally left Medina crying on the podium. Back in Europe the next season, Medina avenged the loss, defeating Wilson in the Quarters.
In 2014, the stakes were huge in Hawaii as Wilson topped Medina in the Final of the Pipe Masters in what was probably the best, hardest fought heat of their decade-long rivalry. Both surfers tallied near perfect 19-point heat totals. Wilson also captured a Vans Triple Crown title for the effort. Of course, earning his maiden World Title wasn't a bad consolation prize for the Brazilian.
The pair met in two more Finals in 2017. Wilson edged out Medina at Teahupoo in small, but contestable conditions. Medina then got Wilson back in Portugal at the end of season.
The last Final they surfed against one another was at the 2018 Pipe Masters. With a World Title on the line, this time it was Medina's turn to hoist the Masters trophy.
With Wilson deciding to hang up the jersey for now, the last heat between these two competitors may have come during the recent Olympics. Like Slater and Irons, the fiery rivalry of years past seems to have cooled as both surfers shared a moment of mutual respect, signing boards for one another.
But now, with Wilson stepping aside, who's going to push Medina? Clearly he's been surfing on a completely different level this season. He's the only male to have clinched a spot in the upcoming Rip Curl WSL Finals and has only missed one Final all season.
The most obvious answer to this question would be fellow Brazilians Italo Ferreira and Filipe Toledo. John John Florence would normally be in this conversation, but he's out for the remained of the season as he continues to rehab from knee surgery.
With a gold medal, a World Title and seven CT wins, Ferreira's one of the few to crack the code against Medina. He owns their head-to-head matchups with a 7-4 record. Three of those matchups have come in Finals, where Ferreira owns Medina with a 2-1 record.
Meanwhile, Toledo, the current world number three with 10 career CT wins, could be another opponent that intensifies Medina's drive. Despite have the third most wins of any competitor on Tour, Toledo has not accomplished his dream of winning a World Title. In career matchups, Toledo leads Medina 3-2. And now with a stop coming up in Mexico and the Rip Curl WSL Finals at Trestles, this may be the best shot to win a Title for Toledo.
Whatever happens for the rest of the season, Medina, Ferreira and Toledo sit atop the men's WSL Leaderboard and look like they'll all be battling for the World Title at season's end. What kind of inspiration Medina is able to draw from this remains to be seen … and we'll all be watching.
The Corona Open Mexico presented by Quiksilver kicks off on August 10, 2021. Don't miss a minute of the action.