TOAt the prestigious Billabong Pipeline Masters in 2019, the final event of the last completed season of the World Surf League Championship Tour (CT), Italo Ferreira and Gabriel Medina emerged in the final to duel for the world title. It was a significant event. Paddling in the crystal clear waters of Oahu, Hawaii, the two most prominent Brazilian surfers of the moment clashed for the biggest prize in the sport, a reflection of the present and possible future of surfing. Once a sport dominated by Americans and Australians, Brazil has usurped both as the focal point of the men’s field today.
When the competition began, it demonstrated one of the most underrated and fascinating aspects of competitive surfing. Medina, a two-time world champion, is known for his mental toughness, but 10 seconds into the competition, Medina tentatively withdrew from the first wave as Ferreira advanced and took advantage of it for himself. It thundered down the side of the wave, rolling gently at the bottom before emerging triumphantly at the end. The crowd on the beach cheered. The tone was set. Ferreira had immediately reasserted himself and in the next 39 minutes, a restless Medina was unable to perform well enough to deny him a first world title.
At its best, surfing is that one-on-one mental contest that is often won by those who choose their waves wisely, understand the conditions better, and can even intimidate opponents with their mere presence, without losing sight of them. It is also, quite simply, one of the supreme athletic feats in sports. Surfers slide down the walls of the water, emerge from crashing barrels, and soar into the air, landing on the changing surface below. The immense central strength, the legs of a tree trunk, balance and power are necessary attributes.
As surfing enters the Olympic fold, the first question is simply whether it will work. Of all the places for surfing to make its Olympic debut, this place is not an ideal place to show the sport to the rest of the world. The smaller the wave, the less the opportunity for surfers to show the full breadth of their skills. Enter Tsurigasaki Beach, the site of the surfing event in Chiba, about 40 miles outside of Tokyo, which is well known for its tiny waves during the summer.
There are also few events more difficult to follow than surfing, which relies on the most unpredictable battlefield of all sports: the ocean. Any day of competition requires the right conditions to be met or is postponed to another day. Competition days and broadcast coverage may span a seemingly endless flow of hours with ample downtime. In addition to their real opponents, surfers compete against the ocean and even against the judges’ subjective scoring, which can lead to unsatisfactory results.
And yet there is a lot of joy in following this sport. One of the recent emotions has been the clear and steady improvement in women’s CT. The tour is now offering equal prize money and the female surfers continue to get more dynamic with a deepening pool of talents. The progression was underlined by Carissa Moore from Hawaii, the current dominant figure. In April, she threw an air-reverse high in the sky, becoming the first woman to execute such a maneuver in competition. When Moore clutched his face in disbelief after landing, his opponent, Johanne Defay, clapped from the water.
Few characters are currently more absorbing than Medina, a defining figure of the last decade in surfing. His first world title in 2014 helped catalyze the rise of Brazilian surfing and his success has made him a superstar at home, reflected in his number on social media and his close friendship with Neymar, but for others his relentless win-win mentality. coast. has marked him as the resident villain. His cruelty has led to incidents ranging from the “interference” dramas of 2019 when he blocked an opponent from taking a wave in the last minutes of your contest, to some comic outbursts early in his career.
Above all, however, Medina is a phenomenal surfer. He creates some of the most staggering height in the air, however, he is extremely well rounded in his strengths. At times, he seems to slow down time, generating a steady stream of excellence from a large number of waves as his enemies struggle to keep up. Its ability to consistently produce has been unrivaled this year.
Some object to surfing as an Olympic sport, seeing it as a way of life much more than a competition, while others fear even more crowded beaches that could stem from ever-increasing popularity.
Regardless, what these Olympics represent for surfers and also for all new sports is the opportunity to demonstrate your profession on the biggest stage, showing all the athleticism, skill, talent and work necessary to be successful, that his sport is often still cloaked in outdated stereotypes.
Curious viewers will get a glimpse of surfing for the first time and then have a chance to linger beyond for the next two weeks. Time will tell if they do.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism