By now, the dust has settled from the Gold Coast, and the lackluster first contest of the 2015 WSL Championship Tour (aside from Toledo’s brilliant performance) is fading into a distant memory. Everyone’s attention turns now towards the second tour stop at Bells, anxiously anticipating waves that won’t require jersey-stomping as a prerequisite to performing a scoring maneuver. As the tour, surf media, and fans all shift their focus, I can’t help but notice that it feels like something remains unsaid by the WSL in terms of Medina and his behavior at Snapper.
Medina’s post-heat interview with Peter Mel, following the controversial interference call that cost him his Round 3 heat against Glen Hall, made the Internet rounds, and comment sections of every article show how deep nationalistic feelings about Brazil’s first world champion (and Brazilian surfers in general) still run. Plainly put, a broad-spectrum disdain of male Brazilian surfers has been a latently unifying agent in the global surf community. Right or wrong, it is what it is. Or rather, it was what it was.
Although Hawaiians/Americans, Aussies, and Zaffas have traditionally dominated the competitive surf world, Medina’s dominance and grace under pressure at the end of the 2014 season – making the finals at Pipe with Fanning and KS nipping at his heels – earned him and his countrymen well deserved respect. His sincerely emotional celebration on the beach with his family and supporters seemed to cap an end to a journey of maturation that was desperately apparent at the 2012 Supertubes contest in Portugal (where Medina lost a close final to Julian Wilson, and feeling robbed by the judges, proceeded to have an emotional meltdown on the beach).
But despite Medina’s proven mental dexterity as a championship competitor, his behavior at the Snapper contest was far from indicative of his position as world champ and WSL poster boy for the burgeoning surf markets of Latin America. Similar behavior from athletes in the past has been met with stern fines and suspensions. I understand that each situation is different and has unique circumstances–Bobby Martinez was clearly conscious of self-destructing his relationship with the ASP in 2011, and the Jeremy Flores incident in 2014 had a component of physical confrontation with the judges that puts it on an entirely different, Sunny Garcia inspired level–that said, rules are rules, and the same ones should apply to everyone.
As a professional World Tour surfer and the defending world champion, Gabriel Medina has a contractual obligation to represent the sport of surfing with dignity at all times, especially during contests. Medina’s post-heat interview, live-broadcast globally, at the 2015 Snapper Rocks event, in which he criticized Commissioner Kieren Perrow and used profanity clearly violates Articles 170, 171, & 174 of the 2015 WSL Rule Book. The rules read as follows:
Article 170: Sportsmanlike Conduct
All individuals bound by this Policy must act at all times with Sportsmanlike Conduct. Sportsmanlike Conduct is defined as, but not limited to: respect for WSL.
Tour and Event sponsors, Judges, opponents, WSL management members, WSL Representatives, spectators, member of the media or any other person within the designated Event site; respect for facilities, privileges and operation procedures at Events; the use of courtesy and good manners at Events; acting responsibly and maturely at Events; refraining from any visible gesture which is commonly understood to be derogatory, profane, and/or highly offensive, or would indicate a sexually explicit act; and refraining from intentional and purposeful display and or exposure of nudity; and refraining from the use of:
(a) profane or abusive language at Event venues (in any language);
(b) illegal (e.g. under age) or immoderate use of alcohol at WSL Event venues; and
(c) the use of illegal drugs.
This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of violations of Sportsmanlike Conduct, but merely a general guideline.
Article 171: Damage to Surfing’s Image
Individuals bound by this Policy shall not engage in any conduct which could cause damage to the image of the sport of surfing. For purposes of this Article, “damage to the image of the sport of surfing” is defined as any act, regardless of time or place, which casts the sport of surfing or WSL in a negative light. Without restricting the application of this Article, “damage to the sport of surfing” will include any comments or broadcast from social media accounts that the Surfer is responsible for.
Article 174: Verbal Assault
No individual subject to this Policy shall directly or indirectly verbally assault an WSL official, Surfer, Event sponsor, WSL management member, any WSL Representative, or member of the media. During Events, this Article also includes spectators, or any other person within the designated Event area. For the purposes of this Article, verbal assault is defined as any oral statement about one or more of the aforementioned persons that: threatens harm; instills fear; implies dishonesty; is derogatory; consists of profanity; or is otherwise highly offensive.
To not enforce the standing WSL rules (which dictate minimum fines and possible suspension/expulsion) would further erode the so-called (and highly touted) professionalism of a sport that is intrinsically based on the aesthetic value judgements of a handful of “experts.”
In order to put pressure on the WSL, I have started a petition on Change.org (“Suspend & Fine Gabriel Medina”) calling them out to enforce their rules. I anticipate a stern backlash of people calling me a Brazzo-hater, or just stirring the pot. But this isn’t about hating on the Brazilians (I have a lot of respect for the surfing that is coming out of Brazil – Pedro ‘Scooby’ Vianna at Puerto, ex-WCT’er Ricardo Tatui as an early ambassador, ADS as the consummate professional, and Filipe Toledo’s explosive style–all universally respected). No, it’s about holding individuals responsible for their actions. Despite English being his second language, Medina was keenly aware that the live event webcast has a global audience, and rather than accept the judges’ decision (right or wrong is not the issue, although they got it right) and move on, he made the decision to call out Commissioner KP, who did the absolute best possible with the conditions at hand, and go on to drop an F-bomb on air.
I’m not a softy. The language doesn’t bother me, and surf scribe Ted Endo has actually argued for the merits of this type of passion from Medina in the past (“Gabriel Medina and the Importance of Bad Sportsmanship”), but if the WSL wants to continue to garner non-endemic sponsorship dollars and an ever-larger audience, then they need to take the incident with the gravity it deserves. It has already proven to be the most memorable thing from the contest, but it is most definitely not the best thing for the sport.
So what’s fair? The maximum potential fine is $101,000 (max of all three rules violated) in addition to a possible suspension. Being that Medina is the only surfer sponsored by Samsung, the marquee sponsor of the entire professional surf tour, even the maximum fine would be a drop in the bucket to what he is currently raking in via endorsements alone. The fine won’t hurt him, but an event suspension while he’s defending his title will put him on his heels for the remainder of the season (coupled with his Round 3 exit at Snapper, Medina will have no more throw-away finishes if he is to have any hope of a repeat title), and it will definitely teach him a lasting lesson about humility and how a little class can go a long way.
To be completely honest, and for full disclosure, there is a personal component to this petition. I want it to meaningfully impact Samsung (via their association with Medina) and draw attention to some of its unsavory, hypocritical activities that impact surfing (and our planet) in an irrefutably negative way. Samsung has only recently bought in to surf culture via the WSL and its oh-so-cute commercials of dad’s filming daughters learning to surf with their waterproof phones; but meanwhile, on the other side of the Pacific, at the southern tip of South Korea, Samsung, contracted by the US Navy, has been quietly destroying a UNESCO world heritage site, what was once the largest soft coral reef forest in the world, to build a new naval base.
Despite 94% of the population of Jeju Island having voted against the base, the Korean national government ignored their referendum. Since construction began, Jeju has the highest crime rate in all of South Korea because the villagers are constantly jailed and repressed for protesting the construction. Even the mayor and local clergy of Jeju of have been jailed numerous times. There is no way I can do justice to the people of Jeju and their plight at the hands of Samsung and the US military, but I at least can make you and the rest of the surfing public aware that this is going on. For more information about Jeju Island, visit savejejunow.org
The petition is real (sign up here or at the bottom of the piece), but that’s not what’s important. I hope Medina learns from this experience and matures. I also hope the WSL is more discerning about their sponsorship bedfellows in the future. For no matter how adamant the WSL is about doing what’s best for the future of surfing (and if that future looks like tennis, then Bobby Martinez has already said it best), if we as surfers continue to complicity condone the destruction of the ocean, then we’re going to have bigger problems than athletes mouthing off on the webcast.
Sign my petition: World Surf League: Suspend and Fine Gabriel Medina.