"Every day I am getting more life experiences," Gabriel Medina says in his profile. "I feel like I'm growing up every day. So I will try to do my best and go for the second World Title."
Medina was only 20-years-old when he won his first World Title in 2014. In those four years he has transformed from a skinny and relatively shy kid with supernatural talents into a confident, self-assured man with supernatural talents and raw passion.
That personal growth is just another factor that makes him the favorite to win the 2018 World Title. When that is added to his substantial points lead, Pipeline pedigree and natural talent, make no mistake ... this is Gabriel's Title to lose. Yet if we look more deeply into each tool in his arsenal, it becomes increasingly difficult to see how that could happen.
The ratings lead is an obvious starting point. Medina has a 4,740 point gap over his only two challengers, Julian Wilson and Filipe Toledo. That means if he makes the Final at Pipe, he wins the World Title. If he finishes third, one of those rivals needs to win the contest to take it away from him. For any finish fifth or worse for Medina...Toledo or Wilson will still need to make the Final to claim the World Title.
It is a big lead which means that unlike his rivals, he has at least a little room for error. Yet lately, Gabe has not been making errors. That substantial lead is a result of a sustained period of competitive excellence that started with a win in Tahiti back in August.
"Hopefully I can keep the rhythm in Hawaii. I'm coming off the back of two firsts and two thirds," Medina said after a Semifinal defeat at the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal . In his last four events he has surfed 17 heats and lost just two, as well as winning the Surf Ranch Pro under a new leaderboard system.
"I'm happy with my performance and now it's all about Pipe," he continued in Peniche. "That's my focus. It's a wave I love. I will go back home, relax, train and be ready for whatever comes my way." That segues nicely into another one of his strengths; his ability in Hawaii. It was at Pipeline where he won his first World Title and he has twice made the Final of the Pipe Masters.
"His tuberiding, particularly his backhand tuberiding is next level,'' says Barton Lynch, who won his own World Title in huge Pipeline barrels in 1988. Mick Fanning, who also claimed his third World Title in maxing Pipe, agrees.
"You can put Gabe in any sized wave in any scenario and he reads the situation better than anyone," says Fanning. "He also genuinely loves surfing Pipeline. That might be the most important thing of all."
The whole picture therefore is of a supremely gifted surfer, fully stoked and performing at the highest level of his career. This all at a wave he loves, while carrying a substantial lead. He is still meticulously gathering experience day-by-day and developing a maturity that allows him to better deal with pressure and that further strengthens his already strong case for a second World Title. It might be his to lose, but by most markers it is difficult to see how he cannot win.
Watch the Billabong Pipe Masters live December 8-20 on Worldsurfleague.com, App and Facebook.