Technique Critique: Gabriel Medina
World's best surfer? We say no!
Considering how much you all loved the first one, I decided to do a technique critique of Gabriel Medina.
The first step would be to find a clip that visually demonstrates the points I’m trying to cover. This proved to be harder than anticipated.
Isn’t it surprising that Gab hasn’t produced a single video of himself in years? Sponsor flicks aside, Medina doesn’t have a single rip-clip of his own making since 2011. Pundits are quick to highlight John’s modesty and aversion to attention, which in most cases is used to juxtapose Medina’s snarky attitude. Yet, who is the one with two films, countless individual edits, and an entire web series dedicated to his life? John!
Eventually I stumbled upon this single-session edit from Hawaii.
Gabriel’s surfing is incredibly different from that of Jordy. Let me explain.
Medina’s positioning on the surfboard could be described as ultra-neutral, meaning that if you were to take a photo of Gabby and remove the surfboard, it’d be hard to tell whether he’s regular or goofy. His legs appear very boxy, with knees hovering over ankles and his torso always centered. In my opinion this stance is good for general balance and backside surfing, but detrimental to style and forehand surfing.
Backhand competitive surfing can be summarized in one maneuver — a hard, snappy, vertical tag of the lip, perhaps with a fin drift if they’re feeling frisky. As seen in the video above (1:05), Gabs has mastered that maneuver. This is majorly thanks to the mechanics of backside surfing, wherein the rider can utilize his hand to administer weight to the front part of the board during the latter stages of a turn. This is mostly impossible frontside, though some old-school guys used to do it on occasion.
The hand-on-board maneuver is advantageous because it provides extra stability, plus it removes the need to shift the front foot forward (something I explained in detail in Jordy post) during snapping maneuvers. This then facilitates speed and flow between maneuvers, as there’s no need to reposition your feet after every turn. When combined with impeccable timing and explosive hip rotation, Gab’s boxy stance and manual weight distribution allow for technically perfect backside turns. Though frontside is a different story.
Gab’s apparent lack of flexibility and natural hip displacement force square, clunky turns on his forehand. Where Jordy and John go full-Gumby through their maneuvers, often knocking knees and contorting their bodies, Gab remains stuck in the poo-poo position. This is not only aesthetically unappealing, but it actually detracts from angular mobility and leads to less impressive and a smaller variety of turns. Unfortunately this is a flaw in his body mechanics, so he hasn’t much room to improve in this field.
Gab is a wizard in the wind. He consistently lands some of the biggest, highest-scoring airs our sport has seen, and all of them without soft feet.
You know how in football or golf, someone with a surplus of “feel” is considered to have soft hands? The phrase refers to a person’s ability to smoothly absorb the pressure of impact through impeccable timing and dexterity. The same principle applies to the feet (really more like knees and ankles) of surfers.
Soft feet enable a smooth compression of the knees and ankles, so that landings are less abruptly impactful. A couple guys who retain this flexible quality are Yago Dora and John Florence. Meanwhile, Gabby’s rigidity would be considered disadvantageous in landing colossal punts, yet he manages to make them time and time again.
So then how does he do it? Commitment and recovery.
Gab’s courage when approaching large sections is genuinely disconcerting. Remember his massive backside rotation in France a few years ago? That’s a section most CT surfers would float warily, if not avoid it altogether. But then there’s Gab, who decided to throw knees, ankles, and caution to the doldrums, only to magically ride out on his feet. Great timing combined with one-hundred percent commitment is what keeps Medina over his board and allows him to stick these hellbent rotations. But not all airs are stuck so cleanly.
That’s where recovery comes into play. Next to Slater and John, Gabs is the best at pulling it back under him. This seems contradictory to the Jordy piece, where I sated that non-knocked-knees provide insufficient leverage for resurrection; what that idea fails to recognize is that Gab is a freak of nature. His ability to recover can be partially attributed to impeccable physical conditioning, but believe it or not, much of the recovery process is mental, and Gabby’s drive to win has him doing Superman shit. You know those stories of people who lift cars off of loved ones? Medina’s doing that with his abs.
Long story short, Gab lands huge airs because of his natural ability and mental fortitude — not superior technique.
Gabriel is one of the best forehand tube-riders in the world, mostly because of strength and positioning. When in the tube, Gab rides forward on his board — a technique that allows the rider to gain or lose speed with ease, hold a line with great efficiency, and remain evenly balanced throughout the ride. He accompanies this positioning with a flat-footed approach, which is a structurally superior technique to the drop-kneed, cocked-foot stance of most RVCA riders. When you combine a solid base with efficient positioning and sprinkle in a couple thunder thighs, foamballs no longer seem so treacherous.
But backside tube-riding is a completely different animal, and for me, Gab has some work to do in this area. Medina’s pigdog consists of a firmly planted front foot and a completely flattened back leg. There’s no space whatsoever between his back knee and front foot, making him unable to effectively pump or stall. A small stance also limits your balance, by the simple principle that the closer your feet are, the easier you are to knock over. If I was Gabby, I’d start watching videos of John at Pipe to learn how to properly utilize the legs and body in a backside pit. Then again, they don’t surf many right barrels on Tour, so he probably doesn’t care.