The Face of the Tour in 2012

| posted on November 15, 2011

Gabriel Medina, leading the charge for the next generation of World Title contenders. Photo: Ellis

Shea Lopez

The author of SURFER’s Top 32 Review, Shea Lopez spent 11 years competing on the World Tour and now reigns as our resident expert on the pro surfosphere.

Isn’t it ironic? The ASP gets heaps of shit for straying from the Dream Tour concept of the last decade in favor of capturing the masses with big city stops, then the surf ranges from fun to excellent for all those events. While here on the North Shore at Haleiwa, I have yet to see one competitor attempt to ride a wave in the lake like conditions. In fact, my 36-pound, 5-year-old daughter has been loving the waves.

One surfer that would be able to somehow rip the minimal swell is Gabriel Medina—we all knew that, though. What we didn’t know: He is also capable of dominating a surfer the caliber of Parko, in solid waves, on his backhand, without ever going to the air or spinning around like a ballerina. This spells major trouble for Kelly Slater, who has now lost twice to Medina in the quarterfinals en route to Medina’s two victories in four WT starts since the mid-year rotation. Both of those victories came in events that never dipped below head high, with plenty of power to see Taylor Knox get his best results of the year.

How in the world could a 17-year-old semi-rookie—the way this whole rotation weirdness goes, this is really just a warm up for his first full season in 2012, when he is actually able to compete in the World Title race—win at such a high level of competition? Because he is that ridiculously good.

Think about his man-on-man heats for a second:

When have you seen him fall on a critical wave? Never!

When have you seen him hold back? Never!

When have you seen him amaze you? Every heat!

Now, when have you seen Kelly feel pressured from another competitor like this? Only AI during his incredible five-year run, which would go down as the greatest rivalry in pro surfing history. And AI was much older than Medina is now, and in his prime. Medina, at 17, is still a decade away from his prime.

Before I get too far ahead of myself and claim Medina to be the next Ke11y, you have to examine how far surfing heats has progressed, and who else is capable of Medina-type performances. At the top of that list would have to be Kolohe Andino, based on his incredible three in a row 6-Star victories, which he just added to his two 4-Star victories earlier this year, and his groundbreaking early round performances during the Lowers Prime back in April. This is a kid that knows how to compete and surf at a level very few before him have reached. Plus he’s a regular foot on a tour that heavily favors those surfers. For 2012, the WT, and the world, will see how far and fast he can take his skills.

The other surfer we’ve been able to get a glimpse of for the back half of 2011 is John Florence. Far and away the best tube rider in his age group—and arguably the world—John may be playing catch-up in the smaller stuff and figuring out heat strategy, but his uncompromising desire to push his surfing to perfection will be mind blowing to watch progress.

Behind them await hundreds of equally talented kids busting ass, dreaming of one day finding themselves amongst the top 32.

So where does this leave the superhuman, 40-year-old at the start of next season? And will he even have the juice left in him to dominate Generation Freesurf for one more title? If I see him practicing big spins and inverted stalefish loops I’ll let you know, because those are the moves of the future if you want to stay cutting edge. Kelly is arguably the best athlete to ever walk the Earth. And definitely the most competitive. I wouldn’t put it past him to beat these kids into submission while he takes yet another trip around the world surfing for love and money…lots of money!

  • Leo

    Andino only won events without WT members. What about the real rookies, Alejo and Julian, and a 19-year-old semi-rookie Pupo?

  • http://trombonedevara.wordpress.com/ Trombone

    The Three Musketeers anyone?

  • leo is correct

    of course Leo is correct here. Kolohe’s wins are all against nobody. Comparing him to Medina is a joke at this point, but we know Nike and Target pay good money for the name drops so it’s all good.

  • Stucco

    I’ve bit my tounge on the Medina Bangwagon so far, because he seems like a good kid and none of this mega hype is his fault. But this is getting out of hand. I live in SF and I saw Medina in the line up several times prior to the contest and of course IN the contest as well. Gabrel Medina is exactly what he appears to be: a very, very good 17-year-old KID who is extremely good at sticking airs. But the key word is KID. He still looks weak in transitions and surprisingly slow overall. It’s almost as if someone told him Brazos have a rep for having flailing styles so he’s muted everything except for his airs. But I’ve seen it with my own eyes: despite the results in SF, when compared to the likes of Slater, Parko, Knox, Fanning, etc. his non-aerial surfing is still very immature.

    But again, that’s not really a dig on Gabriel: he’s still just a KID. I have to hand it to him: he’s found a winning formula in onshore beach breaks under the current judging criteria: just keep punting like mad because no one will match him in that area. But if he wins in solid and OFFshore J-Bay, Bells, Snapper, Teaupoo, etc., then I’ll be a believer. He’ll do really wel overalll, for sure, because there’s 4 beachbreaks and a few more lefts on the 2012 schedule. But to claim that Slater is intimidated by him is preposterous.

    So, I think you’re off on this one as well, Shea; didn’t you claim that Slater was going to throw in the towel in 2011 – and look what happened. Are you just trying to get him fired up so he’ll be back for one more year? That’s fine. I’d like to see him surf as well. Whatever it takes, I guess.

  • Baz

    I’m with you on this one Stucco. Not knocking what Medina’s achieved to date because he’s clearly an amazing talent – but he’s still only won in junky beachbreaks, even if they weren’t tiny conditions. If the conditions turn on for Snapper, J-bay, Bells, Cloudbreak, or even Trestles for that matter – his turns will be exposed. Kelly and others (Julian, Mick, Jordy, to name a few) should beat him comfortably. I could be wrong of course, but I’m not seeing a whole lot of power (yet).

  • Danny

    Oh my god, you gringos are eating your words the whole year about Medina, and will keep doing so. Doesn’t matter what analysts as good as Shea says, doesn’t mater results, doesn’t maters what Pro Surfers says (Parko:”he’s ons of the most talented human beings I’ve ever seen”. Ke11y: “He’s going to win a bunch of world titles”) you still always manage to find excuses and what If…

    even If doesn’t make ANY sense like Stucco : ” despite the results in SF, when compared to the likes of Slater, Parko, Knox, Fanning, etc. his non-aerial surfing is still very immature.” / “Gabrel Medina is exactly what he appears to be: a very, very good 17-year-old KID The key word is KID”…Oh really genius, you are saying that a 17 years old KID is immature? Give me a break.

    THE WHOLE POINT IS HE’S BEATING THE BEST GUYS, SURFING AMAZING AT 17!

  • Danny

    And please, STOP THE BULLSHIT ABOUT MEDINA RAIL SURFING, IN SF HE WON HALF OF HE’S HEATS WITHOUT A SINGLE AIR (ROUND1, ROUND3 AND FINAL). HE GOT A 9 + WITH BASICALLY 2 HACKS ON HE’S BACKSIDE…. AS STABS MAG SAID “HE WON OF PARKO DOING PARKO’S GAME”. PLEASE ENOUGH ALREADY, THIS IS GETTING BEYOND RIDICULOUS!

  • Stucco

    Danny, my “genius” friend: I didn’t say the kid wasn’t talented, and I did my best to be realistic without being negative toward him, because he seems very nice and respectful. My point is that I don’t think he’s a world title contender YET, not unless all 4 beachbreak contests next year are in sloppy/shifty conditions, and he wins every single one of them, and does decently well in every other contest. I’ve surfed with many, many pros, and I saw Gabriel very recently in the line up, and compared to the upper eschelon of pros I’m not that impressed. I AM impressed with how much height and lift he gets while not going very fast, but the rest of his game isn’t fully there yet.

    I live in SF and surf this sh*tty beachbreak all the time, and I can tell you from experience that while one person is completely locked in and killing it, an equally talented person can be having a total shocker. Happens aaallll the time. I’m not saying that to degrade Medina’s win; quite the contrary. One of the assets I saw, and something Shea alluded to, is the kid just does not get flustered or intimidated, and he paddles REALLY well. So, he’ll just keep paddling and paddling and catching waves until he punts something really huge and sticks it. Or, he’ll just keep catching waves until he finds the right one that lets him do 2 huge hacks on his backhand and get a 9.

    With that said, at this point in his career, I’d much rather surf like Parko and never do another air in my life than surf like Gabriel Medina and punt like crazy. But like I said, if Bells or JBay is 6-8 foot and off shore next year and he wins either one of those contests, perhaps I’ll change my mind. But I’ve seen him in person, and it’s just not that impressive. He’s the most boring radical aerialist I’ve ever seen, if that makes any sense. But, as I said many times, he’s only 17, and has PLENTY of time to improve all aspects of his game. So, I agree with Kelly, and apparently you, that he’ll probably win multiple world titles. I just don’t see it happening for a few years.

  • Stucco

    Any by the way, Danny: my comments have NOTHING to do with him being Brazilian. The only mentioned his nationality when I hypothesized why he seems to surf so muted in between turns. But my critique has nothing to do with me being a “gringo” or him being a “Brazo”.

    I happen to not be all the impressed with Kolohe Andino either, to further disagree with Shea. I’ve seen him surf plenty in person. He’s putting on mass and getting stronger, but at this point he still surfs like an NSSA kid. That will develop over time, but even if Kolohe Andino sticks 3 huge airs on a wave at Trestles, the difference between his overall surfing and Kelly’s is still abundantly clear.

    I don’t know, though: maybe you’re right Danny. These kids are still finding ways to win contests, even if they clearly aren’t on the same level yet. Their TRICKS are at the same level, or BETTER, but I just don’t think are as good overall. But that’s a reflection of our current judging criteria. It’s too bad Christian Fletcher didn’t hit his prime during this generation: he’d probably win a sh*tload of these contests. Just go huge and stick a few things and don’t worry about the in between. If that’s the direction things continue go, Old Gringos like me will probably stop watching contests, because it’s just becoming a glorifed air show.

  • Freddy

    I think Stucco´s mind is stuck in the shit. He has no solid argument against Medina , Medina won Parko without AIRS !!

  • Fishboard Twin

    I think it’s silly to put Kolohe and Medina in the same sentence. Kolohe won three events. However, no renowned surfer participated. Just look at the semi-finals and quarter-finals of these events. No big names. The future holds great duels between Gabriel Medina, Julian Wilson, Miguel Pupo, Owen Wright. This is the new generation. John John will occasionally get good results in hollow waves. But only them. I still hope to see great things from Conner Coffin.

  • Luca

    I agree with the final part of this last Stucco’s comment. The judging criteria now has switched to much on airs. It’s true that finish a huge no grab 360 air is very difficult and the success rate it’s very low, but my question is: a w.t. contest surfed wave deserve to be judged 9.5 or 10 with just one only completed air manouver? This is my point to me a wave at the w.t level can not be scored so high with only one manouver out of the water. Let me do a sample: if a surfer take off on a head high speedy wave and tha after some down the line he matches a closing section and goes for a huge air completing it but with no chances to continue to surf that wave to me this huge air could be never scored a 9 or 10 also if such manouver was the 1st one which you know is considered the most important by judges, because if with a floater or reentry that surfer was able to continue to surf that wave such air doesn’t deserve huge score because was not functional but only show..

  • Luca

    regarding Medina he is the best thing happened to the w.t. in the last 5 years, he has an amazing talent but especially he has an amazing BALANCE out of normal. So with this super balance he will be able to work and train with success in every aspect of surfing: power, rail, airs tube..just everything, morevover he has a good and fluid style..he can only improve let him have the time he needs. But until now at the first occasions for his surfing he has immediately won..this means to be a winning people a killer…kind of attitude that 99.99 % of american-californian surfer doesn’t have except Ke11y.

  • Marcus

    Great article. I hope Ke11y goes for 12, and I also hope he gets it. 12 won’t be a walk in the park though. I also like this mid season split that brings up competitors. The mid season cut adds emphasis to consistent performance. I know there are 100s of surfers waiting in the wings, but are there enough sponsor dollars to wisely support more than 20-40?: over a long enough period to work through the learning curve? Maybe once Ke11y retires we have a tour with 4 Brazilians, 4 Aussies, and maybe 2 Americans fighting for the world title, and the rest rotating around the CT and QS. These are interesting times.

  • bono_baby

    i hope kelly doesnt return for 2012, or just gets dominated all year

  • Ringo

    I remember years ago, when Pottz won his final heat of a WCT contest in Brazil (Barra da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro) with an average aerial at his last wave, everybody said “wow, this guy is the best, amazing etc”.
    Now, that brazilians are teaching how to do it and winning events with huge and massive flights, suddenly gringos become “blasé” about the manouver. When Bruno Santos won Teahupoo, it was because the waves were not that good at that time. Adriando won Supertubos in pristine conditions, and all we hear is “oh, that claim was lame”…
    I really have to laugh. I am waiting the day when a “brazo” will be winning at Pipeline and people will say “bro, tube is out of fashion”.
    Wake up, people. The future arrived. Brazil are making much more talented surfers than other country in the world. Just live with that. You were always talking about how surf had to develop as a sport to be respected and compaired to tennis, volleyball etc. How did you expect that with only three countries “playing the game”?
    Be grateful that another country has joined you. It’s good for the sport.
    Peace.

  • StaleFish

    How come only one mention of Owen Wright in this thread? That combination of strength and grace seems like it can carry him a long way.

  • http://andthreads.blogspot.com/ AND

    Eh, I could have watched another YouTube video.

  • bk

    @Ringo- Taj Burrow has been performing the type of “Brazilian” surfing you are talking about for years. He has essentially every air in the book stashed away in his repertoire, and It has netted him exactly ZERO world titles.
    I’m not saying that Gabriel or the other young chargers won’t take to the air to win a title, but it’s not exactly like it is groundbreaking stuff at this point.

  • SLi Dawg

    I think he has 13 in him. He’s still got to be the most limber guy around?
    I’ve seen pictures of him kissing his own ass.
    He loves surfing against Taj. His buddy Taylor is still older and on tour.
    He has nothing to lose which was his winning formula this year in the begining to get his year cooking… I hope he does it for the old dawgs. Good luck amigo.

  • Stu Kennedy

    Shea, please write more often. I think there is not enough surf writing and commentary around, particularly around the ASP comps.
    Especially the opinion of a former WCTer who was very fun to watch in left hand barrels and wasn’t too bad with air tricks either. Don’t let the critics shy you into silence. Your opinion matters. You’ve earned it.

  • Felipe

    Common guys!! The kid is fuc** ripping and beating all the big names. I am pretty sure he is the biggest talent to arrive after K11,5. if he is going to be a WORLD CHAMP? I believe so but it does not matter… Taj has never won and almost never beaten Kelly, Media has… Parko, the best style in tour, has never been champion either in how many year?? 10 ?? Taylor Knox has 01 (one!) win in 20 years on tour. And you, that critized the kid cause is brazilian, love these surfers. Love they cause they are from US or OZ… that´s wrong!
    I am SURE you will have (with all the respect) to swallow your own words. Grabiel will rip in all conditions and keep amazing us!!! He will be a WORLD champ and please don´t forget Alejo, Adriano, Jadson, Pupo because they WILL beat your american and ozzy spoiled kids!!! Live with that!!! Brasil time!!!

  • jdubbs

    I was at the SF contest as well. Medina is legit, he’s got the whole package. As he fills out, there’s almost nothing he can do.

    When Kelly was starting out, the knock on him was that he was great in small waves, but would get his butt kicked in Hawaii. Well, we all see what happened. I can’t wait to see Medina at Pipeline to see what he can do.

    That being said, the claiming has to stop.

  • vince

    You said it man! Medina is a threat to kelly like I have never seen, the kid rips so flawlessly its scary! But I think kelly should retire only when there’s a guy really up to his level, now he is just cruising every year to a new title with all the merit because tthe guy is a true legend and a renewing athlete that pursues perfection and keeps up with the avantgard of surfing. I Love this game!

  • Tim Hamby

    Another great post Shea- I always enjoy your blog and expert analysis. Your early midseason tip on Medina put him on my fantasysurfer team, where he has remained invaluable to me. That said, and even while he has beaten the Champ twice and his future potential is extreme, I totally agree with Stucco’s sentiments here (and again- no disrespect to Brazos- I’ve always thought they all ripped, just needed more water time and ultimately, results in larger surf). On Stucco’s comment, “He’s the most boring radical aerialist I’ve ever seen, if that makes any sense.” Yes, that makes total sense to me. I agree that his victories seem to have been much more the result of his uncanny balance, relentless punts and courage, than overall surfing style- speed, flow, power and linkage (which is not say he isn’t spectacular- he is). Perhaps it is just natural teenage gangliness, but I tell you- I well remember seeing Kelly surf in person when he was 14, and while he was not launching massive aerial rotations, he had that intrinsic STYLE (and explosiveness) that would carry him on to those 11 World Titles. Obviously, surfing’s changed greatly since then, so who knows what it will continue to evolve into, and how well someone like Medina will fit into that mold in the future. But my guess- it is going to be a long time (not in our lifetimes) before we see another person dominate the sport like Slater has. We will continue to see more Medinas. And that will be great fun.

  • http://www.balisharks.com Balisharks.com

    Good read. Shea should write the power ranking.

  • Felipe

    the kid is starting to prove what I ve said…. 5th place in his fisrt event in Pipe, beaten Shane Dorian (the biggest charger in the world)… not bad, uh?

  • Tim Hamby

    Felipe:

    That was an EPIC event- a big win for the ASP, pro surfing, Hawaii and multiple surfers (Kieren, John John, Kelly and several Hawaiian Pipe specialists who we don’t get to see often enough). And oh yeah… Medina! After riding him loyally since mid-year, I dropped him from my final lineup because I just didn’t believe he’d be able to handle the power of the predicted swell… As a result of this and another unwise final move, I dropped from 58th to 80th in the final fantasysurfer rankings! I’ll add that not only did Gabriel easily handle the juice, he looked super doing it- extremely smooth and more stylish than I’ve seen him in any of the other events, including the ones he took down. It looks like he clearly understands the concept of attacking big waves (vs. letting them attack you). If he was nervous, he didn’t show it- looked like he was having fun. I still won’t crown him the next Kelly (finding those holes and beating John John with those two waves in the final minutes on a 5′ 6″? Are you kidding me?!). But I tell you what: I won’t be dropping Medina from any events next year, no matter what kind of surf is predicted. Good on him.

  • http://www.da2shop.es merce

    bueno yo me inclino por defender a median me parece un ezcelente surfer con una progresion asombrosa y creo que es alguien que aun tiene muchas cosas que decir en el mundo del surf

  • Burckauser

    A year later.. The Peniche Scandal.

  • Alistair Goodwin

    For an ‘expert pro’ Shea is more often wrong than not. I have never seen Kelly surf a heat as bad as Medina’s in the ‘ Chopes contest. He gave up!
    Its not just moves and heat savvy either, no matter what they say from the judging stand style plays its part, thank God, and thats one of the reasons Slater consistently whips a lot of guys with not -so- nice styles.
    Of course Shea will be right eventually, Kelly will be knocked off his perch by old age or his personal dis-inclination to continue the grind of world cup campaigns.
    No way is he intimidated by anyone.
    Also I will put money on the fact that Medina will not be the next world champ or be second for that matter.
    But keep it up Shea, at least a bit of controversy will mean people read your stuff and it no doubt pays better than your pro surfing aye bro?

  • http://goleftsurf.blogspot.com/ Morgan

    Medina is extremely advanced for his age. Reminds me of Kelly in that regard, but so does John John. However, does the high-flying style these kids employ increase their risk for injury?