Flo Rida’s “Whistle,” a Eurovision version of Marley’s “No Woman No Cry,” Bruno Mars’ “Count On Me,” and one other fruity and unidentifiable Portuguese folk disco tune with a piano accordion. That was the playlist. All day. All week. A total repeat workweek over the contest PA at Supertubes. Waterboarding for the ears, and by the end of the week those forced to endure it daily were just about ready to Van Gogh themselves with plastic butter knives to end the pain. The endless repeat gave every day an unnerving semblance to the one before, but today was nothing like yesterday. After the gravitas of yesterday where the world title was turned on its head under leaden skies and bone cold breezes, today—finals day—seemed like more than simply another day. Yesterday seemed fated. Willed in and out of existence by an upwelling of monstrous forces from the cold deep chasms of the North Atlantic. Fates of men were decided by waves both incredible and heinous. There world title shifts were seismic. Today? Well today by comparison things just seemed to happen. No one seemed at the wheel. Today, for most part, went through the motions. The fireworks of yesterday seemed mere squibs. But just when all seemed drab and meaningless you were made to realise there is a world beyond world titles, and amongst the sub strata there are micro dramas playing out…and in the very last seconds of the contest today we saw one.
Let’s deal with the world title first. Joel Parkinson drew John John Florence in the quarters, the last two contenders standing in this event. Parko—using one of his favorite terms—“selected him to death,” knowing the best way to prevent the kid from spontaneously combusting was to keep him off the best waves. For the most part it worked. Joel got the best wave of the heat—a 10 if he’d come out—but even though he didn’t come out of it, neither did John John. Makes sense. Doing the same at Pipe in December might be another matter altogether.
Joel progressed to the semis where he was drawn against Gab Gab Medina, who earlier in the week had levitated a forehand air five times the height of the wave itself in a freesurf. And just as Kelly said his big mistake yesterday was simply “paddling out,” Joel wished he had of paddled out this morning for his semi, instead of waiting three hours to see out the low tide. The same factor that opened this window of world title opportunity for Parko yesterday—the aquatic moonscape that took down Kelly – also tripped Parko up today. His heat turned full onshore and swampy, and as soon as Parko couldn’t get Supertubed he was almost doomed to be punted into the carpark by Medina, which is pretty much what happened. Parko even somehow managed to match Kelly’s subterranean 5.27-point heat total of yesterday. His solace was that his semi-final finish gave him a net win over his three other world title opponents here in Portugal. It also means the title will go down to Pipe, no matter what happens in Santa Cruz. And it couldn’t have come at a better time for pro surfing.
Today Julian Wilson won the Rip Curl Pro in Portugal. Some will tell you he didn’t, but believe that he did. It’s there, in the results tab. A year that has been relatively free of judging controversy was drawn into one this afternoon, the difference being this one happened in the real world, in real time. It happened on stage, in the surfer’s area. [Your correspondent may have—inadvertently—precipitated the controversy by stating on the broadcast that this year had been controversy-free and the judges should be congratulated as such. Things were going too well.]
The Portuguese crowd, as a whole respectful and knowledgeable when it comes to pro surfing, got right behind Gabriel Medina, a kid from their old colonial possession with a shared mother tongue. And for the bulk of the final it looked like they were going to get Gabby over the line. During the week when the winds had been offshore and the waves solid, Gabby threaded the barrel with valor and deft skill. When the winds swung onshore, he simply punted to the heavens ad infinitum. In the final he did a bit of both. His transitions from high-risk first-maneuver punts to whatever else he did after that, were butter. He went next level this week and rightly felt like the best surfer in the water. Only, at the blast of the strangled foghorn that signified the end of the contest, it turns out he wasn’t.
Did Julian get the score? Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. It was close enough that it was always going to court controversy, especially seeing the heat straddled the paradigms of hollow surf and hi-fi aerials with some fine examples of both. Judging is a smoky science but a science nonetheless. Scores are given for a reason. Scores are judged against scores. Clearly, no one wanted that final score more than Julian, and if the subsequent brouhaha that is already simmering away online detracts from Julian’s surfing one bit, just go and replay the opening 10 minutes of his semi final against Adriano and you’ll see a guy deserving. This day has been a long time coming for Julian Wilson. His surfing has earned it. His surfing this afternoon earned it. His surfing in the final earned it. He’s earned it.
The Medina family was in attendance en masse for the event this week, and added a vibrancy and filial aura on a level the Tour has never seen before. Moms, sisters, stepdads brothers and aunties, they were all there in the area and it was the feelgood story of the week. It was grand. The 18-year-old’s family celebrating Carnivale style every barrel, boost and whiz their boy performed. But it was a feelgood story that went a little sideways this afternoon after it was announced Gabby had actually lost. Charles, Gabby’s stepdad, conducted some impromptu furniture rearrangement in the surfer’s area. Gabby meanwhile was spilling teenage tears on stage. He told the Portuguese crowd in Portuguese that it was the third time “they” had got it wrong. As soon as he was presented his miniature trophy and floppy Portuguese hat (which he comically sat on top of his Rip Curl trucker) promptly walked off stage. Outta there. No acknowledgment of Julian, just stone cold walked off. Julian was left to spray champagne on himself. Gabby has become so accustomed to winning that losing today was simply not an option, even when he did. With time he may learn to take these licks—fair or unfair—with good grace and accept them as simply part of the vagaries of the game. He’s learned to win—he’s got that bit wired—but should also learn to lose. He needs to know that we all want to celebrate his surfing with him, but he has to bring us into the family.
Click here to see the complete results of the Rip Curl Pro.