This was. One of. The greatest. Wins. In surfing history. A 21-year-old goofy footer, from the beach breaks of Brazil against Joel Parkinson, former World Champion and the undisputed king of Behind the Rock Snapper – one of the most technical, dangerous pieces of right point in the world – at that very place. And he did it, convincingly so, leaving the Australian answerless with still two minutes remaining in the final.
Parko began the event leagues ahead of the field. It’s his home, but he isn’t so much influenced by the wave at Snapper Rock, as much he is it. As a heaving five-footer doubles up and prepares to surge behind the rock, Parko is there, surging with it. As it throws into a spastic tube, Parko is air-dropping with it. He descends with but a millimeter of fin in the water, catches a rail, stiffens up and under the lip, pumps as the backwash hits, gets over the wedge, the wave breathes, he holds on, it spits, and he comes out behind it. It is a sight to behold. Current Big Wave World Champion, Peter Mel, who was calling the action from a jet ski in the channel, couldn’t believe it. The final, like the semi-final, had seemed a foregone conclusion. He was no less damaging out on the face, hooking, jamming, swiping and gouging every bend and curve Snapper could throw at him. But he lost. Lost to a kid who, two short years ago, had one of the worst backhands on Tour.
I was there when he made his debut, standing on the rocks, not ten meters from the supposed Brazilian wunderkind, as he flapped and bogged his way along the frothy Snapper burgers he, for reasons only he knows, kept deciding to catch. He was terrible and had you told me he would have one day beaten Joel Parkinson at Behind the Rock Snapper, I would have said, “Damn, Brazilian man, you gotta give up that jiu-jitsu. All them headlocks be messing with your head.”
Medina’s poor form on his backhand had been all the more shocking considering he’d just come off the back of two World Tour event wins in the past six months (on debut, Medina having qualified during the mid-year change over). The hype on the kid was stupendous, and the world rushed to feather his scrotum, peel his grapes and fan him with palm fronds. Especially considering both wins had come in left beach breaks in which Medina could simply execute his patented ultra-corked frontside air reverse over and over and over until they… nope they’re still amazing.
But come Snapper, it looked like he’d forgotten to learn how to go the other way. And yet today it happened: he beat three of the best surfers to ever surf Snapper (Mick Fanning, Taj and Parko), a group who count between them four World Titles and six Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast victories, and who more importantly, are all natural footers. He did it against all the odds, on two occasions taking off without priority in the dying stages of the heat to get scores in the excellent range. It was gritty, clutch surfing, but on top of that, it displayed beautiful technique, as Medina relentlessly and critically smashed the Snapper coping with what was a backhand shaved sharp as a razor. There will be those crying foul over the victory, who will claim Medina wasn’t getting barreled whereas Parko was and that Medina shunned the Behind the Rock Showdown altogether. But understand this: surfing Behind the Rock Snapper on your backhand on a day like this might well be impossible. I’ve never heard of or seen a guy able to deal with Snapper backside on a day like today, and I’d be pretty well positive Parko wouldn’t be able to either if his stance was switched. Luke Egan might tell you he can do it, but he’d be lying. It was a test of the ASP judges, no doubt, matching two very different strategies and two fundamentally different approaches to the wave, but the panel of five international adjudicators went with the Brazilian. Who am I to argue?
How he turned his greatest weakness into his greatest strength in this short amount of time is quite simple, actually. He wants it baaad. Hailing from a working class family of four from the Brazilian biggish wave spot of Maresia, Sao Paulo, he has traveled the world since 15, paid for with the meager takings from his father’s humble surf shop. He is driven to progress more than you could imagine, as I found out the day after that first loss at Snapper when I travelled with him to watch him surf Stradbroke Island (north of Coolangatta). He surfed for five and a half straight hours, all the way through the baking midday heat, tirelessly whipping himself into wave after wave and putting that backhand too work. What you saw today was two year’s worth of that. The Brazilians have arrived… for real, this time. They were on fire this event – Medina, De Souza and Pupo – two of them putting on backside displays equal to any seen at Snapper.
- Jed Smith