Oooh boy! The fireworks coming out of the Surf Ranch post event have been, let’s just say, on the spicy side. Fan reaction to the venue in general is certainly split. And now, the World Surf League judging has come under fire from one of the sport’s most talented surfers. Gabriel Medina took his gripes on judging public following his loss to Ethan Ewing.
Please understand the importance of this discussion.
Surfing is my life, and my love for this sport is unconditional. I surf with passion and intend to leave a beautiful legacy when I look back one day.
However, the surfing community, especially the Brazilian one, has been appalled by the lack of clarity and inconsistency in the definition of grades for many years now, but lately it has been even more shocking.
It’s clear that the judges’ assessment is now rewarding very simple surfing, incomplete transitions, and PROGRESSION and VARIETY is being completely taken out of the equation. This is very frustrating and threatens the growth of the sport.
Fans and sponsors will not accept that this continues and, for the foreseeable future, will end up pulling away as they expect an equal and fair trial for the sport.
It is also important to note that many coaches have had the opportunity to speak with the WSL after heats/stages to discuss PROGRESSION and VARIETY in the criteria and the lack of appreciation for tricks. The feedback received is always quite defensive, with bad examples to illustrate their points.
The WSL urgently needs to clarify its criteria and apply fair judgment to preserve the evolution of the sport.
Gabriel Medina and all Brazil
So, while the note on his Instagram page was well penned and actually rather courteous, will it garner a fine or suspension from the WSL? Publicly disparaging referees is a fairly big no-no, whether you’re an NBA athlete, an NFL employee and so on and so forth. Fines are levied. Suspensions are sent down. And there’s certainly precedence in surfing. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Few notes here, first. While fans should (and will) passionately support their heroes, the support shown by Gab’s following is over the top. Even he would (should) agree. Following Medina’s loss to Ewing, the Australian received death threats. He posted a story to his Instagram page of a message from a man wearing military garb named André Guizelini.
“One day, you will compete here in Brazil and us will remember you. Get ready,” he wrote. “I’m saying again, here in Brazil, we will kill you. Saquarema will be your funeral.”
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Alright. That’s just, stupid. For the record, Ewing nabbed a 9.07 to Gabriel’s 8.67. Many of the comments on the WSL’s sites and other public posts were on the edge of rational. For the record, I didn’t really find this result that off. The shocking aspect was that it was the first final Gabriel had missed at the Ranch. I actually thought Italo Ferreira had more of a gripe. In his final with Griffin Colapinto, Italo landed two reverses on his final right-hand wave, needing a 9.07. He did not get the score. Griff, for his part surfed beautifully, but his last wave was all power and vertical turns. Eye pleasing for certain but he did not do much in the name of progression. Italo’s reverses were just that, reverses. There wasn’t a lot of air under his board. Still, it was a tough one for the Brazilian.
(Side note and my first real blunder of 2023: I had both Griff and Italo in my sights post event but didn’t get a chance to ask them about the scores. Dumb. )
Both Italo and Filipe Toledo posted on Instagram as well, (seemingly) questioning the judging after. “For the love of sport,” Filipe wrote, “I’m still firm and strong. And now, I feel happy seeing the posts by Gabriel Medina, Ítalo Ferreira, and many others, who can still adhere to the idea that what we seek will always be the evolution of the sport, with justice and transparency.”
It seems that the latter two were pretty careful not to mention the World Surf League specifically. Which brings us back to Gabriel Medina. Will he be fined or suspended? I reached out to the WSL for comment but have yet to hear anything back. I’m not sure I will. In a bit of foreshadowing, perhaps, an anonymous WSL spokesperson surprisingly told Reuters that, “it is unacceptable for any athlete to question the integrity of our judges who … are elite professionals.”
The most recent (and visible) case of a suspended surfer was Joel Tudor, who was booted for a year after his dustup with the WSL. His suspension came after multiple infractions and to Medina’s credit, Tudor’s disparaging remarks were probably done a lot less eloquently (and longboarding is probably a lot less consequential, at least when it comes to the WSL’s revenue). Of course Bobby Martinez was suspended in 2011 after calling the ASP a “wannabe tennis tour.” Jeremy Florence also got the hook from the then ASP after a meltdown over judging at J-Bay in 2014. Toledo was dismissed from the Fiji Pro and was fined after storming the judges tower in Brazil in 2017. Those are just a few off the top of my head (remind me if I missed any).
So what about Medina? With the way the post was worded, I don’t see him getting suspended (I’ve been wrong plenty). Now fined? That will probably happen. That’s pretty standard in any sport whether the criticism comes on social media or at the podium during the presser. And he violated the WSL rule book on public comments in the Conduct Policy section (p.88). Athletes are required to “refrain from making derogatory comments on social media.” The WSL usually doesn’t disclose fine amounts. But we shall see. Regardless, the hype and drama of the 2023 tour has been dramatically ramped up. And that’s never a bad thing.
Editor’s Note: World Surf League CEO Erik Logan has responded to the judging criticism. Read that here.