Gabriel Medina’s defense of the World Surf League title didn’t get off to the greatest start and it wasn't just because of disappointing results.
The defending champion was fined after the first event of the season for venting his frustration at an interference call with some foul language on a live interview.
He apologized for the outburst but it didn’t help his performances. The 21-year-old only managed to break into the top ten once during the opening five events and many questioned whether he could handle the pressure that comes with being a new world champ.
However, it seems Medina is getting back to his best at just the right time and he sealed his first victory of the season at the Quiksilver Pro in France with a dominant win over Bede Durbidge in the final.
He had been showing signs of resurgence, finishing on the podium at the last two contests, but after finally reaching the top step again Medina is firmly back in the title race.
“It feels so good, I’ve been trying so hard this year,” said Medina. “I’m so stoked, my board felt really good and everything went my way.
“I’m really glad to be back on the podium and especially for a win. I know Mick [Fanning] and Adriano [de Souza] are way up there, but if they lose anything I am here.”
There is still work to be done if the Brazilian wants to keep his world title but he overcame plenty of obstacles to take the win in France.
He stomped a stunning air in the opening rounds, beat John John Florence in the quarter-finals and saw off competition from his countryman de Souza, who is currently in second overall, in the semis.
Fanning, the always consistent three-time champion, still wears the yellow leader’s jersey, after he won the last event and finished fifth in France, but Medina is now less than 10,000 points behind the Australian, and one win away from the top spot.
Tyler Wright is out of contention but moved up to fifth in the women’s World Surf League rankings after her first win of the season in France.
The Australian beat Tatiana Weston-Webb to make it back-to-back wins at the event in Culs Nus but is too far behind Carissa Moore to upset the odds with one event left.
The men have two rounds left to surf including the Moche Rip Curl Pro in Portugal and the legendary Billabong Pipe Masters.
Fanning is the defending champ in Portugal and Julian Wilson, who sits one place above Medina in fourth in the rankings, took the top spot at Pipeline last year, so Medina will have to keep his impressive late-season form going if he wants to stay in the hunt. But if reigning champ can keep his cool, there’s no reason why this can’t still be his year.