Gabriel Medina defeated Sebastian Zietz in the Final of the Quiksilver Pro France at La Gravière this evening, the culmination of a pulsating day of professional surfing in southwest France. With a packed weekend crowd lining the shore in Hossegor and golden evening light shining on running righthand walls, the 2014 World Champion made relatively short work of the Hawaiian veteran. It is Medina's third win at this event, and he rocketed himself from the relatively unfamiliar depths of No. 8 up to No. 3 on the Jeep Leaderboard, still with a mathematical shot at the 2017 World Title.
"It feels so good to win an event," he said. "This is a really special place for me, I love coming here, I'm so, so stoked. It's been a great event this year, we've had really good waves. I'm not even thinking about the World Title or the rankings, I just wanted a win. I promised to myself I had to win one event this year, and it feels so good now I've done it."
"I was trying to get barrelled, conditions were amazing," said a jazzed Zeitz, "That [other] side of the draw was super gnarly, Gabriel and John, probably the heaviest guys on Tour. I'm bummed I didn't put up more of a fight, but it's alright, I got a trophy. I was so stoked when I saw that mural of Andy Irons [on the WWII bunker beneath the contest scaffolding]. Andy would still be smoking guys out here, he loved waves with power. Hopefully I'm doing him a bit proud today."
While not standing out in terms of performances or heat totals during this event up until today, Medina showed his class -- putting on a thoroughly rounded display this afternoon. First getting past the event's standout -- and crowd favorite -- surfer John John Florence in their Semifinal, the 23-year-old who on the hubris/humble spectrum has always come closer to the former. He seemed somehow to draw on a siege-mentality fire from being a relative outsider this week, greeting the very notion with well-channeled, energized defiance.
While Zietz, easily the most relaxed and arguably the most affable surfer on Tour, had shone throughout the rounds, he started wobbly and remained largely thus in the Final. Medina, having sniffed blood in the early exchanges, never looked like anything but the event champion-elect, as the blazing Autumnal sun began to dip on a capacity beach crowd for the final time this year.
In terms of his surfing, Medina was bringing everything from an improvised backside flip in the Semi against Florence, landing in a kind of one-foot pig-dog to recovery, to anything-but-stock backside carving snaps and late hits as the lines spread out and raced in the Final, allowing him to adapt to the ever-changing waveforms at La Gravière.
As can often be the case, the Semi with Florence, as a spectacle, should have been the Final. With Florence making a couple of errors early on with incomplete rotations at the end of rides, Medina had his foot on the Hawaiian's throat for most of the encounter, having converted his opportunities into the excellent range. And despite the World Champ nailing a 9 for a string of stinging hits that culminated in a shorebreak air-reverse, Medina had done enough to make those errors from the start of the heat pay.
"That was a really fun heat, I made a few mistakes at the start that ended up costing me in in the end," said Florence. "This year, the waves, the people, have been so awesome. I would've loved to make the Final, but Gabe was performing real well. I'll look back, and learn from my mistakes."
In terms of the World Title race, other than the shuffling of the pack beneath the top two, and the very much outside shot now presented to Medina, it was undoubtedly Florence's event, with Jordy Smith having lost early to surrender the Yellow Jersey. If such a thing as momentum even exists in terms of league tables and points totals, being passed with just two events to go by an opponent who's already done what it takes to bring home the title, and who is the firm favorite for all matters Pipeline-related, can't be considered ideal.
Meanwhile, away from World Title talk, one moment this afternoon stood out more than any other. In an epic Quarterfinal between Fanning and Florence, the Hawaiian, having just posted a 9.70, somehow found himself backdooring a rogue, tapering hollow set, and commenced racing through sections. Still in the barrel, the crowd let out a deafening roar, only to see him somehow emerge under a closeout doggy door to an even bigger screech, this one more shrill, more ecstatic.
It was so loud, such a goosebumps resonance, that even the otherwise disinterested gendarmes posted around the site scrambled forward for a look, as if noticing the surfing for the first time. Florence has long been a crowd favorite in Southwest France, but previously only as a contender, an up-and-comer, a prodigy. Whether a passing of the torch moment as both the Champ and the Surfer of hearts and minds, has or will even happen anywhere around the surf world (outside of Latin America), from Kelly Slater to John Florence, is open to debate.
But that transcendent moment felt an awful lot like it here on the beach La Gravière.