Gabriel Medina hits heights in jaw-dropping aerial show to win WSL title

Brazilian surfer Gabriel Medina has blown the competition out of the water to clinch his first title of the year, putting on a gob-smacking air-show at the Narrabeen Classic. Runner-up at the two previous World Surf League competitions so far this season, Medina could not be denied in the Sydney final against American Conner Coffin.

Two-time world champion Medina, who earlier eliminated young Australian Morgan Cibilic, opened with scores of 9.27 and 9.50 on his first two waves. He raised his 10 fingers and a prayer gesture to the judges after a stunning backhand rotator, signalling for a perfect 10.

Linking this year with Australian coach Andy King, who helped Mick Fanning to two of his three world titles, the height and breadth of Medina’s aerial manoeuvres had the big crowd on the beach in raptures. Coffin, surfing in his first final, pulled off an 8.77 as the clock wound down but had no answer to Medina.

“It feels amazing,” said Medina, who takes over the leaderboard from fellow Brazilian Italo Ferreira. “I finally surfed the way I wanted in the final, just with the waves and the opportunities and I sticked my airs so it feels really good. I’ve been missing this winning feeling – I’ve been having some finals but doing some mistakes and this one tried to fix and feels good to get better.”

Medina earlier took down rookie Australian Morgan Cibilic in the quarter-finals. Cibilic opened with a barrel ride but it was not enough to stop the Brazilian ace. The young Australian was in the hunt until the final few minutes, needing a 3.87 score to take the lead. He scored a 4.00 but Medina hit back in the dying stages to secure the win and advance through.

While 21-year-old Cibilic eliminated two-time world champion John John Florence in the round of 16 on Sydney’s northern beaches, and in Newcastle earlier this month, Medina has had his measure. The two have clashed in each of the three events so far this season, with Medina triumphant each time.

“That was a pretty tough one,” Cibilic said. “I was pretty happy with my start … but you can’t give him an inch out there, he can do anything on those sections. I only had a three back-up (score) and I thought for sure there was going to be one more set but that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. I’m still happy with my performance here.”

In the women’s event, American teenager Caroline Marks showed her poise to power through to a title win. The 19-year-old clinched the third win of her short career by overcoming Brazilian Tatiana Weston-Webb in a tight final. In just her fourth final, Marks, who at 17 became the youngest surfer ever to qualify for the women’s Championship Tour, edged Weston-Webb with a two-wave score of 12.57 to 11.34.

Third at the Newcastle Cup earlier this month, the Narrabeen win takes Marks to second on the leaderboard behind world champion Carissa Moore. Marks, who is coached by retired Australian star Luke Egan, almost didn’t make it to Australia when she returned a positive Covid-19 test and missed the charter flight. But the result turned out to be a false positive and she was allowed to join the tour a few days after the other international athletes.

“It feels so good, it’s really emotional,” Marks said after the win. “I almost didn’t make it her and I thanks my whole family and everyone that got me, and a shout out to Luke Egan. I’m so stoked, this is the sickest feeling ever.”

Weston-Webb threw everything at her younger opponent, laying down 13 waves, but her best waves scores of 6.67 and 4.37 could not match Marks, who posted a 7.27 and backed that up with a 5.30.

Australian Olympians Stephanie Gilmore and Sally Fitzgibbons were both quarter-final casualties. Fitzgibbons was eliminated by Weston-Webb while seven-time world champion Gilmore fell to American Courtney Conlogue. Another Australian, Keely Andrew, was taken out in the last eight by Hawaiian rankings leader Moore, who won the Newcastle event.