Three finals for Nat Young nearly mid-way through his second year on tour. No wins yet but they will come. This ain't Buffalo.
All Photos: Jimmicane
With another week of waiting period and a narcoleptic swell forecast, a 2014 Fiji Pro champion would be declared today. And he would be declared quickly. There were only three heats left to run, only four ponies rounding the final bend. Despite a stressful uncertainty in the conditions at first light, an incoming tide produced a wave good enough to convince everyone that it was time to leave paradise.
But before we say our goodbyes…
The podium is only big enough for two people. And with four left in the draw, you do the math. The first heat starred Michel Bourez and Nat Young. Michel had a decent wave — deemed a 7.53 — but wasn’t able to support it with another. He now sits in 2nd place in the ratings, but dangerously so. When you toss away his 13th and 25th place results, Michel’s tally is an overwhelming 1st, 1st, 3rd. See, dangerous. But with six events left and his two throwaways already accounted for, Michel has left himself with no room for error. So essentially, he is his own biggest threat to a potential world title.
In semifinal two, Gabriel Medina took on Kolohe Andino. And took him out. Gabriel showed Kolohe that comboland is a place that exists roughly 2.5 miles off the coast of Tavarua and isn’t quite as lovely as the heart-shaped isle. But Kolohe can’t feel stung. After a shaky start to the year, Brother backed up his 2nd place at Rio with a 3rd here and clawed himself into the top 10. More importantly, he’s surfing like he belongs in the top 10. He’s surfing like he believes in himself. And we kind of do, too.
One last kiss
The final started out with a dick-measuring contest as Gabriel Medina and Nat Young paddled each other foolishly far up the reef. Turns out, Nat’s is bigger and turns out, that doesn’t matter. From the top of the reef, Gabriel caught an average wave and disinterestedly rode it as far as he possibly could — he was basically just hopping through flat water by the end of it. It was confusing, until less than a minute later when he spun around (from an actual good spot in the lineup) and locked in his first score of the heat while Nat was still paddling back from no man’s land. There’s no way of telling if this was a setup play, or just a smart competitor recognizing a big opportunity. Either way, it worked. Gabriel controlled the pace the entire heat. At one point, Nat breathed hope with an 8.17 — but Gabriel was on a wave right behind him and got a 9.87. After that, the ocean slowed and Nat never really had a chance to respond. Nevertheless, Santa Cruz’s finest should be totally happy with his result. But he’s not. Nat wants to win so badly — he’s over the bridesmaids. And given the way he’s surfing, it’s only a matter of time…
Back to Gabe. The biggest change in his surfing this year is in the way he’s competing. So smart, so collected. In his heat against Kolohe, Gabriel almost pulled a page from the book of Mick Fanning and surfed with reservation. And even in the final against Nat, Gabriel only did what it took to win — which is nothing too fancy. Until, of course, he had Nat comboed, in which case he stuck a full rotation alley-oop then attempted an air reverse without so much as a pump in between. And now he’s back in the ratings lead. Looking at his scoreline — 1st, 5th, 9th, 13th, 1st — he only has one throwaway. The next event is at J-Bay, a wave that can be rather difficult for goofy-footers not named Mark Occhilupo. Because after Jeff’s, the tour’s backend features all waves where Medina could shine. Gabe sees you, 2014 world title.
They say that tomorrow…
Tavarua will be back open to privileged newlyweds from all over this big, blue earth. And Jimmicane will be hung over.