During the Vans World Cup event at Hawaii's Sunset Beach, Gabriel Medina landed one of the most spectacular moves in competition this year (skip to 8:40 above). Inside the final minute of his third-round heat, Medina scrapped his way into a solid eight-foot wave. As the wave began to break apart, he launched a massive floater, riding the very top of the wave until it crashed straight down.
A normal surfer might have considered going around that huge pile of white water — or simply kicking out and accepting defeat — but not Medina. Floating over a super-sized Sunset wave as it breaks requires serious speed and power. Medina flew out of his bottom turn and popped his board up to the top of the wave. Then he used his momentum to carry himself across the raucous surface of breaking water.
To make the whole thing crazier, Medina dropped almost twice his height down to the flats. Done wrong, landing a floater is an ankle-breaker. In this case, the force of the landing threw Medina backward into a position a yoga expert would envy. As though on springs, he bounced back up. The judges awarded Medina an 8.77 for his feat. A perfect ten would have required a cleaner landing, though that would have robbed us of one of the best contest clips of the year.
The first Brazilian to win a world title in 2014, Medina is known as a ruthless competitor with a complete arsenal of carving turns and aerial moves. At Teahupoo earlier this season, Medina won a tightly contested heat against John John Florence. Florence was considered the favorite thanks to his sheer talent, but the Hawaiian couldn't match Medina's competitive fire. Medina's exuberant and emotional style has sometimes drawn criticism from fans, but it makes him fascinating to watch.
Medina's massive floater at Sunset is characteristic of his style. He positioned himself perfectly in the peak and successfully battled two other competitors for the wave with less than a minute left in the heat. Ryan Callinan (in white) had priority, but was sitting just a little too far out to make it into the wave. Medina hammered his way through the traffic and straight into a beautifully arcing bottom turn. After another smooth turn off the top, he picked a truly unique route through Sunset's chaos.
One of the most challenging line-ups in the world, Sunset Beach can defeat even the most experienced surfers. While it lacks the danger factor of a dry reef like Teahupoo or Pipeline, Sunset breaks across an area several football fields wide. Facing northwest, it receives the full force of the North Pacific's winter swells. The currents are relentless and on bigger days, it's like paddling on a treadmill. As if that weren't enough, the take-off spot shifts constantly, and even experienced surfers can end up looking like bath toys tossed by a petulant toddler.
Three-time world champion Mick Fanning eventually came out on top at Sunset Beach, with Medina unable to move past the semifinals. Still, the Brazilian is currently ranked fourth in the world, making him one of six surfers with a shot at the world title this season.