A long time ago, I wanted to write something about how Gabriel Medina is surfing’s consummate competitor. It was around the France event, I think, but for some reason or another the topic fizzled. Didn’t quite have the evidence necessary to enter that rabbit hole. But now, I have proof! Gabriel Medina is right up there with Kelly Slater when it comes to competitive savvy. “But Alex,” you shout from inside your dirty old sweatpants. “John John Florence is the best surfer in the world! I know because he just won the world title!” And you are right — but you are also wrong.
As you know, Hawaii’s golden child won the world title again yesterday. He won because he’s the greatest surfing talent since Kelly Slater. John John’s preternatural skill is obvious to anyone with eyeballs, and outside of contests, it’s crystal clear that he’s the best surfer on earth. Right now, it’s generally clear inside of contests, too. And yes, he’s a world champion. I’d bet dollars to donuts, however, that in the long run, Gabriel Medina will win more heats than John John Florence. You know why? Because he doesn’t surf to surf. He surfs to win.
John John Florence would probably never burn someone this badly:
Kelly Slater, on the other hand, would:
Let’s look back, for a second, at Slater’s career. He’s the winningest surfer of all time. He’s won just about everything there is to win, and most of those things, he’s won more than once. He did that because not only was (yes, was) his surfing better than nearly everyone else’s, but he knew what it took to win. He played mind games. He sat on people. He burned people. He used the rule book to his advantage. Love it or hate it, there’s no one else right now that does that quite as well as Gabriel Medina.
Of course, there are a few differences between Kelly vs. Parko and Medina vs. Kelly. Kelly vs. Parko involved Kelly Slater burning Parko, yes, but it also involved Kelly Slater making that wave. Medina vs. Kelly, on the other hand, was nothing less than an awesomely blatant display of sheer, unapologetic loopholing. Medina knew in that moment that he had priority. He knew in that moment that, according to the rules, he could burn Kelly Slater. He also knew in that moment that the collective outrage of the surfing world would be massive. Oh, and how massive it was!
“I’d like to see him try to pull that against Makua or Sunny,” wrote one commenter. “Fair but totally a dick move. Especially when you don’t even try to surf the wave.”
“Did we all need another reason to hate this guy even more than we do already?” wrote another. “I know it is legal, but such a dick move. Can we change this rule already?”
“A deliberate drop in is a low act,” wrote yet another. “What a shit role model for grommets.”
But you know what? Medina doesn’t give a fuck. Medina wants to win. Medina, like Slater, is a competitor through and through. He’s in the business of winning, not pleasing. Medina wants trophies like crackheads want crack. Burn the GOAT at the Pipe Masters while the world watches? No problem!
While John John’s surfing might be better than Medina’s (most of the time), the Brazilian’s competitive drive and savvy — which, in a surfing contest, is nearly as important as skill itself — is next-level. Not since Slater’s heyday have we seen a surfer so bent on winning by any means necessary. So while John John is basking in the glory that comes with another world title, Medina is quietly setting up for the long game — and he’ll do just about anything to make sure he’s on top, even if it means being surfing’s most-hated villain.