Naked Ambition – Fiji Pro 2014
Naked Ambition – Finals Day
By Sean Doherty
When he woke this morning – presuming he went to bed… he may not have – I’m certain Stuart Gibson never expected to be naked, in a boat, waving a Brazilian flag in front of an indeterminate but significant global audience, but yet there he was. Gibbo is the resident photographer/barman on Namotu Island, a Tasmanian, mad, and possibly the most Australian man in the world. And yet here he was, pipe in the breeze, waving the Brazilian flag in support of Gabe Medina, who was paddling out to surf the final of the Fiji Pro. An Australian showing such enthusiastic support for a Brazilian surfer is rare. An Australian showing any support for a Brazilian surfer is rare. But Gabe Medina is a rare surfer.
Gabe won the Fiji final this morning in a canter. His foamball-wrestling 9.87 put him out of range of Nat Young, who looked the only guy this morning capable of getting near him. After the shock of seeing Stu Gibson swinging in the breeze, Gabe had taken off waaaay up the reef, past The Ledge and almost down to Vanuatu. Nat followed. They were miles out of position but Gabe – just like Parko – never wants to give up the first wave of the heat and if that means he’s surfing off New Caledonia then so be it. But he is so comfortable on this reef that it’s hard to believe he only first surfed here four years ago. Nat had been the wave magnet all event, but this morning it was Gabe in the sweet spot. When asked afterwards about where his affinity with the reef comes from, Gabe replied, “When I’m feeling it, I don’t think about it.”
Gabe was feeling it all the way back to Namotu Island, where he’s staying. The contest boat followed him back, the PA blaring South Pacific disco, Gabe standing and sambaing all the way back to the island. The Brazilian flag was flying at the bow of the boat, but Gabe was flying a few flags today.
He was of course surfing for Brazil. There was a lone Brazilian spectator in the channel today in a beaten up ol’ sloop that looked like it had a date with the bottom of the ocean, but he was flying the Brazilian flag on the stern and Gabe made a point of circling our boat back around to acknowledge him. But Gabe’s win will be huge news back home, and will even cut through the World Cup noise. His win here today means he leads the ratings by a fair margin, and if he can hang on till December and become the first Brazilian world champ you’ll hear a million Brazilian voices from over the horizon. “There’s never been a Brazilian world champ and this is the chance, so I don’t want to waste it.”
Gabe was also surfing for Namotu. When we turned up two years ago and he was staying on the island it was an odd cultural billet. Namotu is Australian-owned and over the years has earned a reputation for getting a little “colonial” as successive generations of Aussie surfers have gone wild in and around the contest. Suddenly here was this young Brazilian upstart, the only Brazilian on the island, in amongst the piracy. But after making the final that year, Gabe came back to the island and skolled a ritual Skulldrag (essentially a whole bar in a glass) and partied as hard as any of the Aussies. The Aussies, the Fijians, and the island itself have adopted him ever since. “The Fijian crew are great they always smile and are positive and I feel just like home, I have a family here.” Gabe is the first Namotu surfer to win the event in 15 years, the last winner being Occ in 1999. Occ went on to win the world title that year.
But Gabe was also flying the flag today for his generation. Ever since he won the first event of the year, beating Parko at his homebreak of Snapper, the theme of the year has been generational renewal. A decade of 30-and-over dominance is finally being challenged, and while Gabe’s Snapper win came with a few question marks over it, there was no doubt at all today. He owned it. “It’s great. The new generation is coming… I’m happy to represent my generation but it’s not just me, it’s Kolohe, Nat, they’re all going strong.” Gabe heads to J-Bay never having surfed it before, and there’ll be questions already being raised about whether he’ll be able to surf it… the same questions that got asked about him of Cloudbreak two years ago and we all know how that ended up.
Gabe is still over at the presentation at Tavarua but is due back on Namotu any minute. The Fijians are decorating the place and firing up the barbecue for a big party this afternoon. And Gibbo is back behind the bar – shorts on – preparing Gabe’s Skulldrag.
Cut off from the outside world on this island outpost – no fans, no entourages, no girlfriends – this contest quickly becomes a self-contained social experiment.
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