THE MEDINA MINDSET
TALENTED, CALCULATING, PASSIONATE IF THERE'S ONE SURFER THAT CAN POLARISE OPINION IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE IT'S GABE MEDINA. MIMI LAMONTAGNE GETS INSIDE THE HEAD OF THE BOY FROM BRAZIL
Undoubtedly one of the world's greatest surfers Gabriel Medina is all about keeping it in the family.
It’s May 8, 2017.
I’m standing on a back patio in the tiny town of Maresias, Brazil. The sun is setting, and as I sip on my cold Ambev Skol, condensation dripping down the translucent blue bottle, some of the most mouth-watering scents I’ve ever had the pleasure of sniffing waft towards me. The chef, whose name I can’t remember, is talking loudly in Portuguese with the six or so young men sitting in lawn chairs around the island kitchen area. A middle-aged and extremely well dressed woman comes up to him and wags her finger as he hands her a slice of seared picanha. She kisses him on the cheek and heads back inside to her youngest daughter, who is calling her for help inside.
The chef looks at me. “You’re not from here, are you?” “No,” I say. “And you, haven’t had a Brazilian BBQ before?” “No.” “Well then, you’re in for a treat.”
Of the six guys sitting around the barbecue, five are Gabriel Medina’s family – cousins and brothers. The other is Favon, one of the larger humans I’ve seen in this world. For lack of a better phrase, he’s a big teddy bear – incredibly sweet with a loud yet friendly voice, completely kooky with oversized black-rimmed glasses, and always ready to give you a high five. Or a hug, if you dare.
Favon is Gabriel Medina’s “bodyguard”. And I put bodyguard in air quotes because, although Favi is employed to protect Gabby, he’s basically just his good mate. When I asked Gabriel, he acted surprised I called him that. “Favon? Favi? I’ve known him since I was a little kid. Yeah, a long time. He’s pretty much my good friend, but when it gets really busy, he kind of works a little bit. He lives near me in Maresias and he’s always with me on the road. It’s nice.”
Favi explains to me that the chef, who has begun to serve me delicacies like chicken hearts marinated in garlic butter, has been with Gabriel for a very long time. That he is not only one of the best barbecue-ists in Maresias, but also like family.
Here’s the thing. Gabby doesn’t sell a story. He doesn’t sell a poor kid story. He doesn’t sell a rich kid story. And he doesn’t give one fuck if you think he does.
He was a kid in a tiny coastal town in a third world country who had a decent life. He wasn’t starving. He wasn’t begging. He went surfing with his friends and played on a beautiful beach in an underprivileged area. But, he had a dream that he and his family, and his friends, that they could have more. That there was opportunity beyond playing cards on the street and selling acai bowls on the sand and maybe flinging pastelas as the local bakery.
He knew that if he could find that opportunity, that it would mean his life and his family’s life, collectively, could be something… memorable, and great.
When you have a goal that’s beyond yourself, you don’t tend to care what it takes to get there – and you don’t let petty judgements get in the way. Because what you’re doing is bigger than you.
May 8, 2017
Gabby’s cousin, whose name also escapes me, gives me a tour of the new apartment. Niko, Gabby’s medium sized scruffball of a dog, joins us.
When you walk through the gate, which backs onto the main street in Maresias, you walk through a big industrial door and into an openplan living, dining and kitchen. When I walked through the door I was greeted by Medina getting a rub down from his sports physio. Simone, Gabriel’s mom and the same woman I mentioned above, is fluttering around the kitchen doing god knows what. Charles, his step-dad, is outdoors with the cousins and Favi. There is a large pool table that reads Medina on the large wooden sides, very near the entrance and very near the indoor basketball hoop set up.
The carpet is very soft. Very.
He doesn’t sell a poor kid story. He doesn’t sell a rich kid story
Outdoors, past the couch, television and kitchen decorated with fake fruit, is the pool and BBQ area. There are three large floating swans in the pool. Gabriel specifically ordered them from Australia, and got someone to bring them over for him. “Yeah, of course! They are so cool!” He says, admiring them as he picks a piece of meat up from the makeshift churrascaria. “Here, you have to try this. The alcatra is the best.”
Back to the tour. Upstairs there are a few rooms. A tv and gaming room, fitted with rows of Lazy Boy chairs and a screen the size of the wall. Gabby calls this the hangover room. There is a guest room or two. And there is Gabby’s room, which is covered in a rug that was so fluffy I could have died and been happy. “Niko shat on that rug a few weeks ago,” says the cousin. “It was hilarious.”
In the bathrooms the toilet paper is soft. Very soft. And it is pink.
Upstairs there is a rooftop deck that is unfinished, essentially just a block of cement with an ocean view. It is nice. Gabby plans on making it nicer.
So, why am I telling you this? I’m telling you this to show you that Gabby lives well. And not only does Gabby live well, but his family lives well. Everyone who is important around him lives a life that, a decade ago, they couldn’t have even imagined.
Gabriel Medina knows this.
And if you take one thing away from reading this article, take that.
I asked him if he feels that pressure – the pressure that was so visible from spending just one short afternoon at his house – and he said no. But he explained yes.
“When I was a kid everyone wanted to become a professional surfer, or a professional soccer player. We knew that trying to do that, that thing, it could change our lives. It could change our lives and our family’s lives. We all knew if was going to be hard, and I feel very lucky that I was the one who did it. Between us all.
“I think that every kid, not just in Brazil but also around the whole world, they want to, how can I say, reach the goals and change lives. Everyone has a dream, you know? And I actually turned mine into a reality. I’m really happy for that. And I don’t feel pressure from that, because I knew that if it happened then everything would change for us when it started. And I’d need to learn to deal with that. No, I don’t feel like I need to win every heat to help my family – that’s not realistic, and if it was the only reason I do what I do, I couldn’t do it.
“I love to surf. I love to be a surfer. If it was all about money and that pressure, I don’t think I would have gotten to where I am now. You have to really love what you do, because it is hard.”
And it’s hard in a lot of ways. I was in Maresias for about a week, and every time I walked past his Instituto after dark, there was Gabby – alone, training, sweating, with his headphones in. His explanation? “Every time I feel lazy I just think in my head… someone else is already training… someone else on the Tour is training right this second. So I go and I train too.”
It’s hard physically. It’s hard because you need
“When I was a kid everyone wanted to become a professional surfer, or a professional soccer player
a whole lot of talent and time to make that talent fruitful. It’s hard because the world looks at you, and your family, and pours judgement and bile from every corner of the world, and he has to learn to not listen.
“You know, I did have to get used to it. But
I was very young, and I didn’t know how loud people would be. But over time I’ve learnt to care only about what my family thinks of me. If they say something to me, then I will pay attention. But the rest? You know, it’s hard, because when you win you’re the best, and when you lose once, you’re the worst. No matter what you do they are never happy.”
But they don’t matter to Gabby. Because his goal, and his dream, is much bigger than himself.
“I only worry about my family and what they think. If they think I’m doing bad, I will start training more. And if they think I’m doing okay, then I will keep training anyways.”
I so want to finish this article here, because I think those few sentences sum up Gabriel Medina to a tee. But I also think there is one more important subject to touch on.
Charles Medina is one of the nicest people I know, and one of the meanest looking people I know. He scowls at you. He grimaces on the webcast. He whistles in your ear and makes you want to scream at him. But the second he opens his mouth, it’s nothing but honest, shy kindness.
Gabriel Medina is very aware that his success has changed his and his family’s lives for the better. But he is also very aware that they have had to deal with the same sort of vitriol that he does.
“I think about Charlie being in the spotlight all of the time. He hates the fact that people know him. But he is always with me, and he helped me get to where I am – so I mean, when you are successful in your job, things happen that are out of your control. Things happen that didn’t use to happen.
“But we got to the goal that I was chasing, and we had to do things to get there. Charlie gave up a lot to help me. Today I have a TV show in Brazil, and he’s always doing work, interviews, all of that – and he’s my coach too.
“You know, in Brazil people really admire him because Brazil didn’t have a World Champion before. I was the first one, and everyone wanted to know who helped me, and how I got there. He knew everything. He was the one.”
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to jump back to May 8 and eat a few more chicken hearts in garlic butter…
But over time I’ve learnt to care only about what my family thinks of me