- WSL / Kirstin Scholtz
From Maresias to the Big Leagues
No one should be surprised that Gabriel Medina has risen to the top of professional surfing. Here's why.

Move over Cocoa Beach, with your double-digit Title-winning titan of surf. Look out Snapper Rocks, with your seeming endless stream of Champions. There's a new break in town called Maresias. And it's home to the 2014 ASP World Champion, Gabriel Medina.

At just 20 years old, Medina is the most successful surfer ever to have come from Brazil. If his meteoric rise to the top of surfing's ranks has sparked surfing fever across the country, it has also begun to put his home break on the map. In contrast to the rep of Brazil's beachbreaks as ground zero for progression, Maresias is different: Along with punchy days for airs and rotations, in autumn and winter the combination of south swells and offshore wind creates long walls and powerful, hollow barrels.

Medina vs. Slater in Tahiti
Medina shocked the world when he took on massive Teahupo'o with little to no experience there.

"Many compare Maresias with Puerto Escondido, or even Teahupo'o, depending on how it's breaking,” said Carlos Bahia, professional longboarder and former coach of the Maresias Junior local surf team. “If you can surf in Maresias you can surf anywhere else in the world.”

For Medina, growing up at the moody break was integral to his success. "At the [ASP World] Tour we have to surf barrels and we have to do maneuvers, and this is where it all started. I think I had a good foundation.”

Replay Medina's year, wave by wave, with his Heat Analyzer

Medina's event wins this year in Tahiti and Fiji, then, shouldn't have been surprises. "I always liked to surf that way, always been bold,” he said. “I like to take risks." He remembers being a child, 10 or 11 years old, and believing that the waves were always perfect at home. "It was like this every day, is the impression I have of that time. It used to have the channel, lefts and rights, and the rip current that I loved surfing [here]. It is a heavy, powerful and tubular wave. But it also has its small days, which are good for training maneuvers.

Medina's Fiji Win
Medina owes his win in Fiji's hollow barrels in part to his home break in Brazil.

While Medina has benefitted from his early training, Maresias hasn't always been a surf destination. Until the 1970s, access to the town was possible only by a long dirt road and a long trip, drawing only the most intrepid of surfers. While Medina's mother, Simone, and stepfather, Charlie Serrano, were originally from the state capital, both chose to live in Maresias, where they eventually met when Gabriel was a child.

With a population of about five thousand and an economy based on fishing and tourism, the beach now blends the local culture with the arrival of wealthy tourists. The coexistence underscores the contrast between the modest neighborhoods on the town's outskirts with the luxury condos popping up on the waterfront.

It is a heavy, powerful and tubular wave. - Medina on Maresias

Medina's embrace of the town's quality surf started early. While he had dreams of becoming a football player, he learned to surf and Charlie quickly noticed that his stepson had a distinct talent in the waves. Medina's development in the water was outstanding, and before long he was competing and winning events as a grommet.

Bahia, the local juniors coach, was one of the first to identify Medina's off-the-charts talent. "I met Gabriel when he was about 8 years old. At the time I had a project every Tuesday and Thursday, training with local young surfers. I noticed that the way he surfed was different from others. He had a lot of speed, very good wave reading and did what I call 'surf in the triangle,' always moving in the lineup.

Medina's Road to the Championship
More than anything else, Medina's career -- the successes, the struggles -- has been all about family.

“He caught a wave and didn't go back to the same place he was. He went the other way, like, to the right. Then he caught a right and went back to the left, and so on. He always surfed like this, and it's what he does today in the heats, even on free surfs.” Bahia accompanied Medina to numerous early contests. When the future star was still thin and without the confidence to be in the surf alone, Bahia often paddled with him until they got to the outside.

Miguel Pupo, WCT No. 15, grew up with Medina and is one of his closest friends. He believes that Maresias and Paúba, a barreling beachbreak to the north, played an important role in the development of both as surfers. "Maresias is a difficult wave to surf,” said Pupo. “In addition, Gabriel has always been very competitive and learns everything very quickly. In a few years he was making finals and winning championships.

Medina's epic year, in pictures

“He always had this obsession to catch many waves in a session, and I think that's what helped him to evolve so fast."

Pupo father, Wagner, was a competitor himself in the 1980s and 90s and, when Medina set his sights on surfing, helped the the family navigate the professional shoals. "I knew how things worked in the surf industry and often Simone [Medina's mother] went to our house to talk about it,” said the elder Pupo. “It was a new world for them.”

Medina's stepdad, meanwhile, served as a coach and mentor from the start. "When we realized he had talent, we try to help in every way,” said Serrano. “I even went further to understand how things work, training, and tried to share that.”

Home of a Star
After a childhood without many resources on the outskirts of Maresias, much has changed for Medina. Now one of the highest-paid surfers in the world, he has a new home at the town's waterfront. The house boasts five bedrooms, a swimming pool, sauna, barbecue space and gym, and he shares it with his mother, Simone, Charlie and siblings Felipe, 17, and Sophia, 8.

If the success achieved by Medina has already impacted life for him and his family, his World Title campaign and win has had major impact both on Maresias and Brazil as a whole. In early November, when Maresias hosted the prestigious O'Neill SP Prime, an estimated 20,000 people descended on the beach to see it. "I believe that a World Title, that we are hoping Gabriel will win, will have a huge and positive impact on the local community of Maresias," said Wagner Pupo.

"Whether he [had won] the Title or not, the impact has been made,” said the younger Pupo. “The surf fever has dominated not only Maresias, but all of Brazil."

"It is beautiful to see. Maresias certainly will have a stronger name on the world surfing map.”

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