(Reuters) – Brazil’s Italo Ferreira upset countryman Gabriel Medina to win his first world surfing title in powerful but less-than-perfect waves at Hawaii’s famed Pipeline on Thursday.
Ferreira used perfect timing and positioning to negotiate the biggest, most critical tubing waves, often punctuating them with technical aerial maneuvers to finish.
“This was my dream, you know, I dedicated all my life to this,” an emotional Ferreira said after being carried up the beach and doused in champagne.
He dedicated his win to his grandmother and an uncle, who had both died in recent weeks.
Five surfers went into the final event of the 11-stop World Championship Tour (WCT) in contention for the title but it all came down to Medina and Ferreira.
With the WCT doubling as the qualifier for half the men’s field at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the Brazilian one-two sent a powerful message to their rivals ahead of surfing’s Olympic debut.
Ferreira got off to a strong start in the final, racking up two solid scores to pile the pressure on Medina, a two-time world champion and one of the best at the dangerous Pipeline.
Medina got back in the contest with a deep tube ride of his own before Ferreira extended his lead and held his nerve until the final hooter.
Kelly Slater, 47, showed he is still a threat at his favorite spot, having won the first of his seven Pipeline Masters on Oahu’s North Shore in 1992.
Regarded as the greatest surfer of all time, Slater scored the only perfect 10-point ride of the event in an earlier round, threading an unfeasibly long tube at Backdoor, Pipeline’s less predictable and equally violent right-hand alter ego.
But Slater was knocked out by Ferreira in the semi-finals and failed to overtake Hawaii’s John John Florence in the race for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.
If Slater is surfing’s undisputed king, Medina is the closest thing to its dark knight — intensely focused, hyper competitive and without weakness.
He proved that again in his Round of 16 heat with a cynically brilliant move against another Brazilian Caio Ibelli.
With seconds left, Medina dropped in on Ibelli’s wave without priority, taking the penalty of scoring his second wave at zero but preventing his rival from getting the modest score he needed.
Medina then stormed through the quarter- and semi-finals and looked destined for a third world title before Ferreira toppled him in a gripping finale.
Provisional men’s qualifiers for Tokyo Olympics
Italo Ferreira (Brazil)
Gabriel Medina (Brazil)
Jordy Smith (South Africa)
Kolohe Andino (United States)
John John Florence (United States)
Jeremy Flores (France)
Michel Bourez (France)
Owen Wright (Australia)
Julian Wilson (Australia)
Kanoa Igarashi (Japan)
Shun Murakami (Japan)
Billy Stairmand (New Zealand)
Frederico Morais (Portugal)
Ramzi Boukhiam (Morocco)
Lucca Mesinas (Peru)
Reporting by Lincoln Feast in Sydney; Editing by Peter Rutherford