Pic: WSL / Masurel

Is a world title just a day away?

Professional surfing steamed and clanged today toward its inevitable end point. Another Gabe Medina world title? Well, sure, I suppose. The inevitable point I’m more seeing however is a reveal moment, a crumbling of the fourth wall, where Joe Turpel breaks out of character, lights a cigarette, looks down the barrel of the camera and informs us that the past five years of pro surfing under the WSL has indeed been one long mockumentary, surfing’s own I’m Still Here moment bound for a 12-part Netflix series, where Dirk Ziff will be revealed as Sacha Baron Cohen and all the inexplicably wack moments and all the characters who seem straight from central casting and everything about pro surfing that hasn’t made any sense at the time will suddenly make sense. Surfing’s grand mainstream moment won’t be as a sport, but as a situational comedy.

The reveal moment won’t be in Peniche, however. No, the producers pulling the trigger on this plan don’t see ratings gold in the humble Portuguese fishing village, and nothing is as unsexy as the morning waft from the nearby sardine rendering plant, but we’re on course for the reveal moment on Medina’s world title. It feels like it’s just a day away.

Via the miracle of Facebook I tuned into the broadcast inside a half-rennoed Byron Bay nightclub last night just in time to see Matt Wilkinson desperately hanging on for his career against Jordy Smith. If Jordy finds a five in the last five minutes, Wilko will be taking up a residency in the same nightclub next year. But no, Supertubos does its thing and while there are waves everywhere there are none for Jordy, who starts clubbing his board in frustration. Wilko needs a good handful of heats to requalify, and he figures they’ll be easier to find in Portugal than they will be at Pipe.

Pic: WSL / Masurel

Despite the ratings mid-year suggesting otherwise, it’s felt like Medina has been on course for this world title for months. We’ve assumed his eyes would roll back in his head, he’d storm through Europe, and would leave himself little if anything to do at Pipe. Medina taps into vast reserves of dark energy at this time of year, and we’ve started looking for something – anything – that might trip him up, and in the past fortnight that’s taken the form of Ryan Callinan. Watching him I think back to the Lemoore contest, and how it felt from the start that there were only half a dozen guys with the progressive chops to win that event. Callinan – if he’d been there – would have been one of them. He’s going to be a new man on tour next year.

Now Callinan had his second chance in two weeks to hobble Medina, who was having none of it. Medina worked him over, before working over the seasick lineup. Guest commentary from Fanning cut to the quick of his Supertubos strategy – “stay in clean water, catch waves.” Holding the lead in the dying minutes however Medina forgot about the lineup and zeroed in on Callinan. His strategy was part ‘80s beachbreak, part proctology as he literally wore Callinan for five minutes. When a final wave appeared Gabe simply started flailing his arms like a wind-up bath toy and headed straight for the Novocastrian. He was like the big brother who windmills his arms walking toward his kid brother, then says it’s his fault for getting hit. The judges hit the kid brother with an interference and Medina marched on, almost – almost – apologetic for the style in which he’d done it.

Pic: WSL / Poullenot

While Medina, in terms of psychic energy seems to have grown to three times his normal size in Europe, Toledo seems to have shrunk. There have been no J-Bay boss moves, and his demise has almost seemed as inevitable as Medina’s rise. Toledo and his short rail game should have been all Supertubes against Joan Duru. Instead he gave up the best tube of the heat and had to scratch to get the lead back. There wasn’t anything commanding about his surfing, but with the lead, priority, and a minute to go he seemed to be safe. He clearly hadn’t watched Gabe’s heat however, because instead of wearing him he gave the Frenchman five yards, which he used to ice Toledo’s season. Ricardo Toledo’s whistle, telling his son to go sit on him, trailed off and blew away on the breeze.

Pic: WSL / Poullenot

There is still swagger and still hope for Julian Wilson however. After winning in France he’s come here and no one has made more sense of Supertubes than he has. He’s found the diamonds in the slurry, and I’d love to be privy to the conversations between he and coach Andy King as they plotted a course through that lineup. They’ve clearly got a plan because Joycey is finding waves others aren’t. Kingy as a coach and a person thinks with his heart, and maybe that’s the way to approach Supertubes. You can’t reason with it; you gotta go with the feels. The extra push in the swell, which filled in later in the day, works for Julian every day of the week.

But he’s given Medina a head start. Maybe too much. Medina has the ratings lead and is already into the quarters. That corky epoxy of his bobbed around the lineup in the dying Portuguese light and he did enough to make it through round four and faces, of all people, Wilko.






Sean Doherty