It was a year of contrasts for two-time World Champion Gabriel Medina. He dominated a season in which he displayed a clearly more relaxed, content style on land.
Athletes of Medina's caliber often double down on their singular, win-at-all-costs attitude but for the Brazilian, his best season yet coincided with a chilled out vibe. He was happily and new married, and the first time in his career he was traveling without step-dad and former coach Charlie Rodrigues.
He wasn't holding anything back in the water. But on land, in the athlete area and around the event sites, this fierce competitor infamous for his enigmatic, guarded persona was decidedly stoked. Importantly, the best way to describe his new approach was that he seemed to be enjoying himself, regardless of the results.
And whatever Medina was doing this year, it worked. He won two events, and placed second in three more. This gave him a 11,740 point lead on rival and world no.2 Italo Ferreira.
When he was on a roll in the events he won -- the Rip Curl Narrabeen Classic presented by Corona and the Rip Curl Rottnest Search presented by Corona -- he looked unstoppable. These were some of the most elevated, technically advanced performances in pro surfing history.
His worst result all year was a ninth place finish at the Boost Mobile Margaret River Pro presented by Corona. His second-worst was a fifth at the Corona Open Mexico presented by Quiksilver. To put that into perspective, his worst finishes are equivalent other athlete's on the Championship Tour's best.
With John John Florence out for much of the season with a knee injury, there was times this season when it looked as if the only person with any hope of holding Medina back was Ferreira. He's one of the only people on Tour with the ability to match Medina in the air, as well as in the barrel or on the face of the wave.
Such is Medina's dominance at this point that it's actually hard to identify any weaknesses. In previous years, you would have said it's that he starts slow and doesn't even seem to become interested until the season is half over. This time around, he dominated out of the gate.
Sitting atop the rankings, he only needs to win two heats at the Rip Curl WSL Finals at Lower Trestles to claim a third World Title. Considering his form this year, that's not a tall order. Really the only thing working against him is the pressure of having it all riding on one heat, but pressure has never phased him before.
Rip Curl WSL Finals runs from September 9-17, 2021 in San Clemente, California. A historic, one-day, winner-take-all race for the 2021 World Title, don't miss a second of the action right here on WorldSurfLeague.com.