Italo Ferreira Wins The Pipe Masters And More Importantly The World Title!

by stab December 20, 2019 7 min read

Where’s that damn rock?

Watching from the Off the Wall beach entrance early this morning, I wondered where Backdoor’s new, treacherous feature was hiding. Perhaps the tide was too high, or the waves too big, for its barnacled head to breach the surface. 

Down the beach, a 12-foot log had washed ashore — zealous surf photographers perched atop it, for a different vantage point. 

Out in the lineup, Gabe Medina moves casually through a horde of mostly teenagers, stroking into a clean left corner, stuffing the pit and hacking the end for good measure. 

Yup, he was ready. 

Italo and Kolohe, the other two surfers in today’s Title Race, were later to the lineup, Kolohe sneaking over from OTW to catch a few scraps and Italo waiting until just before his heat to sneak out the back. 

Murmurs in the lineup confirmed what I should have already deduced: the 12-foot log, now stationed on the beach between Ehukai and Gums, was, in fact, the “rock” that had been haunting the Backdoor end section. Depending on who you believe, either the incoming swell or Jack Freestone dislodged it from the reef. 

I’d like to think it was Jack who used his dad strength to wrangle the sunken timber from the concrete reef and saved his fellow competitors in the process. Jack would later cash in his good karma with a last-minute win against Ricardo Christie, keeping his Olympic dreams alive. 

But that’s maybe the tenth biggest storyline of finals day the 2019 Pipe Masters. 

First and foremost, we had a World Champion to crown, and the points leader was in heat one. Italo slipped past Peterson Crisanto with ease despite slow, misshapen sets. 

Italo’s win knocked Kolohe out of Title contention and put the impetus on Gabriel Medina, who needed to match Italo’s heat wins throughout the day to keep his third World Title alive.

Coming up against his lifetime rival and newly minted arch-nemesis, Caio Ibelli, Medina’s heat was fascinating on paper. Despite minuscule heat scores, reality eclipsed the projected intrigue times ten. 

Let’s skip the first 40 minutes because nothing really happened. With about five minutes to go, Medina used his priority on a peaky righthander and snagged the only “real” score of the heat, a low-four. 

This left Caio with priority and needing a five to win. Keep in mind if Medina lost this heat, he would lose the World Title. 

With 50 seconds left, we saw Medina sending a thumbs-up to the beach. The announcers assumed that this was in response to the on-beach announcers who had delivered Gab the current heat situation. We’d later learn that this thumbs-up was meant for Charlie Medina, who was yelling frantically for his step-son to drop in on Caio Ibelli. Seconds later, a mid-sized left came straight to Caio, giving him one last chance to surpass the 2x Champ. 

Gabs dropped in.

Every single person watching around the world had the same exact reaction: jumping out of their seat + “What The Fuck!?”

Some figured it out quicker than others. The little inside joke that Medina had told, but only true competitive surf fans could understand. Even the WSL commentators struggled to comprehend that Gabby had simply acted on a mathematical equation. A priority interference subtracts the assailant’s second-highest score. In the current situation, losing his back-up would leave Medina still in first place, and with just seconds on the clock, Caio wouldn’t have time to get back out in the lineup and catch another wave.

Barton Lynch called it, “Maybe the smartest tactic in the history of professional surfing,” and Billy Kemper agreed. (Ed Note: We’ve covered the ins and outs of this in a previous post, you can read about it here.)  

After all that mayhem, it was tough to focus on the myriad other storylines playing out before us, but I’ll try to rein it in quickly. Here are the essential facts:

By defeating Julian Wilson in Round 4, Yago Dora not only put himself into a requalification position on the CT but also extended the hopes of two Australians, Jack Freestone and Morgan Cibilic. Jack needed Julian to lose to have a chance at taking the last Australian Olympic slot, and Morgan needed somebody to double-qualify to retain his current CT slot; Yago’s advancement helped that cause.

When Jesse Mendes lost a few heats later, Morgan’s CT status became official. 

Meanwhile, Kelly and John both eked through their Round 4 heats, keeping the US Olympic race alive. 

Following the Medina controversy, Italo Ferreira was in the first quarterfinal. He and Yago traded tapered lefts into the sandbar, their completion rates falling well short of my expectations. Watching from the channel, Strider noted that Italo’s board, a 6’2, might have been a couple inches too small to fight past the tubes’ brutal inhalation. This armchair critic would agree. 

Despite a few unnecessary falls (and a subsequent reef kiss), Ítalo progressed. 

Next up were Slater and Freestone, both of whom were chasing off-chance Olympic qualifications. 

At this point, the wind started pushing more from the north than east, causing once-open tubes to crumble and clamp. Kelly was unlucky not to make his first good left, Jack was even more fortunate to survive his. By the five minute mark, the only score above a two was Jack’s 7.33, leaving Slater in need of a near-excellent wave. 

Kelly slipped a clean left-hander for a six, then regained priority with Jack battling the impact zone. With less than a minute remaining, a seamless right approached the lineup, provided a Lowers-style entry, and proceeded rifle across the reef. 

The moment Slater stood up, looking more nonchalant than a monk on vacation, we all knew he had it. Five seconds later, Slater was out of the tube and into the semis. 

As my colleague, Morgan Williamson, noted, Slater would love nothing more than to win this event, qualify for the Olympics, and retire from the CT. Instead, Slates won his third Triple Crown (first since ’98) and told Rosie “I might have to do one more lap!” when asked about his plans for 2020. 

As if the day could get any more interesting, the next heat featured the recently returned shoulda-been-world-champ-this-year John Florence and might-be-world-champion-unless-Italo-or-the-rule-book-beats-him Gabriel Medina. 

I missed the opening exchange while biking to the beach. Apparently Medina got an eight and John got a four. What I did see was their back-to-back Pipe set, with John scoring a 7.5 on the first and Medina beating him over the head with a bigger, deeper, air-stomping version right behind.  

That was a 9.23. John was comboed. Never to return. 

The heat was unfair from the start, what with John’s bum knee, but it also made us realize just how dominant Medina is. That John (while slightly incapacitated) at pretty good Pipe doesn’t phase Gab one bit. He literally comboed John Florence in his backyard. Who else can say that?

Griffin Colapinto defeating Michel Bourez handed Slater his third Triple Crown—the first since he lost his hair—and $50,000. Not that Kelly cares about that kinda chump change, but most of us certainly would. 

So, Slater vs. Italo. What’s on the line?

For Italo, a potential World Title. For Slater, an Olympic berth and potential excuse for retirement. 

Italo handed over priority in the opening exchange, getting clipped by a reverse-bending left. 

Slater used that priority on a dud right and trapped himself inside for the set of the day. Italo stroked into the next wave and locked down an 8.6. The wave after that, ridden by no one, was a nine. The wave after that, a ten. Slater put his hands on his head as he watched these waves unload on the reef, then slapped his board with frustration. 

Slater baited Italo into another closeout, again retaining priority. Italo backed up his wave with a 4.83, then regained priority when Slater took another dud right. 

Hot potato!

Italo and Kelly split an A-frame and neither made it. This sparked a thought.

Imagine if Kelly had gone behind Italo (who had priority) on the left and both made the barrel, but Kelly in no way affected Italo’s ride (AKA “hindered his scoring potential”). Would the WSL have to score both surfers’ rides, with no interference?

Theoreticals aside, Ferreira got out the back first but Kelly was awarded priority. Italo caught the next wave regardless, clocking a mid-six and upping the combo requirement. 

The clock ran out. Slater’s Olympic hopes were dashed. Italo’s Title was infinitely in reach.   

Gabby needed to beat Griffin to keep his Title hopes breathing. After a contentious paddle battle early in the heat, Colapinto’s puppy dog tendencies took over. While Medina slipped through tactical lefts, Griff stroked in late to vortexing teepees that would never provide an exit. The Californian did well to position himself within one 7-point ride of Medina come the heat’s end, but the wave never came. 

And so Italo and Gabriel would meet each other in the final. 

Italo caught his first scoring right of the event (to my knowledge) in the final’s opening exchange, amassing 7.83 points in one fell tube.

It was only in the final that I realized the cruel irony of Rip Curl choosing yellow as their official color for the #VaiMedina campaign. As Italo dropped into his second wave of the match—a left scoring 6.17 — I watched Charlie walk across the waterline in a matching mustard singlet.

Meanwhile, Medina, who wore blue in the final, matched Billabong’s #Stoke-Ed Italo shirts and banners. Imagine if the same happened in other professional sports. A marketing travesty!

But it also makes me appreciate surfing that much more. Nothing, not even the jersey colors in the most important heat of the year, can be predetermined… Well, I guess Italo’s could have been. Whatever.

Gabe got a 7.77 on his first wave, which according to Vegas is a lucky score.

Italo, small deep tube into an end section punt. It looked impossible for him to fall. He didn’t. 7.73.

Gab fell on a left. Italo with priority. Seven minutes left. 

Is this happening?


Medina goes again. No make. 


A set comes through. Italo waits.


Medina again. Quick kick out.




Medina takes priority. 


Medina attempt backflip. No make. 


Italo Ferreira is the World Fucking Champion! 


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