2021 WSL Finals: Live Coverage And Updates - Stab Mag
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The time has come. Photo: Jimmy Wilson

2021 WSL Finals: Live Coverage And Updates

Leave the best comment, win a free surfboard.

Words by Michael Ciaramella

Welcome to Stab’s live report of the 2021 WSL Finals.

We’ll be updating this page every five minutes with news, insights, and our favorite memes from the event. So stay tuned and leave your comments below for a chance at winning a free board!

A little warm-up session we captured recently. Video: Jimmy Wilson.

Board giveaway

Stab Premium members: we encourage you to leave your most profound Finals Day comments below.

Be funny, be insightful, be whatever you want except bigoted. Any racist, sexist, or hateful comments will result in a ban from our comment board. There’s simply no place for that.

We’ll choose a winner 24 hours after the post was published to give all of our members around the world a crack at winning. Speaking of which, the winner will be notified via a reply to their comment, so keep an eye out. 

You won’t win *this* board, but you might win *a* board. Photo: JImmy Wilson

Format

This is the first WSL Finals event in the history of our sport — the dawn of a new age in professional surfing. No longer will regular-season rankings decide our World Titles. Surfing now has a playoff-style event, or a Super Bowl if you fancy, that will determine our annual champions.

Today, we’ll dissect the event from start to finish and determine whether or not it’s a viable way forward.

A reminder of how this event works:

The top 5 men and women from the six regular-season CT events have qualified for this single-day World Title showdown. Surfers are seeded based on their regular-season rankings, which look like this:

Men
1. Gabriel Medina (2x World Champion)
2. Italo Ferreira (Reigning World Champion)
3. Filipe Toledo
4. Conner Coffin
5. Morgan Cibilic

Carissa, looking as chipper as ever. Photo: Jimmy Wilson

Women
1. Carissa Moore (4x and reigning World Champion)
2. Tatiana Weston-Webb
3. Sally Fitzgibbons
4. Stephanie Gilmore (7x World Champion)
5. Johane Defay

The format of the event is as follows:

The number five seed will surf against the number four seed, the winner of that will surf against the number three seed, the winner of that will surf against the number two seed, and the winner of that will surf against the number one seed.

The final (between the number one seed and whoever matches with them) will be a best-of-three surf-off. First surfer to win two heat wins will be the 2021 World Champion, on both the men’s and women’s sides.

Live Updates

7:30 am – The call

The comp is on! Waves look solid but wobbly with a sideshore breeze blowing the top off the lip.

Fun fact: for the first time in Lowers CT history (as far as we’re aware), there will be jetski assist in this event. 

Another fun fact: five of today’s 10 surfers are riding a Sharp Eye. Keep your eyes peeled for a dissection of why that is in the coming days. 

One more fun fact: Stephanie Gilmore will be riding her ‘Cash Cow’ board today, on which she’s won four events: J-Bay (2018), Bells (2018), Keramas (2019), and Mexico (2021).

Richie Porta breaks down the day’s criteria. It’s all about the floater. Kidding, but if history tells us anything this event will be won on the rail.

Will it be number 8? Photo: Jimmy Wilson

8:00 am – Steph Gilmore (4) vs. Johanne Defay (5)

Steph and Johanne take to the water in the first heat of the day.

Steph signals that she can’t heat anything. Two-time World Champ Tyler Wright blows the starting horn. What’s she doing there?

Opening attempt from Johanne sees her almost going over the falls. An inauspicious start, but entertaining nonetheless.

The conditions look like a stormy day in Victoria. Strider says there are some “gems” out there. We’ll take his word for it.

Steph slides out on her first wave. Surface is looking rather bumpy. Johanne follows it up with a mediocre wave of her own.

New(ish) WSL commentator Mitchell Salazar says Steph looks like a Great White shark in the lineup. A reference to her Slater-esque white wetty, plus she’s been out-positioning everyone in the freesurfs leading up to the event.

Johanne goes left and finds a cleaner face. Whacks it a couple times for a mid-range score. 5.67.

Steph can’t keep her board connected to the face. She keeps hitting south wind ribs and skipping out. The champ won’t want to hear this, but she might need to adapt her strategy and sniff out the lefts.

Steph is 3-0 against Johanne lifetime. I wonder if they know that, and if they do, whether or not they care. Stats are everything but also nothing at the same time. The past doesn’t dictate the future, but psychological effects can’t be overlooked.

Johanne is only going left now. Probably smart considering the wind direction and her personal skill set. Steph went right on the same wave and kicked out after one turn. It’s just not coming together for her at this point.

Ten minutes left, and Steph has yet to clock anything above a 2.7. Johanne might win this heat by default.

Steph gets a solid right and lays down one solid turn, then the wave runs off and stuffs her on a floater attempt. She is not the Ultimate Surfer today.

Johanne gets a right that’s decidedly better than anything Steph has ridden. It appears that surfers with a low center of gravity will have a better chance today, as they’re able to sink their boards deeper into the water and push through any surface chop. Bad news for the tall, slight-of-frame Steph.

Gilmore picks another dud with three minutes to go. She’ll need an 8.67 in the dying minutes if she wants to turn the heat. She falls again at 1:20. This is the worst heat Steph has ever surfed at Lowers by more than three points (she had a 9.93 heat total here in 2014).

The Cash Cow will need to find another field to graze in.

Johanne Defay (12.17) defeats Steph Gilmore (6.7)

Johanne was more open to adapting and thus won the heat. Photo: Jimmy Wilson.

8:36 am – Conner Coffin (4) vs. Morgan Cibilic (5)

After a quick break, the feed cuts back straight into a two-wave flurry from Conner and Morgan.

Conner looked like a lumberjack hacking away at a gnarled block of timber. He finally split the wood with an aggressive final smash and was saved from peril by a fortuitous whitewater correction. 7.83.

Morgan’s wave is buttery on the face and he gets slippery on the first carve, then backs it up with another before skipping out on his final bottom turn. 3.67.

Conner gets another beautiful righthander and misses slightly on the opening turn, before backing it up with a clean pocket carve. A closeout section then reared its head, and Conner did what he’s been doing all week long — threw every ounce of his 165-pound frame into a ferocious layback hack, this time without the reverse. This time the whitewater gobbled him up and did not spit him out. 3.17.

Morgan locks in his best wave yet with a few clean forehand carves and an end-section slam. He looks good but not quite as strong as Conner. 6.17.

Steph comes on for an interview with Kaipo. Says her plan was to stick to the rights, but her wave selection let her down. “It was not my finest moment, that’s for sure.”

Sally Fitz is juggling a rock on the shoreline preparing for her heat against Johanne. Is it really juggling if it’s just one rock, though? These are the questions that keep me up at night.

Conner glides his way through another right for a 7.17. It’s not flashy, but it’s honest work, and in the size of the waves today (this is XL Lowers if you weren’t aware), it wouldn’t be totally incomprehensible if he found himself in the final, or dare I say, won the event.

The clock winds down, and Morgan Cibilic’s heroic rookie run comes to an end. It’s not the World Title he wanted, but he’ll always have those heats against JJF. And a Rookie of the Year title, of course!

Conner Coffin (15.00) defeats Morgan Cibilic (9.84)

It was a good run. Photo: Jimmy Wilson

9:14 am – Sally Fitzgibbons (3) vs. Johanne Defay (5)

The pace of this event is exceptional. I can’t believe we’re already through two heats, and that two World Title contenders have already been sent home. I know it’s not possible, but every WSL should be like this. It’s so exciting and fun, never a dull moment.

Johanne drops a two-turn right with oodles of power and control. 5.83.

Sally, like Steph, picks a lumpy wave and doesn’t have the body density to surf through the chatter. There’s a clear difference of power in the opening exchange.

Sally seems to recognize this and uses her priority on a smaller wave. This, in theory, would allow her to slow down and dig in a bit deeper. In the end, the wave offered very little and was a waste of time, energy, and lineup control. 4.50.

Well, wait just a second. Halfway through the heat, Sally is holding a slight lead over Johanne with just under eight total points. As discussed on a recent episode of the Stab CUSP, heats aren’t really as long as the number on the clock. Around the seven-minute mark, it becomes less about who can ride waves the best and more about who controls the lineup. So if Sal can hold this lead for just 10 more minutes, she’ll be in the driver’s seat despite no significant numbers in her scoreline.

Sall also has an 8-2 career record against Johanne, for what it’s worth. Tyler Wright admits that info like this does impact your mental state going into a heat.

A clean-up set washes Sal and Johanne out of the takeoff zone. No boards were bailed, but I’d like to think that they considered it. This helps Sally as it kills time off the clock.

With six minutes left, Sally gets her best wave of the heat. An awkward drop opened into a tall, open wall, allowing for a few clean hooks out of the pocket. She’s surfing defensively, which is the smart play at this stage in the heat. She couldn’t risk falling and wasting this opportunity. Judges give it a 6.83, leaving Johanne in need of a 5.51 with four minutes remaining.

A recap shows how much stronger Johanne is on the face. She just needs an opportunity and the score should come easily.

On the other hand, Johanne is currently sitting on the number of the devil. Bad omens lurk.

The wave never comes, Sally Fitz moves on!

Sally Fitzgibbons (11.33) defeats Johanne Defay (6.66).

Is this the start of Sal’s first World Title? Photo: Jimmy Wilson

9:50 am – Filipe Toledo (3) vs. Conner Coffin (4)

Filipe Toledo paddled out on a quad. The gall!

We got some insights from Filipe’s shaper, Marcio Zouvi of Sharp Eye, and the glasser/finisher, Justin Ternes of Dark Arts on this particular craft.

Marcio: It’s an Inferno72 model, 5’9” x 25.3L, swallow quad with the new FCS quad fins. The board is definitely faster than the rest of his boards.

Justin: Yea so that board we glassed a week or so ago..it was a trip for sure it has a pretty pulled in swallow with what looks like a Bruce McKee style quad fin placement..has a hefty amount of rocker and the rails are kinda an up rail, like the apex sits higher on the rail then normal..

It’s our stock build we offer, but we added innegra on the deck for extra dampening and pulled back on the fiberglass to add more flex… Finished weight on it without fins or deck pad is 4.8lbs…

It’s a bold move, Cotton.

“Conner Coffin has entered the chat in a big way!” proclaims Chris Cote after the Californian’s opening ride, which, for the second time in two heats, was spectacular 8.5 for the best-looking wave of the day thus far. Shades of J-Bay.

Anyone who’s surfed Trestles knows how impressive this actually is, considering all the slime that builds up on your feet every time you enter and exit the water at Lowers. Despite being a lifelong Sex Wax adherent, Conner must have Fu’d both his board and fuzzy Hobbit feet before paddling out today. It’s the stickiest stuff on earth and the official event sponsor.

Conner backed up his 8.5 with another high-3, putting Toledo in combo.

Fifteen minutes into the heat, and Filipe is still sitting patiently out the back. I wonder if he’s nervous. There’s a lot of pressure on him. Both the numbers and Kelly Slater say he should win. On the bright side, Filipe is sponsored by Fu so he shouldn’t fall on his first wave — whenever it comes.

We just got word from our source on the beach. There is a serious concern about the jet ski drivers. Calls for them to be canceled. Conner apparently got dumped multiple times and there are fears of him breaking his magic board on the back of boatercycle. Is it time we #CancelAllJetskis ?

FIlipe finally takes off halfway into the heat, a beautiful righthander. My heartbeat quickens. He lays into three huge turns, two on the rail and one off the closeout section. He does not fall. The quad fins seem to be holding steady in the wave face. His turns are slightly more angular than Conner’s, but he doesn’t do as many. 8.4.

Conner then takes off on a bomb and clears his hips on a couple forehand carves. Then comes the closeout section. Here, he has two options: hit it safely and ride away for a guaranteed 6-7, or lay into it for a potential 8-9. Conner, admirably, throws a Reynolds-esque larry at the whitewater section and gets gobbled up. 4.5.

This may have seemed overly aggressive, but I think Conner was dead-on with his decision. He’s clearly the underdog, so if he wants to win, he needs to do so convincingly. This is Finals day, no holding back.

Something like this. Photo: Jimmy Wilson

Four minutes remaining and Filipe still has only one wave under his belt. Ricardo, donning a shirt that only he and Nic von Rupp own, shifts nervously in the competitors.

Conner gets an inside left and goes bang! bang! bang! This likely ups his total.

The camera cuts to Filipe on a frothy burger. My first instinct: this ain’t the wave. I peek up to the clock, it says 2:30 left. This might be his last chance. Is Filipe about to lose? Just as I go through this thought process, Fil bangs a full rote on the end section like it’s nothing. The highlighter shirts bounces up and down.

Conner’s left comes in at a 5.83, Fil drops an 8.17. Heat over.

Filipe Toledo (16.57) defeats Conner Coffin (14.33).

10:24 am – Tatiana Weston-Webb (2) vs. Sally Fitzgibbons (3)

Kelly Slater joins the broadcast and pontificates on the efficacy of the WSL Finals. Says he can’t believe how many people are down at the beach.

He also says the “Brazilian Storm” is now the “Three-headed monster”, in reference to Gab, Italo, and Filipe. He’s not wrong.

The ocean is now plagued by wind, boat wake, and nuclear runoff. I’m not sure which is worse.

Sally gets the first solid wave of the heat about 10 minutes in — a clean mid-sizer with a long, tapered wall. She surfs it within herself, never pushing too hard or putting herself at risk of falling. 6.00.

This approach could be considered overly conservative, but in Sally’s defense, if she wants to give Carissa a proper crack, she’s smart to set a lower standard in the judges’ minds. That way, when she finally decides to put it into fifth gear, they’ll be more shocked and likely to throw big numbers.

Kelly expands on this theory, saying that Sally has always been a consistency-based surfer. “I think Tati throws a bit more at the wave and has a higher ceiling, score-wise, but Sally is extremely solid.” Sally’s career Average Heat Score (13.05) is higher than not just Tati’s (11.59), but 7x World Champion Steph Gilmore (12.82) as well.

Sally gets more critical on a left, but the wave’s short nature limits scoring potential. 5.73.

Tati finally gets a right to open up for her. Like Sally, she surfs it fairly conservatively — smart given the heat is halfway done. 5.17. She now needs a 6.57 to take the lead.

Sally telegraphs, and goes for, an air! No land, but we love to see it. Probably not the best use of priority though.

We hate to say it, but an air attempt just cost Sally her chance at a World Title. Photo: Jimmy Wilson

Annnnnd oh dear, she pays for it.

A few minutes later, Tati finds the best wave of the heat — and second-best wave of the day — which really should have been Sally’s. Kelly describes it as having a great “peel line”. Tati goes up and down with an effortless flow, every turn perfectly placed and executed. She never pushes too hard, but due to the quality of the wave, she doesn’t have to. 8.0 and straight to the lead.

Sally now needs a 7.18. Holding priority with two minutes remaining, the Australian has to be thinking about how many World Titles have slipped between her fingers over the years. In moments like this, a person can respond in one of two ways: resignation or rage. Neither of those emotions is ideal, but only one will get you a mid-seven in the dying minutes. Let’s hope Sally gets angry.

In the end, her emotional state wouldn’t matter. Another wave never comes, and Sally loses due to a blatant priority blunder. Tati moves onto the final and looks to become the first “Brazilian” female World Champion.

Tatiana Weston Webb (13.17) defeats Sally Fitzgibbons (11.73)

Is Tati projecting her finishing position? Photo: Jimmy Wilson

11 am – Italo Ferreira (2) vs. Filipe Toledo (3)

Italo gets the opening wave, a shouldery righthander that doesn’t allow anything explosive. 5.17.

Filipe bobbles hard on his opening bottom turn, causing a great deal of concern. He deftly recovers and starts fanging it down the line with every intention to fly. The section he’s eying backs off at the last second, forcing him to audible into a carve. He comes out of the turn with speed and spies another knuckle down the line, this time clicking a no-grab full-rote and landing with ease. After allowing the wave to reform, he finds a section on the inside and clicks another rev to stamp the wave shut. Kelly says he was underscored at a 7.33.

Filipe finds another wave, this one with a better shape, and surfs it cleanly from start to finish. Big slam on the end. This guy has such explosive power.

Italo is on the next wave of the set and has to chase it down the line. A huge floater sets the crowd ablaze as the whitewater bounces him halfway to the floor. He finishes the wave with standard carves and snaps.

Kelly likes Filipe’s wave better, but he understands how some fans (and judges) might prefer Italo’s.

Official scores: Filipe – 7.07; Italo – 7.27.

Italo now needs a 7.14 to advance.

Oh my fucking god. Filipe does the sickest lipslide since John Florence in a Bells freesurf a few years back. You know the one. The rest of the wave was good too, but dear lord, that turn was on a different level. World Title shit. 8.5.

Italo’s requirement increases to 8.56.

Filipe is just fucking around now. He took off on an insider and did the two most savage hacks of the day. His confidence is through the roof. I wonder if Medina is watching. 7.44 for two turns.

With one minute remaining, Italo gets a final wave and sends a full-rote on the closeout. He clicks the air perfectly but gets bucked by the same explosion that he stomped through on the floater. The Olympic gold medalist and reigning World Champ will see no repeat in 2021.

Filipe Toledo (15.97) defeats Italo Ferreira (12.44)

Not today, Icarus (ahem, Italo). Photo: Jimmy Wilson

11:45 am – Women’s Final Heat 1 – Carissa Moore (1) vs. Tatiana Weston Webb (2)

Tati versus Carissa: not quite David and Goliath, but not an even match either. Carissa is clearly the alpha on tour, but Tati has some tricks up her sleeve. “I know how to get under Carissa’s skin. I know how to beat her,” she said in a pre-event interview.

For the first 15 minutes, Tati and Carissa trade average scores on average waves. Selema blames a few unforced errors on the sun impacting their vision. Should we all be surfing at night?

Carissa eventually strokes into a beautiful righthander and surfs it to 75% of her ability. She throws one risky turn at the lip and nearly loses it, adding some drama to an otherwise straightforward effort.

Tati’s on the next one and throws three big uppercuts at the lip. “Dirty it up girl,” Rosie says in the booth. “Make it look big.”

Tati’s wave is shorter than Carissa’s but more appealing overall. The judges disagree, and Carissa’s goes a whole point higher. If Tati wants to win this thing, she’s gonna have to smash Moore beyond recognition.

Lowers is really turning on.

Carissa falls on the best wave of the heat, then fails to improve her score on another.

Tati needs a high-six. She grabs a shouldery right and hooks a few turns back into the pocket, waiting for the wall to stand up. It finally does for the end section, and Tati matches its force with a power-quat reo, riding away from the wash like it’s Margaret River Main Break.

The commentators speculate on the score and lean toward her getting. They’re right. 6.93 and Tati’s in the driver’s seat with five minutes remaining.

Riss blows priority on a wave shaped like a Dorito. Serves her right for snacking at the dinner table.

Tati holds Carissa off a wave with 20 seconds to go and slams two daggers in the lip. The camera pans out the back to Carissa looking lost. No more waves on the way. Tati goes one-up!

Tatiana Weston-Webb (15.02) defeats Carissa Moore (14.06). Match is 1-0.

12:25 pm – Men’s Final Heat 1 – Gabriel Medina (1) vs. Filipe Toledo (2)

Filipe opens the heat by going left — a strange decision considering not just his current fin configuration, but the fact that he hasn’t surfed a wave under a 7 all day on the right. Hopefully that left is his last.

Medina’s first wave features a giant floater. Is the WSL trying to tell us something? 5.00.

Filipe’s next wave, a right, starts off incredibly slow. He clearly sees something in it though, as the middle section steepens up and offers three meaty sections. Fil goes fins, rail, larry, and rides away for another 7-pointer.

Fil goes left again and clocks another sub-1 number. When will he learn?

Gab finds a smaller right and throws the biggest rooster tail of the day on turn number two. But the wave was short in both height and length, minimizing the damage he could do. Fil got lucky, Medina was feeling it on this one. 7.30.

Oh dear god. It all just happened. Filipe goes left (again) but put it together this time. Four quick turns with no pumps in between and a claim at the end. He quickly regretted this.

Medina was on the next wave, also a left, linking a layback slash into a setup turn into a massive frontside air. He hit the giant closeout section, cleared the lip by five feet, and fell an extra two feet on the way down for a buttery landing. You could even argue there was a minor tweak in there. That was fucking wild.

Toledo’s score comes in first: 8.33.

Medina’s drops right after: 9.00 — the highest score of the day.

This guy loves the drama.

Filipe’s next wave utterly confounds me. It’s incredible, but it has a huge bobble in the middle. Like the most beautiful girl on the block, but she’s got a giant mole on her nose. How do you proceed?

The required score is 7.98. Our judges mull it over as the clock winds down. With 1:30 remaining, they announce a 7.37. Mick blames it on the bobbled turn: “If that turn was clean, he gets the score.”

I think the judges missed here. Yes, Filipe had a bobble, but the rest of his turns more than outweigh the mistakes. In fact, I think either of his 7-point rights could have been enough to get him the heat win. But we’re continuing to see that if the lower seeds want to win, they’ll need to do so convincingly. Considering the entire premise of this event, that’s probably for the best.

Toledo holds priority with one minute remaining, and he lets a little insider roll through. This proved a crucial error, as the wave peeled off all the way down the point and another wave never arrived. Medina goes one-up!

Gabriel Medina (15.70) defeats Filipe Toledo (16.30) Match is 1-0.

1-0. Photo: Jimmy Wilson

1:05 pm – Women’s Final Heat 2 – Carissa Moore (0-1) vs. Tatiana Weston-Webb (1-0)

Carissa Moore can’t lose this heat. If she does, a well-deserved fifth World Title will slip between her fingers. But Carissa is no stranger to pressure — in fact, she appears to thrive on it. Her first wave in the second heat comes in at an 8.93. She didn’t do anything special, but the wave itself was of a high enough quality to connect the dots to excellence.

Tati falls on her opening ride.

Carissa backs up her first wave with a 5.83. Now she’ll be able to let loose.

Tati paddles toward Carissa with priority, almost like she was trying to draw an interference. Carissa pulls back, and Tati surfs an off-pace wave as well as possible, with a huge fin release on turn two and a late foam climb to finish. Kelly really loved it, but the judges not as much. 7.93.

Carissa surfs another wave at 75%. I’m not sure what the thinking is here, seeing as how she already has two scores and absolutely needs to win this heat, but I guess she’s right as the judges keep rewarding her efforts. 7.67.

Tati chooses another closeout and goes huge on the second turn, with one of the biggest backside slams ever attempted by a female in competition. She doesn’t make the turn, but her intentions are clear — Tati’s surfing to win, Carissa is surfing not to lose.

Tati picks another closeout. That’s a mistake. Carissa’s on the next one. It’s bigger, cleaner, but still only has two sections. Neither surfer improves their situation.

There’s one more flurry at the end. Carissa gets the first and lays down one big turn, followed by a sleep second and soft third. I would have loved to see her go for a Conner-esque turn on the end section, but again she played it safe.

Tati’s wave was less impressive to start but had a superior second half. After being behind the bubble for the first half of the wave, Tati finished with three clean turns. “It doesn’t feel like the World Title wave to me,” Kelly said.

He was right. 7.67. The match goes 1-1!

Carissa Moore (17.26) defeats Tatiana Weston-Webb (15.60). Match is 1-1.

1:45 pm – Men’s Final Heat 2 – Gabriel Medina (1-0) vs. Filipe Toledo (0-1)

Filipe’s not taking any chances this time. And by that I mean, he’s taking all the chances.

His first wave was confident surfing personified, with a vicious slash followed by a grab-rail fin ditch followed by another four turns and an air at the end. Kelly called it a “10-point ride on a six-point wave.” The judges found a nice middle ground, throwing Fil a 7.83 for his efforts.

Gabby was up next with a beautiful right of his own. Other than one bogged bottom turn, he linked the wave greasily like his board was made of butter. 6.33.

Sneaking under Fil’s priority, Gab spun around at the last second and snagged a mid-sized left This time it was a huge rotation on the first section, followed a few connecting turns and another big spin on the end. 8.5.

The next set is massive. As big as you’d ever want Lowers to be. Fil does a huge first turn then loses his grip on the second. Gab went on the left behind it and attempted what would have been the biggest air ever at Lower Trestles.

“He probably would have landed it if he went for the double-rotation,” Kelly said.

“He certainly had the height,” Mick responded. “He aired over a house.”

Fil regains priority, needing a seven to take the lead. Then he falls on his next wave attempting a huge fin ditch. He doesn’t look desperate yet, but he does look a little anxious. Twenty minutes left.

SHARK STOPPAGE. “Oh god,” Mick nervously chuckled from the booth, no doubt suffering bouts of PTSD.

Jesse Miley Dyer comes on to explain that they saw a 6-8 foot shark breach next to Strider. “They’re gonna patrol the lineup and assuming nothing else is seen, we’re resume in 15 minutes.”

Freesurfers have entered the lineup. I assume Chris Ward is among them.

2:17 pm – we’re back on.

With 18 minutes left in the the heat, Filipe opens the restart with another flailing frontside fling. Kelly says he needs to rein it in, and I would agree. Fil can easily drop eights on the open face, and with the wind now coming out of the north (downwind for the rights), that has to be the smart play.

Medina tries a tail-low straighty but gets gobbled by the foam. Fifteen minutes left.

The camera pans to Carissa on the beach. Two big takeaways from this: 1. Carissa takes her wetsuit off between heats (which seems odd considering she’s in every other heat), and 2. She looks extremely rattled. I’m not sure why, considering she won the last heat handily, but she’s clearly not taking this lightly.

Cut back to Medina doing a “backflip”, because why not? Joe Turpel called it a Flynnstone Flip then tried to say it was the best one that’s ever been done, which makes me seriously question his credibility.

This is was in 2012…

For me, the air was a little on the icky side. It wasn’t quite a flip, and he held the grab halfway through his next bottom turn. The judges gobbled it up though, dropping a 9.03.

Filipe was on the next wave, and call me old-fashioned, but it was far more appealing than Medina’s flip despite the fact he never left the face. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose. He fell on the end section, turning what would have been a nine into an 8.53. Filipe now needs a 9.01 to keep his Title dreams alive.

“He should be calm right now,” Kelly said. “Because it’s not his to lose.”

Seven minutes remaining, Medina holds priority.

Interestingly, Medina split from Filipe when a set arrived so that he could get in position for the left. He tapped a turn and greased a beautiful air rev for 7.37 points. The guy makes surfing look so easy.

“He’s just filming his video part now,” Slater said.

“I don’t know if that was a great decision, though,” Mick followed. “Giving up priority for that wave doesn’t make sense.”

And Mick would know. He once famously lost a Pipe Masters heat to Dusty Payne after going on a wave that “just looked too fun”, sacrificing priority in the process. Dusty got a high-9 on the buzzer and requalified as a result.

At the three-minute mark, Filipe used his priority on a small, clean right-hander. He connected a sizzling carve into a huge floater then threw an air rev to the flats. He was on his way to a massive number, maybe even a nine, but then the wave fizzled into nothing. He kicks out quickly and grabbed a ski back to the lineup.

Medina holds priority with one minute left. Nothing on the horizon. Filipe goes in for a congratulatory hug with 30 seconds on the clock.

“There are two waves coming,” Kelly joked.

But there weren’t. Gabriel Medina is your three-time World Champion! Tears in the channel with Strider.

Gabriel Medina (17.53) defeats Filipe Toledo (16.73) to win the World Title.

2:45 pm SHARK STOPPAGE

Another 15 minute hold while Laird clears the zone with his fearsome sea broom.

Meanwhile on the beach, Gabby gives an emotional victory speech. “I’m very proud of myself because I left my comfort zone this year. I’m proud to be a real man.” That you are, son.

Kelly says he’s been a much more “present man” this year and calls him an incredibly deserving champion. Hard to deny that.

I wonder how Fil is feeling. This was as good an opportunity as he could ask for to win a World Title. And he surfed great! Medina was just that much better. A tough pill to swallow, no doubt.

2:53 pm – Women’s Final Heat 3 – Carissa Moore (1-1) vs. Tatiana Weston-Webb (1-1)

Tati, no doubt trying to avoid what happened in the last heat, takes off on the first wave of the heat. It’s a closeout.

Carissa goes on the one behind her and crashes hard on a floater. Floater is now officially the word of the day. Floater.

Their next waves are both two-turners, with Carissa’s netting seven points.

Tati’s next wave is destroyed by Carissa’s jet ski wake.

“A huge mistake by the driver,” Kelly says.

It does seem incredibly unfair, especially considering how Carissa regained priority in the process. I could see this getting challenged if Carissa were to win the heat.

Adding insult to injury, Carissa’s next wave was her best one yet. 8.00.

Tati answers back with a long, well-formed right of her own. The first few turns were a bit chattery, but she finished strong for an 8.03. She’s back in it with half the heat to go.

Carissa’s next wave was even better yet, and probably the longest wave of the day. Her legs gave out on the last turn, which is fair enough after covering half a kilometer in the space of 25 seconds. 8.60.

Tati now needs an 8.56 with 13 minutes remaining.

She takes a closeout around 10 minutes, wasting her priority.

Carissa goes down on a beautiful wall.

“It’s still going down the line,” Kelly says 15 seconds later.

Mick says Carissa falling was a result of her going 50% rather than 100. If she loses today, this is the wave she’ll remember.

With two minutes remaining, a perfect right rears its head. Tati’s first two turns are immaculate. She’s on her way to the score. Then on the third section, Tati second-guesses her timing and balks at the last second, setting herself up for one last end section slam. The Brazilian’s entire heat, year, and career rides on this turn. She winds up, takes one last look at the lip, and…

Tati is half a second too early to the lip, meaning she can’t apply the amount of pressure necessary to achieve her desired score. She finishes the turn off-balance and falls off in the whitewater, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. The snap just doesn’t have the crackle or pop to earn her an 8.54, and Tati knows it.

Carissa Moore is your 2021 WSL World Champion! She’s now a 5x winner, with plenty more in her future. Watch out, Layne and Steph.

Our take on the WSL Finals overall? It was fucking spectacular. Non-stop action, tons of fun, “record numbers” hit! It’s the way that every CT season should culminate.

Of course, I might feel differently if the end results didn’t mirror the regular season stats, but either way, a finish like this validates the WSL’s new Title formula in my mind. Haters can eat cobblestones!

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