The wave that Gabriel Medina will remember most from yesterday’s Pipe Masters is the one that netted him his lowest score of the event and only a fraction of a point—0.17. But Medina probably couldn’t hear the judges announce the score as he surfed the small wave towards the beach. The cheers of his supporters and shouts of “Vai Medina!” (“Go Medina!”) were too loud.
That wave was Medina’s first as the ASP World Champion.
Ten minutes before that, Medina had the look of a boxer making his way to the ring. The 20-year-old from Maresias, Brazil, who earlier in the week, while the contest was on hold, had said he was passing the downtime playing poker with the other Rip Curl Team riders (sans Mick Fanning), was wearing his best poker face. Medina stared straight ahead. He kept his headphones on. He warmed up for his quarterfinal heat against Filipe Toledo (also from Brazil) and seemed oblivious to the cheering spectators.
Meanwhile, Mick Fanning was struggling to find a scoring ride in a wave-starved Round 5 heat against Alejo Muniz. Muniz, another of Medina’s countrymen on the tour, had already eliminated Kelly Slater in the third round. Six heats before that, Medina had beaten out Dusty Payne, 17.66 to 11.84, and ended Slater’s bid for a 12th World Title. “We’ll see,” Slater about the title race after his loss. “Mick is probably one of the greatest ever competitors; Gabriel is starting to be.”
Now, only Fanning stood in Medina’s way of becoming the first Brazilian to win the ASP World Title.
Everyone on the beach knew the situation. They knew that after Medina won his Round 4 heat and advanced straight through to the quarterfinals, the pressure was on Fanning. They knew that Fanning had to keep winning or Medina’s coronation would commence.
With each fall or missed opportunity for Fanning, Medina's supporters cheered louder, like fans of the Selecao in the dying minutes of extra time before a victory. Yet, unlike Brazil’s national soccer team, who collapsed this past summer in the World Cup, Medina fulfilled his country’s hopes and expectations. He became the youngest surfer since Slater in 1992 to take the ASP crown.
Once the final horn sounded on Fanning’s heat and the 33-year-old Australian’s chances at a fourth world title, Medina’s stoic expression dissolved. He cried. He embraced Toledo, Muniz and Fanning in the lineup. He splashed the water. He pointed to the sky, to his heart, and lastly, to his compatriots on the beach.
His father, Charles, who has been by his son’s side this entire year, jumped into the ocean. Others followed. A crowd of more than a hundred fans hoisting Brazilian flags and yellow flags emblazoned with Medina’s name and the words “2014 ASP World Champion” formed and rushed to the surf. They wanted to greet their champ.
“His championship, his happiness, means a lot to the crowd,” Muniz said in his post-heat interview as the celebration unfolded. “All I wanted to do was to help Gabriel.”
During Muniz’s interview the celebration swelled. While the throng of spectators chaired Medina up the beach it was easy to mistake the famous stretch of Hawaiian coastline for the Copacabana.
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“I don’t know what to say here,” Medina said. “I have a great support here…I just love the crowd.”
The feeling is mutual. And though questions now arise as to whether Medina can duplicate the performance next year, whether the result marks a new age for surfing, and whether Medina can start his own Slateresque dynasty, one thing is certain: Around 1:45 p.m. Hawaiian time Medina won the ASP world title—and so did Brazil.