Gabriel Medina vs The World
When the WSL changes the interference rule so that intentional blocking of an opponent costs both your scores, no doubt it will be known as the “Medina Rule”. Until then I suppose we’ll just have to put up with everyone ignoring the elephant in the room, which is that everything associated with Medina’s tactical interference against Ciao Ibelli this morning goes against the spirit of competitive surfing.
The interference rule has been modified over the decades but its intent has always been the same – to penalize surfers who don’t observe priority rather than reward those who work out how to exploit the situation.
In terms of sportsmanship we’ve come to expect the worst from Medina and he often delivers, but what was even more galling for me today was the acceptance (in public at least) of the blocking as legitimate, even that it was a piece of staggering tactical genius!
In more than 40 years of watching this sport from near and far, I’ve seen quite a bit of tactical genius – Michael Peterson, Peter Drouyn, Mark Richards and Reno Abellira spring to mind – and somehow having your stepdad do the maths and scream at you from the beach to “burn” your opponent and fellow countryman doesn’t figure in my top 500.
In the commentary booth both Ronnie Blakey and Barton Lynch seemed dumbfounded at first, and when they realized the plan, flabbergasted. I’m sure BL had a lot to say, but he didn’t say it on air. Why? Was there a posse of WSL lawyers waving white flags? Why couldn’t someone say, well, he might go on and win the world title today, but he just shat on the spirit of aloha. Or words to that effect.
Sure, I know, millions of bucks on the line, professional athletes putting their careers on the line, blah, blah, blah. Call me old-fashioned, but it’s still surfing, and this is not how civilized people surf, in competition or free. No one, least of all me, would attempt to deny Gabriel Medina’s commitment to his craft and his extraordinary ability, but in my humble opinion the commentators needed to call him out on this. They owed it to all the young hot rat surfers with impressionable minds watching all over the world.
No, this is not how you play the game of competitive surfing.
As for Medina’s body language after the incident, in his post-heat interview he actually seemed quite proud of what he’d done. Is this the act he’ll take to the Olympics? Is there anything he won’t do to win?
Editor's Note: For context, it's worth referring to the WSL's own rules and regulations.
Medina deliberately incurred a priority interference which is dealt with in Article 171, specifically:
171.01 For priority situations when an interference is called on a Surfer, then the Surfer’s heat score will be calculated using only their best scoring wave.
Medina scored zero points for the wave he dropped in on Ibelli, and his second scoring wave was also 'zeroed' as punishment. However, his top scoring wave was higher than both of Ibelli's which, despite the technical foul, allowed him to win.
Yet it doesn't end there. That chapter of the rule book has multiple references to another clause - 171.11 [Sanctions for Unsportsmanlike Interference]
171.11 Serious Unsportsmanlike Interference
If the Discipline Director and Head of Tours and Competition determine that an interference during an Event was intentional, unsportsmanlike and of a serious nature, notwithstanding any penalty available under Article 188 (which may include suspension from Events or an entire Tour), a Surfer will lose the benefit of counting their best Event result when calculating their Ranking on the relevant Tour (e.g. if this Article is violated at a QS Event, their QS Ranking will be effected). Notwithstanding any resulting discipline being imposed by the Discipline Director, the heat in question can be re-surfed if determined by the Head Judge that the result was affected by the Surfer’s conduct referred to within this Article.
Whether the WSL considers Medina's move unsportsmanlike and executes 171.11 remains to be seen.