Surfing, like all forms of entertainment, need villains, and because Medina is as good a villain as he is a rider of waves the sport is infinitely better for his presence.
Second, Medina, for my money, is simply the best all-around surfer in the world.
Not every day. Not every break.
But he is on most days, at most breaks, and pro surfing works best when the crown sits atop the head of the most deserving contender. So throughout the early rounds of the just-finished Pipeline Masters, and during the opening minutes of the final, I was pulling for Gabe.
Then something happened.
I can’t recall exactly what it was — maybe Italo Ferreira’s first tube-to-air left, or the contrast between Charlie Medina’s scowling puss and the gleeful flag-waving Team Italo cheering section; maybe it was just my own need, at this hyper-clenched moment in time, for lightness to prevail over dark — but I swung over to Italo’s side, and was swept away and became genuinely emotional at the sight of this tiny Brazilian all red-eyed and crying as he left the water, our new world champion.
Days later, it still feels great. I’ll likely make the same Faustian bargain with Gabe in 2020.
But for the moment, the joy of surfing, like Italo himself, is a clear winner.
Now, according to the other surfer in the water, Jeremy Howard, the surfer’s name is Adam Coons, the shark was a fifteen-foot Great White, not altogether uncommon in these parts, and after Coons made it back to his boat Howard used surf leashes as tourniquets.
There will be nowhere for John Florence to hide a dicky knee on a Tour with Italo Ferreira as World Number One.
Just before the dust fully settles on Italo’s maiden Title we need to do a little mopping up, run the tape over it and get the full measure of his achievement, for a simple reason which is: just about halfway through the Tour the best guy (as measured by the rankings at the time) was knocked out by injury.
That led to a lot of talk that whoever won the World Title would forever have an asterisk next to their name and while that talk has subsided I think it’s necessary we take up arms and make the pre-emptive strike against any would be historical revisionists who might emerge in the future.
Just to make sure facts get out in front of any hurt feelings.
First up, Italo has always been “our guy” here at BG. We were first to lament loud and strong when judges underpaid his surfing, especially at J-Bay 2017. I think the first potential World Champion call was made here after his ten-point ride at Snapper 2016.
Second, lets take a comp by comp year in review look at Italo’s year to completely eliminate the asterisk possibility.
Snapper. Best guy in the comp by a country mile. Changed the parameters for aerial surfing in heats. Smashed the Redbull Airborne comp then kept the same flow going in the CT comp. The total focus on airs wasn’t too everyones taste but the demolition job he put on Ricardo Cristie in the round of thirty-two was the most insane aerial surfing I’ve ever seen live or broadcast, and he did it with a rashie on. Would win, or will win, 99 out of a 100 comps in warm water beachbreak peaks. No-one else close.
Bells Beach. Survived a near-death experience at the Winkipop button and put solid surfing down in triple over-head conditions that day and in his quarter-final against Jordy. Cruelled by judges in one of the more ridiculous priority decisions of the year. Not quite up to the standard of either Medina or Florence on the either the big stormy or big clean days but still deserved to final.
Keramas. The 2018 defending champ had his worst result of the year here. Heavily braced ankle seemed to distort his performance in his most disappointing heat of the year against Jack Freestone in a sub-five point heat total loss in the round of thirty-two.
Margaret River. Rode arguably the best wave of the Tour year with his opening ride at the Box. Almost unbelievably low-balled as an 8.17. Very solid but still flamboyant backside turn game in windy, overhead Mainbreak. Well beaten in the quarters by eventual winner John Florence with a score that would have won any other quarter-final.
Rio Pro. Inexplicably poor performance in sizey, jumbled onshore lefts at Saquarema. Well beaten by occasional giant-killing journeyman Fred Morais in the round of thirty-two. Toledo dominant, JJF injured in a flyaway kick-out.
J-Bay. Second best surfer in the event after Gabriel Medina. Huge, vertical turns and insane finishes over the bricks. World Title-winning heat against Filipe Toledo in their semi-final in windy, unruly six-to-eight-foot Supertubes. Looked a likely winner but only stopped by a rampaging Gabe Medina in the final. Arguably the best final of the Year. Could he have beaten JJF at big J-Bay? On that form, yes.
Teahupoo. It’s not often an early round loss has positive implications as a crucial World Title heat but Italo’s round of thirty-two loss to Adriano de Souza in ten-foot Chopes fits into that rarest of categories. Incredible, late under the lip drops and tube drives. Showed the Box wave was no fluke and laid a template for confidence and competence in all the heavy water waves on Tour, Pipe especially.
Replaying the tape, it was a heat that could have gone either way but I think crucial underscores on Italo’s waves meant judges got the result wrong way around. My favourite Italo heat for the year.
Freshwater Pro. Shame we didn’t see a head-to-head between Italo and John John at the Surf Ranch, where they both have clear deficiencies at a venue owned by Medina. It’s hard to discern exactly what coaches do in their modern incarnations but anyone advising Italo has a clear path for improvement available on the lefts at the basin.
The numbers are terrible. Medina’s top three lefts average out at 8.99. Italo’s top three lefts average out at a flat five. With the tub back on Tour he needs to find a way to ride that left.
But then, so does John John.
France. Italo surfed almost the perfect European leg. Just about the finest beachbreak scavenger on Tour. Able to pack French closeouts all day long in search of elusive corners. Switch from tube to turns and back again. Finalist and runner-up to Flores who was on a dream run that could not be denied. Slipstreamed him perfectly.
Portugal. Dominant end-to-end performance. Cemented his position as the world’s best aerialist with an opening ten-point ride in the final against a hapless Jordy Smith. Switched effortlessly from backside high hooks to airs. Chewed through Fred Morais, Connor Coffin, Jack Freestone, Caio Ibelli, then Jordy and looked like he could have taken on every single CT surfer in the 34 as well.
Pipeline. Winning started early. Showing up and blowing up well before the circus arrived. Stroke of tactical genius appointing both Jamie O’Brien and Shane Dorian as corner men. Despite the hyper-active approach always looked mentally cool and in control. Sublimated huge pressure into ascending performances, culminating in a dominant finals win against Medina, who had just comboed Florence in their semi-final. Could have been ten points rides in there if he made two waves, which shows lots of head-room still available for future Pipe Mastery.
Conclusion: No asterisk required.
Future World Titles? Why not.
Mastery at every venue besides the Tub, holds an insane winning record against the second best in the World. There will be nowhere for John Florence to hide a dicky knee on a Tour with Italo Ferreira as World Number One.
Any asterisk creeps out there? Speak now or forever hold your peace.
And the rest of you right-minded folks: What was your highlight Italo moment(s) for the year?
From the wire: Surfer attacked by shark at Santa Rosa Island, California!
Coast Guard officials dispatched a helicopter from their base at Point Mugu and a boat carrying a paramedic from the Coast Guard station at Channel Islands Harbor.
The helicopter arrived about an hour later and flew the victim to the Santa Barbara Airport, and he was taken via ambulance to Cottage Hospital. The victim was in stable condition with a tourniquet on his leg, according to the Ventura County Fire Department.
Ventura County firefighters initially responded to the scene by boat, but the victim was airlifted by a Coast Guard helicopter before they arrived, authorities said.
Lieutenant Benjamin McIntyre-Gibb, the Coast Guard community duty officer said in a statement: “This was the best possible outcome to a truly terrifying situation. This individual was fortunate to be with a buddy who was able to communicate their position to the Coast Guard.”
If you’ve ever been to Santa Babs, you might’ve stared at the Channel Islands out there on the horizon, these inconvenient land masses that block all the summer south swells.
Santa Rosa is the second biggest. Plenty waves, too, if you like ’em uncrowded.
No word on the type of shark involved in the attack.
Fact: Every fatal shark hit in California since 1981 has been from a Great White.
While I am very certain there was much joy in John John Florence’s camp at his punching one of the two tickets to this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, the world’s largest media organizations only had teary headlines.
And while the lack of exclamation mark in each is unsettling, the point is clear. People wanted to see the greatest of all time competing in surfing’s Olympic debut.
Yet there is still a bold and beautiful way forward. An opportunity for Kelly Slater to not only punch his own ticket but possibly bring peace to the Middle East.
As floated here five months ago, on my birthday coincidentally, Kelly Slater is of Syrian descent and would no doubt be embraced by the war weary Arab Republic.
Just imagine how much joy it would bring, how much wonderful warm joy, for Kelly to take an entire nation on his shoulders. To carry the hopes and dreams of children from Damascus to Homs, Latakia to Aleppo. A storyline so moving not even the World Surf League’s Office of Content, Media, Studios could botch.
Now, it might be argued that Slater’s surfing for Syria would further legitimize an evil dictator but Bashar al-Assad ain’t so bad, just a doe-eye’d ophthalmologist from London thrust into a tough spot. Just doing what he can to get by. Having Kelly Slater, and Kelly Slater’s energy healer Charlie Goldsmith, in the room would certainly help him make better decisions or at least be happier with the decisions he is making. To live in the moment, enjoy his accomplishments etc.
What is impossible to deny is the unifying power a Kelly Slater for Syria Olympic run would have. Government and anti-government forces would gather together in coffee shops and clasp hands as Slater dispatched surfers from Australia, France, Brazil. Kurds would forget their many and varied beefs while holding their breaths alongside Syrian Turkmen.
Kelly Slater’s ability to captivate would even overwhelm the most hardened ISIS man for it is impossible not to be swept away.
Would peace in the Middle East be a stretch too far?
Well, who could have ever imagined that a 47-year-old from Cocoa Beach, Florida, by way of Syria, would still have the sweetest carving 360 in the game.