While awkard low tide conditions made for scant opportunities for most of the 35 minute final, the 2014 World Champion soon grasped the mettle, adopting a pro-active, almost scattergun approach that contrasted sharply with Wilson’s more patient, selective method. The Brazilian launched a series of speculative air attempts on his backhand, seemingly playing the percentage game that something, at some point had to stick. Having built up a slim lead via a quick running tube, Medina then inexplicably allowed Wilson to turn the heat with under 8 minutes to go, gifting the Australian — who’s had the better of all of their senior professional Final clashes, most recently in Tahiti this year — to go on a left for a tight, throaty tube and the score.
Temporarily on the back foot, Medina used the preparatory range-finding efforts to help nail two lefts in final few minutes with a straight air and an air reverse, and put to bed a tight, tetchy final, that conspicuously lacked any of the acrimony that has become a hallmark of the pair’s past Final encounters, most notably the one here in 2012.
“It was an awesome few days here, we had great challenging conditions before and cute smaller conditions today,” Wilson said. “We always get a good test coming here to Peniche, it can be intimidating, or super exciting going for big airs. I’m glad we got a couple of exchanges in that heat and congratulations to Gabriel.”
The day had begun with the prospect of the World Title being awarded at Supertubos for the second year running, but a fired-up Kolohe Andino soon put pay to that, with a one-sided win over the World Champion. In a wave-starved heat that saw Florence only ride four waves for with a combined heat score of a 3.8, a combo away from his 2017 heat average, and more significantly, Andino.
“It was just really hard to find waves out there,” Florence said. “He found two really fun ones but even still it wasn’t those ones we were seeing in the morning, I was excited to get out there and get barreled but couldn’t find them. I get to go home now and I’m really excited to go surf Pipe and hopefully we get some good waves. If I win at home it will be even more meaningful, I feel like.”
That set up Andino for an enticing clash with Wilson, which didn’t fail to live up to its billing. With the swell pulsing for their first Semi Final, a high scoring, above the lip aerial duel was always on the cards. Yet Andino, who by his own admission was in career best heat form yesterday, ultimately fell short against Wilson, whose greater Finals day experience was seeing him patiently build form in calculated, save the best for last fashion.
“I feel like I finally showed how I can surf, especially yesterday so I’m stoked on that,” said Andino after the encounter. “Six years on tour and I feel like I’ve never surfed at 100% and yesterday I feel like I did that so I’m really happy. I’m trying to be honest with myself and get better at the things I need to get better at so I’ll continue to work hard on that.”
While Medina‘s Semi Final with Kanoa Igarashi was a slow encounter with rips chewing and straightening the small peaks, the prospect of another Final with Wilson, as well as his residual competitive desires made it only ever seem like going one way.
Medina’s unprecedented, yet hardly unexpected back-to-back wins in Europe have atoned for his uncharacteristic early-mid season patchy form, and have now set up a tantalizing showdown at the world’s most infamous surf spot in the season finale.
And even the most die-hard Florence fans, no matter how much they would’ve wanted him to lock up the World Title at the earliest opportunity, will be relishing the prospect of the Jeep Leaderboard no.1 trying to bring home the trophy, literally, in his own backyard.
For all the Jeep Leaderboard jumps and World Title scenarios that played out a result of proceedings here in Portugal, you couldn’t help but feel that today, surf fans everywhere were the real winners.