Gabriel Medina and John Florence have been the two best surfers for the last decade. The pair, who both joined the Championship Tour full time in 2011, have claimed five world titles between them since 2014. In that time only Adriano de Souza and Italo Ferreira have managed to finish above them. If it weren’t for Florence’s injuries, the pair’s duopoly would have been even more entrenched.
The problem for the WSL Finals, and this year’s men’s world champion, is that neither Medina or Florence will be surfing at Trestles. And if the best ain’t there, will the 2022 men’s world championship be forever tainted?
Now the most famous instance of asterisk use involved Major League Baseball’s single-season home run record, specifically the 1961 chase of Babe Ruth by fellow New York Yankee Roger Maris. In 1927, during a 154-game season, Ruth launched 60 home runs. Thirty-four years later, Maris broke the record with a 61-four-bagger campaign. However, Maris benefitted from a 162-game season, and Commissioner Ford Frick ordered the separate records to be flagged. And thus, the asterisk came into play.
Now no one is saying that the Top 5 aren’t worthy finalists and potential world champions. Filipe Toledo has been knocking at the door for a decade. Italo beat the best in 2019. Kanoa, Jack, and Ethan have made the grade with a series of breakout performances and have the potential for more.
And yet, through no fault of their own, Medina’s self-imposed absence and Florence’s injury-enforced one, means they won’t be surfing against the very best at Trestles.
Medina is probably the most glaring omission. Since 2015, the Brazilian has earned more CT victories than any other competitor, and he dominates his closest rivals in head-to-head battles. In 2021, he entered the WSL Finals 13,000 ratings points clear of Toledo. A normal tour season hadn’t seen such domination since peak Kelly. In many ways, the Finals format was justified by Medina’s victory. If he hadn’t won, it would have been a travesty and destabilized the whole concept.
After that win, Medina cited exhaustion and mental health issues when he announced he was taking a year off. Both are compelling and valid reasons for a break, though as a comparison neither Federer, Nadal, or Djokovic have voluntarily put down the rackets in their 20 years at the top of tennis.
Surfing is rather unique in that regard. In 1999, after his sixth world title, Kelly Slater took three years off competition. It’s hard to believe that both Sunny Garcia and Occy would have won their world titles if Kelly hadn’t taken a break. Medina, this year, added to that precedent.
With John John, the poor bloke can’t catch a break. It has been a succession of injuries that have kept him from further world titles. In mid-2019, having won two events and sitting atop of the CT rankings, Florence ruptured his cruciate ligament. Each year he has fought back from such serious setbacks, often regaining the form that had him scale unseen heights. However, since his last world title in 2017, he has surfed 21 CT events out of a possible 39. I’d be surprised if he wasn’t nicknamed The Box, given he is rarely seen on the CT after Margaret River.
Yet despite averaging only five CT events a year, he has finished as the World No. 12, 11, and 7 in the last three seasons. Given a full run-up at all the events, there’s simply no way he wouldn’t make the top five and the WSL Finals. And if he was in the Finals, well, he’d be a favorite.
The problem is he’s not. He’s sailing a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. He couldn’t be further away from Trestles, both geographically and metaphorically, if he tried.
And yet the show must go on. A mix of fate, timing, and circumstance has led to the two best surfers of their generation not being in the mix for the 2022 World Title. Whoever wins at Trestles will have worked their ass off to become world champion and deserve all the rewards that their talent and dedication have brought. They won’t have beat the best though. And that’s a bummer.
The 2022 WSL Finals are currently on yellow alert and could run tomorrow. Go to WorldSurfLeague.com for more.