Medina, Gabriel

High-flying, preternaturally talented goofyfoot pro from Sao Paulo; 2014 world champion; the first surfer from Brazil to win a WCT title. "His career path has of similarities to big names in soccer, like Neymar," SURFER wrote in late 2014. "But now Medina has a title that slipped through Neymar’s hands in the last World Cup. That is why Medina is bigger than surfing in Brazil."

Medina was born (1993) in Maresias, began surfing at age nine, and was competing in national junior events two years later. In 2009, at 15, he became the youngest surfer in history to win a World Qualifying Series event after defeating 32 year-old tour veteran and fellow Brazilian Neco Padaratz at the Maresia Surf International. Medina qualified for the WCT midway through the 2011 season and won the first event he entered, the Quiksilver Pro France, at age 17; one month later he took out the Rip Curl Pro Search event in San Francisco, defeating Kelly Slater in the semis and tour vet Joel Parkinson in the final. Two wins in his first three starts—it was the fastest start in pro tour history. Still, because he came on tour at the halfway point, Medina only managed to finish the year ranked 12th.

An electrifying aerialist, Medina lands complicated air maneuvers with unusual ease, and often strings together two, three, even four such moves on the same wave. His rail work and degree of power got steadily better with each passing year. As a competitor, Medina has nerves of steel, and understands the finer points of competition better than even the cagiest of old-timers; he out-hustles opponents and well as out-surfs them. “He’s just a complete badass competitor,” American rival Kolohe Andino told ESPN.

Because of Medina's lightning-quick ascension on the international stage as a rookie, and because he spoke little English, fellow pros initially didn't quite know what to make of the slender dark-haired Brazilian phenom, with many dismissing him as a small-wave wizard. “He’s the kind of guy who can turn shit into gold,” Parkinson told Surfer magazine, a bit peevishly, after the 2011 San Francisco Search event. A few weeks later, Medina made the quarterfinals in big, thumping surf at the Pipeline Masters, and from that point on it was hard to find anybody in the surf world who didn't consider him a serious world title contender.

Injuries slowed Medina down in 2012 and 2013. He didn't win an event either year, and finished, in order, 7th and 14th.

In 2014, Medina moved from contender to world champ after a dominating season in which he won three contests (the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast, the Fiji Pro, the Billabong Pro Tahiti), and finished fifth or better in eight of eleven events. At the season-ending Pipe Masters event, Medina clinched the world title just before his quarterfinal heat began. He rode a wave in as the heat started, celebrated on the beach for 15 minutes, then calmly paddled back out to dispatch fellow Brazilian Filipe Toledo en route to a runner-up finish.

For a small but vocal minority of American and Australian surfers, Medina's win was downplayed. Comment boards were filled with sometimes-vitriolic and often baseless comments about Medina's style, his hyper-competitiveness. Race and class likely factored in. "The WCT is a painfully middle-class affair," Ali Klinkenberg of Beach Grit magazine pointed out in early 2015. "White Aussies, Americans and a sprinkling of Saffas [South Africans] from well-to-do homes dominate the line up. The Brazilian contingent brings some much-needed diversity to the tour. What’s not to love? It’s a New Year and a new start. Open your pasty hearts to the Brazilian storm. It’s coming to add colour to your meager lives whether you like it or not. I’m more than happy for Gabby to be leading the charge."

In 2015, Time magazine listed Medina on it's "100 Most Influential People in the World" list.