Welcome back to Post-Script, a quick overview of each event on the WSL championship tour. Today, a review of the off season and recap of the Meo Rip Curl Pro Portugal.
When we left Tahiti, Filipe was in 1st, Jordy 2nd, Kolohe 3rd and Gabriel Medina was in 4th after a narrow loss to Owen Wright at Teauhupo’o where surfers were throwing themselves over the ledge, into heaving blue water barrels over shallow reef . . . trading 8’s, coupling courage with ocean attunement. Asserting athleticism to prove superiority over their foe. And then they went to a brown water basin surrounded by dusty cow pastures in Central California. When I mustered the interest to watch, every 5 minutes the wheezing sound of the train that’s required to generate the artificial wave would wake me from the slumber that was induced by the surfing and general lack of action, rivalry and drama of the Surf Ranch Pro. With completely predictable waves, maneuvers, and even results, along with an indecipherable contest format, not only to us viewers, but indecipherable to the competitors and commentary team as comically revealed in Stab’s No Contest video. So by eliminating the key interesting element of surfing, i.e., it’s unpredictable nature, and then shoe-horning a completely contrarian event format into the world title race, the WSL effectively lost my viewing interest in not only the Surf Ranch Pro, but also the title race and the season at large. I’ve been closely tracking the narrative and it felt like the WSL halted the story at Surf Ranch, handed me a different script, a very predictable one, and now I’m left to meld these two stories . . . with a new #1 ranked surfer, which was a foregone conclusion before the event started. And very strangely with John John still in the top 5 even though he hasn’t surfed since Brazil.
Well all the predictability I’d criticized in the basin was completely upended once the World Surf League went back to the ocean. Listen to the men’s quarterfinals in France; Leonardo Fioranvanti, Jack Freestone, Jeremy Flores, and less surprisingly Italo Ferreira. Gabe botched a heat and lost to Ace Buchan in the round of 16. As did Jordy to JFlo. Filipe lost to Wildcard Marc Lacomare and cited back pain. The remaining title hopefuls to add value to their campaigns were Kolohe Andino and Italo Ferreira. Jeremy Flores won the event by surfing the exact same way he was surfing in 2008. This catapulted him like a time machine back into the top 10, where he was STILL positioned behind John John Florence. Did I already mention how bizarre things are right now? Leaving France the rankings read, in order Gabe, Filipe, Jordy, Italo, Kolohe.
I had hoped that my waning interest in the season was simply a reflection of me, my travel schedule, and the time difference between Europe and California, but the Meo Rip Curl Pro Portugal kicked off with yet another whimper. Sloppy, albeit relatable, surf. Sloppy performances. Only 2 surfers scored more than 13 points in the opening round. Plagued with a bad forecast, the opening day continued into Round 2 to take advantage of the swell despite the unfavorable conditions. And again, as I’ve stated all year long; both of these rounds are run just to dispatch 4 surfers. To continue my illustration of the Tour’s bloat, I’ll go ahead a read the 4 surfers we eliminated with all that time and resource . . . 24th ranked Zeke Lau, 32nd ranked Ricardo Christie who broke his flawless streak of 17th to log his first 33rd, along with Ryan Callinan and Seth Moniz.
As the conditions improved towards Round 4, the swell diminished.
Jordy Smith scalped two Colapinto brothers in small, clean waves. Kanoa beat Kelly.
Heat 5 of Round 4 saw Caio Ibelli vs Gabriel Medina and it turned into a highlight heat and a pivotal moment for the entire season, not because of the waves or surfing, but because of an interference that Gabriel incurred, eliminating him from the event, his first place ranking, and with it, sending the world title race to Pipeline.
Gabriel was dominating the heat and 8 minutes remained. He and Caio split a peak and ended up 150 yards away from one another, they both paddled straight out from where they completed their respective rides. Caio made it to the line up first, so the priority judge gave Caio priority. The WSL posted it on the priority disc that is visible to the two competitors and announced it over the loud speaker.
Caio then made his way towards Gabriel Medina because that’s where the better peak was. What Gabriel Medina would later argue is the thought that since Caio arrived at that peak 2nd, he presumed he had priority despite the verbal announcement and the fact that the visual cue showed it was Caio’s. The next wave came and with deeper positioning and deemed priority, Caio paddled out towards it, Gabriel blocked Caio’s path towards the wave, so Caio stopped short, spun and paddled toward the beach to catch the wave, Gabriel was still partially in Caio’s path for the direction he wanted to go on the right and thereby impeded Caio’s path and even bumped rails with him while paddling and while Caio was standing up. The judges immediately deemed it an interference against Gabriel Medina which eliminated one entire wave score. Caio was still left needing a score, which he eventually got and won the heat. Gabriel flailed his arms, seemingly upset at the decision. After the heat he spent 20 minutes with the judges, presumably stating his case and asking for explanation. The round and event finished without the commentary team so much as revisiting the topic of what seemed to be a controversy.
A firestorm erupted online through 2 of next 6 laydays. It was all that anyone discussed. To a casual viewer, it seemed Gabriel made a huge priority blunder. That is until Gabe took to Instagram and argued that the priority judges had mistakenly given Caio priority prior to that interference. Gabe argued that he, in fact, got into the line up first, so he never checked the priority disc and that is why he went on the wave. Which, in reality, he didn’t go on the wave which will become important when I do deliver my own conjecture.
Gabriel further stated that, “I hope my case will be re-evaluated because there has been an error”, end quote, in essence blaming the priority judge. The WSL responded publicly on their Instagram the following day and stated that they have extensively reviewed all angles and there was no error. Caio paddled out into the line up first, received priority justly and then repositioned down the beach next to Gabriel, and the WSL posted footage of multiple timecoded angles to illustrate the event.
So even if the priority judge had made a mistake, it’s still the competitors responsibility to check the disc and verify priority, so in short, Gabe’s failure was the result of him not doing his basic due diligence.
But I’d like to present my own version of what I think happened. I don’t believe Gabriel thought that he had priority in the first place. I think he knew Caio had priority, he thought that wave had scoring potential and so he was attempt to block Caio from getting into his best position to get the score, and in his attempt to block, he bumped rails, got the interference and then manufactured a story; that he was under informed and that the priority judges made a mistake.
I believe this because firstly, Gabriel has a long history of this exact paddle blocking technique. He did it to CJ Hobgood at Bells in 2012, paddling and sitting straight in front of CJ’s line of paddling into a set wave. CJ threw a fit, but the judges didn’t have a rule in place for that type of blocking. CJ then took matters into his own hands and out surfed Gabriel for the win. It happened again in heat 6 of round 3 at the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast in 2015, which is strangely missing from the heat analyzer on WorldSurfLeague.com while all the other heats are still posted. Anyway, not only did Gabe attempt that same blocking technique with Glenn Hall. He went on to lose that heat as well, then used the F word when telling his version of the incident in his post heat interview. The WSL then fined him for the expletive as it was a violation of their athlete code of conduct.
Gabriel then did the exact same paddle blocking technique against Kolohe Andino at Cloudbreak a few years ago, this time so egregious that the WSL created a new rule just to prevent it from happening again. And I’m pretty sure he did it to Conner Coffin earlier in that same event, but I’m not entirely certain.
But just to be clear, what Gabriel is doing in these instances is, when he doesn’t have priority and he sees that the priority surfer is paddling towards a wave with scoring potential, he’ll paddle with them or in front of them to block or force them to take a different path to the wave. This is usually while the priority surfer is paddling out to meet the wave. They are angling for the best position of take off and approach. All the priority rules prior were designed for once the surfer aimed towards the beach paddling into the wave. Gabriel was implementing a technique where he’d jeopardize or more specifically impede the priority surfer’s approach and access of the wave.
Well, having gotten away with it for years he tried yet again with Caio. Caio knowing the rules now favored him, never backed off and neither did Gabe and they bumped rails, made contact, which made it a very cut and dry decision for the judges.
Now, all that history helps provide context for my theory that Gabriel is disingenuous about thinking he had priority, but the next super obvious bit of info is more damning. That is, if Gabriel truly thought he had priority, he would have just surfed the wave. He saw Caio’s intent to go, so Gabe would have welcomed that, not challenged it. He would have stood up on the wave and forced the interference on Caio.
Check every single heat Gabriel has ever surfed; when he has priority, he paddles into each wave with impunity and he surfs it, never so much as looking at his competitor. In this scenario, Gabriel never even looks down the line at the wave. His sole focus is on Caio’s actions. So it’s very evident to me that Gabriel attempted a blocking maneuver that we’ve seen him implement for 7 years, one that the WSL implemented a new rule to prevent, and he got called on it, and rather than accepting the ruling and perhaps even admitting to his desire to test the limits of the rules, he threw a public tantrum, manufactured a fake story and shifted the blame to the priority judges.
And as a result, Caio Ibelli woke up the next morning with death threats in his Instagram Direct Messages, which led to other pros taking to Instagram asking for a cease fire and calming of tempers.
All of this may sound like I’m chastising Gabe. I’m not. I love this. I wish I had enough material to do impassioned side rants in every podcast. But I don’t because one of the only promises that pro surfers bring to the Championship Tour is talent. We’re lucky if they also bring competitive desire, which very surprisingly, some don’t. Very few actually bring drama, most avoid it. And the most we get for personality is an occasional novelty mullet, a beard thanks to Wade Carmichael, someone playing guitar on Instagram or better yet, if someone wears a hat, like not a sponsors ball cap, but a full brimmed hat Joe Turpel will go on for days about how cool their style is. So to have Gabriel who’s personality, desires, and bloodlust is emblazoned through each body movement and all of his actions is a pure delight for the viewer.
Unfortunately he’s yet to recognize, as did Mike Tyson when he caught the left cross of Buster Douglas, or John Jones when he was caught by USADA the anti-doping agency, hubris can lead to entitlement, a warped delusion of how the rules do or don’t apply, and an underestimation of one’s opponents. If Gabe can harness all of his talent and passion and block his momentary emotional outbursts from derailing all of his legitimately good work, he’d be very hard beat at every venue on tour. Sadly, we have a long list of athletes from lots of other disciplines who have exhibited similar characteristics and they all became their own worst enemy. Now, when Gabriel lost to Owen Wright in Tahiti this year, I saw a completely new element of humility and deference to Owen, which I talked about here and on Spit and I see that an indicator of maturity, discipline over one’s emotions, and a harbinger for a long list of world titles. I haven’t seen it since then. And I’m hoping to see it challenged at Pipeline.
The event finally came to a conclusion 7 days later, which is how long it took for the swell and weather to align. The waves won’t end up on a highlight reel, but they were shoulder to head high peaks, somewhat barreling. Title hopefuls Kolohe Andino lost to Jordy in quarters. Kanoa rose to the occasion by beating Filipe in conditions that favored Filipe. The heat of the day was Italo Ferreira vs Jack Freestone who has found new dad strength and passion while in Europe, finishing 3rd in France and 5th in Portugal. Jordy beat Kanoa in the semis and Italo beat Caio. This 3rd place finish all but solidifies Caio’s qualification for next year’s Tour. He’s technically not on tour this year despite surfing every event. He’s been surfing as a replacement for various surfers, Mikey Wright at times, Adriano at others.
I’m posited a theory in the Post-Script for the first event of the season that Jordy was setting a marathoners pace. A slow and methodical improvement of results that will crescendo towards Pipe. His 70% will win most heats. He might dial up to 80% when he gets to a final series, but even then, he’d run the risk of setting expectation in the judges minds. Well, whether or not that was Jordy’s intention, that’s how the season has transpired, however, without the climax of him ever giving 100% nor winning an event. This 2nd place ties his other best result of the season at Rio, but he still never looked ferocious. Maybe he’s saving if for Pipe, but I would have liked to see some intensity in the final against Italo.
Jordy surfed his first ride in the opening minutes very conservatively to a 6.17. The wave had a steep wall and the potential for an 8 to 10 point ride, but he did a floater I could do, a mediocre carve, and another floater. This is the final of the 2nd to last event of the year where he has his best shot at a title, against Italo whom any analyst would tell you, you’ll need more than a 6 in your scoreline to beat. The fact that Jordy surfed that wave the way he did is either the result of a complete mental lapse or zero coaching and heat strategy.
Within 1 minute, Italo answered back in the exact fashion you’d expect from someone wanting to win a contest and a world title; with a single maneuver that net him a 10 point ride. It was a full rotation backside air. A bigger, faster, less predictable version of one that he’d been doing the entire event. And with that and 30 minutes left on the clock it seemed that Jordy acquiesced defeat. His 6.17 remained his best score, his only meaningful score, while Italo backed up his 10 with an 8.43, along with two other 7.8’s, making the two time, consecutive Meo Rip Curl Pro Champ.
Leaving Portugal, there are 5 men in contention for the world title. Kolohe in 5th, Filipe in 4th, Jordy in 3rd, Gabriel down one spot into 2nd, and Italo up three spots into first. Those bottom three will have to hope that Gabe and Italo lose early so they can make up ground. And given less than 1000 point spread between Gabe and Italo, a tie will favor Italo, and Gabe will probably need to beat Italo by 2 heats to clinch. But Gabe never loses at Pipe before the quarterfinals, so it seems to be an Italo and Gabriel race, with Italo positioned better but with a less successfully track record at the venue.
I presume that all these guys will be logging serious water time at Pipe for the next month, and hopefully we’ll see some bad blood and drama stir up in the free surfs.
The Billabong Pipe Masters begins on December 8th. I’ll see you there.
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Written, Hosted, Produced: David Scales @David Lee Scales