There was plenty of criticism about the WSL’s new way of crowning the world champions, but among those who tuned in throughout Tuesday’s event at Trestles, very few would have been disappointed with the quality of competition that was on show. Both the men’s and the women’s brackets saw plenty of high-quality surfing as well as a couple of visits from some of the local wildlife, making for an entertaining day of competitive surfing. The men’s side of the draw had a clear-cut favourite in Gabriel Medina with his two Brazilian counterparts in Italo Ferreira and Filipe Toledo viewed as comfortably his biggest threats, and this is how it all went down.
Match 1 – Conner Coffin vs Morgan Cibilic
Morgan Cibilic was one of the stories of the 2021 Championship Tour, with the rookie’s incredible debut season culminating in a spot in the first ever WSL Finals. He’s shown a propensity all year to put together some serious scores, but unfortunately he couldn’t bring that form to the biggest stage, managing a two-wave total of just 9.84.
In contrast, Coffin’s experience came to the fore, and he was unflappable in compiling two scores in excess of 7 for a total heat score of 15.00. It was an underwhelming start to the men’s bracket, but the waves were solid and Coffin surfed well enough to suggest he would be able to, at the very least, put the at-times inconsistent Toledo under some pressure in the next matchup.
Result: Coffin 15.00-9.84 Cibilic
Match 2 – Filipe Toledo vs Conner Coffin
There were certain similarities between this matchup and the last, albeit Toledo is significantly better than Cibilic at this point in their respective careers. The prodigious Brazilian is capable of putting together scores as big as anyone in the world at his best, but equally three 17th-place finishes in seven events this year suggests that form can sometimes go AWOL. Coffin, in contrast, doesn’t have the same ability to rack up 9s and 10s, but rarely puts in a bad performance. Both surfers lived up to those labels in this one.
Coffin’s aesthetically pleasing, carving style was on full display as he worked his way to 14.33, with an 8.5 the highlight of both this heat and his overall finals performance. That score, however, was no match for Toledo, who proved that quality trumps quantity as he compiled a 16.57 heat total despite taking off on just two waves. He’s always shown a liking for Trestles, having won here in the past and finished third twice, and he continued that form in his first heat of the finals.
Result: Toledo 16.57-14.33 Coffin
Match 3 – Italo Ferreira vs Filipe Toledo
There was a sizeable gap between the three Brazilians at the top of the world rankings and the fourth and fifth placed Coffin and Cibilic, so it seemed likely that they would ultimately be the last men standing, and that’s exactly how it played out. And while Ferreira finished ahead of Toledo in those rankings, the latter’s prior form at this venue meant that he was always going to be a great chance of sending his countryman packing (shameless plug: he was my tip to meet Medina in the Title Match).
As it turned out, he was far too good. His 15.97 total dwarfed the 12.44 that Ferreira managed, but even that differential didn’t do justice to the gap between the two surfers’ respective performances. Outside of his top two scores, Ferreira didn’t manage another wave exceeding a score of 1.17; in contrast, Toledo’s 8.5 and 7.47 were accompanied by two other scores in excess of 7, and he was a deserving winner against the reigning world champion.
Result: Ferreira 12.44-15.97 Toledo
Title Match – Gabriel Medina vs Filipe Toledo
The Title Match between unequivocally the best surfer in the world at the moment and the man who, at his best, is most capable of matching it with him had all the makings of a classic inaugural culmination to the WSL Finals, and the first heat certainly didn’t disappoint. Medina came out of the blocks hard with a 7.30 and a 9.00, but Toledo came roaring home to put the judges under the pump as the clock wound down.
After an early 7.00, Toledo bettered his situation with an 8.33 before finishing the heat with a 7.37 to knock that 7.00 out of his two-wave score, but those totals saw him fall just short of Medina in what was a high-quality and tense first heat.
Medina 16.30-15.70 Toledo
If Heat 1 was exciting, Heat 2 took things to another level entirely. Once again it was close and this one was even more high-scoring, and with a shark sighting thrown in for good measure, this heat had it all. Halfway through Medina had established a solid lead courtesy of an 8.5 and a 6.33, but considering the way these two had surfed through one and a half heats it seemed likely that the second of those scores would likely be improved upon, and with Toledo having racked up a 7.83 of his own, the heat was well and truly in the balance. Enter a little man in a grey suit. What was believed to be a 6-8-foot great white was making its way through the line-up – minding its own business of course – but the two finalists were swept up by the jet skis quicker than you can say Mick Fanning.
15 minutes later, once officials were confident the shark had continued far enough on his merry way, the heat got back underway. Shortly thereafter, Medina took to the air on a left for what looked like it could be a title-winning manoeuvre, then Toledo smashed a right in far more traditional fashion before those scores even came in. A nervous wait followed, but when Medina’s 9.03 dropped, it left Toledo needing a massive 9.7 to force a third heat. He only managed an 8.53 – not enough to take the lead but enough to reduce his required score down to a 9.01. In the remaining ten minutes, however, he managed just one more wave of consequence, and when it came in as a 6.5 Medina was officially the winner of his third world title.
Medina 17.53-16.36 Toledo
There are many sports around the world which implement a finals system to determine a champion each year, but historically surfing hasn’t been one of them. The benefit is the added excitement which comes with the entire season coming down to one day’s competition, but the criticisms centre largely around the fact that this format means that the winner will not necessarily be the surfer who performed best throughout the year. With Medina having finished atop the standings by nearly 12,000 points this year, he would have been unlucky to finish the season empty-handed, and the man himself mentioned that it was difficult to get his head around needing to win a Title Match to get his hands on the title. As it turns out, he needn’t have worried, and his performance on this Tuesday afternoon at Trestles only solidified his position atop world surfing.