Gabe Medina, ASP World Champion 2014, deserves his new title fair and square but he certainly owes Ajelo Muniz a cerveja or two.
Portugal seemed a lifetime ago and the build up to the Fanning-Medina-Slater show down was all the surf media has talked about since. But when the 2014 Billabong Pipe Masters finally got started we were forced to endure further pauses and waiting periods where the surf was good enough for the world to get out there and perform countless acts of heroism – but not for the contest to proceed. Did I here someone say ‘building tension’?
During the waiting Slater’s busted toes add to the drama. There were countless interviews, round-ups and reviews on the three favourites which only served ultimately to dull the excitement rather than sharpen it. However I imagine that it pales by comparison to the Brazilian media attention surrounded Gabe’s every waves, move or meal.
It’s easy to get lost in the hyperbole and excitement. Terms like ‘Unstoppable’ or even ‘Blitz’ are a little strong in references to Medina’s year. He has been relentless and in flow for sure. He signalled his intended backhand in tricky Snappers, then sealed his reputation in challenging Chopes and Fiji. But Fanning also had three wins of his own at Bells, J Bay and Portugal. While both Slater and Parko were still in the mix without a single win in 2014. Yet that doesn’t detract from the fact that the only other 20 year world champ was Slater and look where he is now.
No one cared about the early rounds or even really who was in them, with a few important exceptions. As early as Round three Dusty Payne (who could have handed the title to Fanning or Slater) excited the crowd, but backdoor welcomed Medina – as it has to so many needy contenders before – and Dusty headed home for a mai-tai while Gabe progressed. After that the only heats that really mattered were Round 3 Heat 12 and Round 5 Heat 3. And both of these involved Ajelo Muniz.
The 25 year old, ranked 26th, Muniz paddled out against one of history’s best sportsmen on his favourite wave. Using years of experience Slater squeezed in and out of a crumbing right for an 8.60. It went back and forth slowly and it looked like King Kelly might have it, but with 60 seconds on the clock the young Brazilian coursed through one of the best waves of the day. Backdoor spat out a 9.50 and Slater’s number 12 evaporated.
Never seeming to wobble and retaining his composure throughout the event, Fanning (possibly expecting to get lynched on the beach) seem to baulk against Muniz in Round 5. The Coolie Kid made the wrong call, took the first set wave and … Ajelo has it and so does Medina!!! The World has a new hero and the first South American world champ. The crowd surged into the Pacific seemly about to paddle out en mass to congratulate their new champ who sat waiting for his quarterfinal with fellow Brazilian Toledo.
After that all that was to be decided was whether Medina would become World Champ AND Pipe Master or whether Julian Wilson would become Triple Crown Champ AND Pipe Master in 2014. That’s a lot of weight on a single heat, but that is the nature of Pipe, so often it comes down to the final to deliver redemption or defeat. So many world titles have come down to not just a single heat, but in fact the very last wave of the year and 2014 would be no different.
[pullquote]Wilson opened with both barrels firing, scoring 9.93 within seconds of the start buzzer[/pullquote]
Wilson has had an appalling year only reaching the semis once this season. Yet his progression through the Triple Crown ranks has been lost in the din of the World Title contention. Wilson opened with both barrels firing, scoring 9.93 within seconds of the start buzzer. The New World Champ was having none of that and – hoping to pull a Parko by taking both titles in one event – stroked into the next wave and threaded his way through to a 10. He followed it up almost instantly with an 8 and Wilson had to sit through an agonizing 20 minutes without a second wave of consequence. Still needing 8.08 by the 2-minute mark lines formed on the horizon. Both surfers turned and both went. Wilson went right, Medina left. Both were massive scores. Both improved their second wave score. And both returned to the beach and waited for the results.
Wilson stood seemingly serious and comparatively alone. The Brazilians convinced of another Medina victory, hoisted their boy and chaired him to a trophy that wasn’t his. The new world champ was returned to the sand with as much dignity as was possible after such a fuss – metres away Wilson’s much small team raise the 2014 Pipe Master and Triple Crown champ.
So is this it the long awaited changing of the guard?
History has been made and the paradigm of modern professional surfing shifted. All we can say for sure is there’s a dustbin somewhere full of “Lightning strikes x 4” or ‘KE12Y” tees and cap going unused.