Gabby Medina gets a real hard time. Just because he’d drown kittens to win a heat, that doesn’t mean he’s not a sensitive wee soul at heart. I should know. Gabby and I shared a moment once.
It was 2012 at Supertubos, Portugal. The final of the Rip Curl Pro had literally just left the water. Handsome Julian Wilson had just defeated poor little Gabriel in the dying seconds, and when the scores were called out with both surfers exiting the water, Gabby was inconsolable. He was so distraught that he immediately fled behind the event scaffolding to cry real, hard, man-boy blubbering tears.
It was at this moment that I happened to show up. My girlfriend and I had also nipped behind the scaffolding to make a sharp exit before the crowd poured out. And there we were. Just the three of us in the stillness of the empty dunes, shuttered away from the baying crowd by metal poles and the black plastic backings of Rip Curl banners. The crowd expected Medina on stage to receive his runner-up accolade, but, instead, he was hidden away cry, cry, crying.
It was a special moment for me, a literal and figurative peek behind the glamorous facade of pro surfing. A moment punctuated by the thick, heavy sobs of a future world champion. We locked eyes for a second (mine wide with joy, his red and smudged with tears) then poor Gabriel clasped his hands to his face and heaved even deeper.
With the fervor of a small boy in a sweet shop, I elbowed my girlfriend, too excited to form words, and clawed at my backpack in search of my iPhone. But before I could capture it she fixed me with a steely glare and grasped me roughly by the elbow. “How would you like it?” She hissed as she bundled me past Gabby, with his damp wetsuit and damper eyes.
In hindsight, I did feel a bit sorry for Medina that day. But I still wish I’d got a photo.
His latest indiscretion is the clip of him dropping in on some beardy, lank-haired local on a yellow tanker at Lowers. Mr. Beardy splashes water at Gabby as he paddles past him, it has been championed on this very site as a commendable reaction.
Well, I say bravo to Medina for not reacting. I think that if I were Gabriel Medina, I would be paddling after beardy and his yellow boat, grabbing him by his young, slim man’s hair and wrapping it ’round his old, fat man’s neck.
Splashing water at someone is irritating and childish. To do it to a world champion is absurd, even if he has burned you. Like it or not, surfing is a dyed-in-the-wool meritocracy. It will never be anything else. The best surfers get the best waves and they bloody deserve them.
Now, I’ve no doubt that Medina pushes the boundaries and stretches what is acceptable on most occasions. But come on, if the pros descend on your local and drop in on you for two weeks every year, then leave your yellow boats at home. Or just suck it up and concede to their superior skill. At the end of the day, they’re working. They’re there to do a job. Even if you don’t buy that, they’ve still earned priority over you. Because guess what? They’re simply better surfers.
The point of this is not to make you feel sorry for Gabriel Medina, or necessarily to excuse his actions. He is, of course, a young and hyper-talented man-boy living the dreamy life of a pro surfer. Aside from Charlie nipping his head 24 hours a day, his is an existence to be envied, not pitied.
But Gabby does get a lot of hate. Sure, he’ll paddle fellow competitors off the contest site just to establish first priority. Of course, he’ll hassle and joust and slither and snake. He’ll tell Micro to to fuck off. He’ll be the living definition of petulance, and he’ll throw his toys out the pram whenever he loses. He is also a former world champion and a better surfer than you’ll ever be. And you’ve got to appreciate what it takes to get there.
What’s wrong with having passion? So what if that passion boils over into aggro? Can you name a top athlete that isn’t selfish and aggressive in their pursuit of victory? It’s why so few of us can ever reach those heights. We’re not prepared to lay it all on the line regardless of who we hurt. I like that it means so much to him. I like that he’d kill baby cats if he had to. (Plus, I’m a bad loser, too, so I get it).
We need characters like Gabriel Medina in sport, because they’re willing to do the things that we couldn’t. And we need them most of all in the bland landscape of professional surfing.