"He wants to arrive in the playoffs at Lowers, sure, but the Olympic Games is a sickness for him now."
The last time I lit up Johnny Cabianca’s telephone it was two years ago and his team rider Gabriel Medina had just finished hiking Filipe Toledo’s dress to his waist in a two-heat Lowers whitewash, although the third world title could barely salve the pain of missing a medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
The Brazilian-born, Zarautz-based Cabianca has been building Medina’s boards for a decade and a half, ever since step-daddy Charlie, an old pal from Brazil, got him to make boards for the European leg of the 2009 WQS.
You’d be surprised how little the boards he made for the kid in 2009 have changed in the ensuing years, a little tweak here and there, but still the usual five tens and five elevens, the flatter rockered Medina model and the slightly wilder DFK (Da Freak Kid and not to be confused with the Channel Islands DFR, Dane Freaking Reynolds).
Caba is a classic cat. He says he lives in a Tower of Babel, his kids speaking German to his Swiss wife, Basque at school, Portuguese with him and watching TV in Spanish.
“I don’t understand nothing!” he hoots.
And, he knows living the Basque Country keeps him hidden away from the major markets, but the reach of Medina is strong and there’s Cabanas being shipped to emerging markets in Taiwan, Korea, Switzerland, Germany, Holland and Israel, as well as a re-emerging Japan.
But, still, those boards, those boards with what he calls a magic invisibility, built because he doesn’t want Medina to think, ‘Oh motherfucker-son-of-a-bitch board!’ are sublime underfoot.
You want to turn, you wanna cruise? Cabianca’s boards got multiple settings. A rare thing.
Anyway, I’ve called because I wanna hear what he’s cooked up for his boy to ride at the pool. Turns out Medina has hit 185 pounds, a legacy of all the metal plates he lifts everyday, up from 175 the previous year.
The boards, therefore, are hitting the twenty-nine plus litre mark, the Medinas, 5’10” x 19 3/8 x 2 3/8 with a full rail for 29.5 litres, the DFKs, 5’11” x 19 x 2 1/2 but with a domed deck, meaning a more sensitive rail and hitting 29 litres.
Some are swallows some are round tails. Medina likes the swallow for the left, the round-tail for the rights.
Medina don’t like his boards light, either and he “hates epoxy boards,” says Cabianca.
“I don’t feel the board if the board is super light,” he tells Cabianca.
His favourite board, perversely then, is a wild five-nine twin built using carbon tech, vacuum sealed and called a Candy Twin. Cabianca made it for Medina after a Biolos RNF, a gift to Medina from Kolohe Andino, had given the champ enormous pleasure.
Medina loved it, said he’d ride it in the pool whereupon Cabianca recoiled and said ‘No! This is not a technical board! This is just for having fun!”
Medina replied, “Maybe I try!”
Cabianca laughs. “For sure, Andy King (Medina’s coach) is not going to let him ride it.”
Andy King. You know the name, the Australian WQS pro from Cronulla who lost his hearing after a street fight in 2004, a hard-charging goofy footer who grew up with an alcoholic pops (Andy kept a knife under his pillow for protection) and who shifted to surf coaching after his tour comeback was stymied by his deafness.
Cabianca says King’s arrival has stilled Medina’s emotional state, elevated his performance, after his family got nuked by in-fighting.
And not just his emotional state. His surfing has shifted more to the rail.
“Before he’s very consistent, but a kid surfing. Many aerials. Always extreme risk. With Andy it’s more classic, more power surfing, more reading the waves, but keep doing the aerials and high-risk manoeuvres well.”
If you think surfing is all about world titles for Medina, well, it ain’t. He wants Paris Olympic gold around his neck.
“He’s super focussed, he’s training every day. He wants to arrive in the playoffs at Lowers, sure, but the Olympic Games is a sickness for him now. For him, it’ll be great. Teahupoo!”
You want a Candy Twin? Or the DFK? Or the Medina?
Give ‘em a hit here, Johnny’s wife Kelli will help steer you into the board of your life.
Longtom calls the DFK the “easiest pro level board I’ve wrangled.”