Carissa Moore and Gabriel Medina World Champions
This was a weird year for the WSL world tour. The abbreviated season started at Pipe (it normally ends there), then had events at Sunset and Steamers Lane cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns. A four-event leg in Australia got things going again, but then Brazil and Tahiti were cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic, which left only two events on the schedule—the Surf Ranch and Mexico.
When the dust had settled, Gabriel Medina and Carissa Moore had both dominated and were way out in front. But to make things just that little bit stranger, they weren’t declared world champions.
This year, the WSL sought to increase viewership through a new format that involved a winner-takes-all final event at Trestles. Rather than world tour points contributing toward the world champion’s final tally, it was essentially turned into a qualifying series for the world tour event—the idea being that a single-event world championship would make for great TV and generate lots of hype around a guaranteed champion crowning date, similar to sports such as football and basketball. The problem, of course, is that surfing is not football and basketball. It is not a team sport, and it is not contested on a static, controlled playing field where everything is equal for everyone involved. Instead, it relies on the capricious nature of the ocean, which injects a lot of luck into the equation. Plus, different surfers have different strengths, with some excelling in large, barreling waves, while others thrive in small, high-performance venues. This is why the world championship has always been awarded to the most consistent performer through the year—the person who has the most points at the end of the tour.
The new format instead saw the top five ranked male and female surfers competing for the world tour at Trestles this week—a controversial decision by the WSL that had many surf fans calling foul. Although Medina has absolutely dominated the tour in 2021, he could theoretically have the title stolen from him by rookie Morgan Cibilic, who barely snuck into the top five and earned a spot in the championship event. The way the contest was structured, the fifth ranked surfed contested a heat against the fourth ranked surfer, with the winner moving on to the next heat (against the third ranked surfer). This continued until the fifth through second ranked surfers had been whittled down to one competitor—who then surfed three heats against the top ranked surfer in a best-of-three format. While this obviously advantaged the higher ranked surfers coming into the event (since they had to win less heats in order to claim the world title), it still made it possible for someone who was tens of thousands of points behind the leader to win the world championships, based on a single day of competition.
As it turned out, the WSL got pretty lucky—or maybe their format involves less luck than most people thought. Either way, nearly every heat on the men’s and women’s sides were won by the higher-seeded surfer, and at the end of the day both Gabriel Medina and Carissa Moore ended up winning the world titles they clearly deserved this year. Medina beat fellow Brazilian Felipe Toledo two heats in a row, sealing the deal with a corked-out backflip on a left.
Video Credit to WSL
Meanwhile, Carissa lost her first heat to fellow Hawaiian (who is also technically Brazilian) Tatiana Weston-Webb, then shook off the cobwebs and took out the second and third heats with her patented power surfing in solid, overhead walls at Trestles. In doing so, she won her fifth world title, capping off an incredible year in which she successfully defended her previous world title and won a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics (and leaving no doubt that she is far and away the best woman surfer in the world right now).
Video Credit to WSL
All’s well that ends well, as the old adage goes, and it was a relief to see the top ranked surfers take home the trophies. Still, this new format does introduce a potentially large margin for error and upset, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out over the next few years (it appears the WSL intends to stick with a season-ending world title event for the time being).
Congratulations to local girl Carissa Moore on her fifth world title and Brazilian competitive powerhouse Gabriel Medina on his third!
The rest of the rankings are as follows: