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.

Present Day

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.

Present Day

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.

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

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