Former world champ turned surf coach Barton Lynch has cast a critical eye over junior surfing for almost 15 years. In that time only two teenagers have impressed him as much as Gabriel Medina.
“We saw Mick Fanning surf as a youngster and approached him to manage him. We were in no doubt that he would make it. The next kid I saw after that was Owen Wright. Gabriel Medina is the next surfer I’ve seen in that class,” Lynch told SURFING after seeing the then-15-year-old Medina surf at the 2009 ISA World Games in Costa Rica.
Hailing from working class stock and raised in Brazil’s premier wave haven of Maresia, Gabriel is the youngest ever surfer to win a WQS event. He beat South American surfing legend Neco Padaratz to do it, aged 15, at the 2009 6-star Surf International at Florianopolis. Last year, aged 16, Gabriel attempted to become the youngest ever World Tour qualifier (unfortunately finishing well out of contention). The foundation of his success is his aerial prowess. SURFING sat down with the teen sensation (along with fellow Brazilian aerialist Jadson Andre, who acted as interpreter) to find out the key to achieving aerial aptitude by early adolescence, what motivates Gabriel, and why most Brazilian kids can punt before they can turn.
SURFING: What’s your secret to such an aptitude for aerials so young?
Gabriel: I’ve been training at this maneuver for a long time. I pulled my first aerial when I was 12 — a double grab. I don’t know how to explain how I do them. The big reason is the waves at home. It’s pretty much closeouts all the time so you only get one big maneuver to try. In Australia, you get perfect waves, so you can do cutback, cutback. In Brazil you don’t get waves like this.
That elasticity in the way you hit sections — does it come from a youth spent practicing capoeira or jiu-jitsu?
I have never done capoeira or jiu-jitsu. The reason is the wind and bad waves. You see young kids at home who can’t make any turns, just airs. The wind is amazing. It just grabs the board. The Brazilian guy can make every turn but their strongest maneuver is the air.
Name some of the more technical airs getting stomped at home.
Full rotation air reverses, Passion Pops you see in Brazil, Kerrupts. Rodeo Flips happen all the time.
What are your biggest surfing influences?
I watch a lot of movies like Momentum, Trilogy, stuff from Taylor Steele as well as videos of Jordy Smith and Dane Reynolds. Not really local surfers. More videos.
What do you say to criticisms from guys as revered as Kelly Slater that you are unproven in big waves?
I’m okay in bigger tubes. Where I am from [Maresia, Sao Paulo] is the best place in Brazil for barrels. It’s like France and has one of the best waves in country. I think we can go well at Pipeline. We got good waves in Hawaii last winter and I enjoyed it. We really like big waves.
Jadson Andre: [The critics] haven’t seen Gabriel in big waves. Everyone asks about how he is in big waves. He is stronger in big waves and in the barrel than at airs.
What’s your biggest weakness?
My backhand. I am going to train at Snapper for a month.
How does the current crop of Brazilian surfers compare to past generations?
We begin traveling too early. Fifteen years old and we are already traveling. Other guys like Neco [Padaratz] didn’t start until older. They had no sponsor and didn’t have the opportunity we had. We have more opportunity. Because we have been traveling early, we also need to be smart. We are learning and getting better. We know we have to win. My family does not have much money, neither does Jadson’s. We know we have to do well.
Jadson Andre: When he started he didn’t have much opportunity. His family don’t have much money but they are getting better. We know we have to work because we will never have money unless we make it. Our dads have no money. We must work if we want to get money, to see our families live well and to get a new car. That is why some Brazilians are angry and want to go for it. Me, [Gabriel] and Miguel [Pupo] — our family histories are the same. Poor. No money.
Will a Brazilian ever win a world title?
In the future we will have a Brazilian world champ because we have more opportunity and more sponsors. And maybe because of the judging but I don’t think it will be just because of our airs. It will be because of big turns and then an air. —Jed Smith