Gabriel Medina crowned 2021 World Surf League champion
Gabriel Medina and Carissa Moore have been crowned 2021 World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour champions.
The WSL Finals got underway in classic four-to-eight-foot waves at Lower Trestles in San Clemente, Southern California.
The new single-day surf-off format featured the top-ranked male and female athletes of the 2021 professional surfing season.
Gabriel Medina and Carissa Moore were seeded directly into the world title heats, while the remaining four surfers entered the early three stages based on their year-end rankings.
Both men's and women's finalists then competed on head-to-head, best-of-three world title matchups.
The first athlete to win two out of three heats would become the undisputed 2021 WSL world champion.
As a result, the lowest-ranked male and female surfers needed five or six heat wins to clinch the coveted trophy.
The Road to the Final
The women were the first to take to the water, alternating with the men for the remainder of the day.
And to get things started with a bit of drama, Johanne Defay knocked seven-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore out of competition.
On the men's side, and by the second matchup, everyone knew the new world champion would speak Portuguese, with Filipe Toledo, Italo Ferreira, and Gabriel Medina remaining up and running.
With stellar overhead right and left-hand rollers peeling across the cobblestone surf break, and a loud crowd on the beach, it was all about going big or going home.
The lineup was hard to read, though. It was never quite clear where to position and where to take off for the clean, glassy walls of water.
With two swells overlapping and a lot of energy on offer, high-quality bottom turns, rail-based turns, and precision carving were critical skills required to advance through the competition.
Tatiana Weston-Webb put an end to Sally Fitzgibbons' hopes of winning her maiden world title, while Filipe Toledo eliminated reigning 2019 world champion Italo Ferreira.
It was time for the best-of-three men's and women's heats.
The Best-of-Three Finals
Carissa and Tatiana kicked off the women's finals under sunny skies and highly contestable wave conditions.
The Brazilian outsurfed the Hawaiian and won the first clash by sticking to her flawless bottom-turns, backside skills, and fluid floaters.
She was one heat away from becoming the first Brazilian female surfer to conquer a world title.
In the men's finals, Medina and Toledo put on a spectacular show in front of a packed beach, which included high-scoring exchanges and airs.
Heat one went to Gabriel.
Moore and Weston-Webb paddled out for a critical battle. It was a do-or-die for the Hawaiian and potential history in the making for the Brazilian.
Carissa tied the game and forced the ultimate showdown - a third and deciding heat.
On their second clash, Gabriel and Filipe once again stepped up their performance with another tight and highly technical face-off.
There was even a 15-minute pause due to a shark sighting.
When competition resumed... Gabriel Medina stomped a historic rodeo/gorkin flip on his way to winning his third world title.
"I achieved my biggest goal in surfing. I am pretty emotional right now. I am very happy to be part of this show," expressed the Brazilian.
"I am not good at talking. This day will forever be in my life and I will tell you to my kids."
Moore and Weston-Webb paddled out for the third and final heat. The winner would take it all.
But the Hawaiian prevailed and secured her fifth world surfing title.
Was the single-day playoff format fair for everyone? The opinions are divided on who benefits the most from one-off world title heats.
But the truth is that, at least, the new world champions were crowned in the water with splendid wave conditions and plenty of liquid walls to work on.
2021 World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour | Finals
1. Gabriel Medina (BRA) | Win (H1), Win (H2)
2. Italo Ferreira (BRA) | Lost (H1), Lost (H2)
1. Carissa Moore (HAW) | Lost (H1), Win (H2), Win (H3)
2. Tatiana Weston-Webb (BRA) | Win (H1), Lost (H2), Lost (H3)