Carissa Moore, Gabriel Medina crowned world champions at World Surf League Finals

After a historic gold medal at Tokyo 2020, Moore added a fifth world title to her resume in San Clemente

By Ash Tulloch and Scott Bregman
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Olympic surfing champion Carissa Moore has won her fifth world title while Gabriel Medina picked up his third today (Tuesday 14 September) at the inaugural World Surf League (WSL) Finals at Lower Trestles in San Clemente, California.

Consistency has always been the magic ingredient for 29-year-old Moore, and today was no different when she defended her 2019 world title crown and became the first Hawaiian woman to win back-to-back world titles since 1981.

After four Semifinal appearances in the regular season and a gold medal at Tokyo 2020, once again she showed why she is in a league of her own coming out on top against Brazil's Tatiana Weston-Webb.

The 25-year old finishes the year runner up to Moore after pushing the Olympic champion to a third heat in the best of three title matches. Weston-Webb won the first heat, holding off Moore 15.20 to 14.06. But the Moore wasted no time in the second match, putting up a massive 8.93 score on her first wave. Moore earned an 8.33 in her fifth run, giving her a 17.26 total and the second heat victory to force a decisive third.

The final and deciding heat saw Moore once again establish an early lead with scores of 7.00 and 8.00 in her second and third waves, respectively. Weston-Webb refused to go quietly, earning an 8.03 mark with about 20 minutes left in the heat, but Moore answered with an 8.60 score of her own soon after.

In the end, Moore took the heat 16.60 to Weston-Webb's 14.20.

"It was a crazy back-and-forth battle," said Moore. "It didn't go how I wanted it to in the beginning, so I was happy to fight back. Number five sounds pretty good!" - Carissa Moore.

With her win Tuesday, Moore adds to the titles she won in 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2019.

"I would not be where I am today without my team, especially my husband," Moore said of her turnaround after losing the opening heat. "He was in tears, he was like, 'I believe in you. If anyone can do this, you can do this.'"

In the men's competition, Medina won back-to-back heats to claim the title.

In the first heat, he topped Brazilian teammate Felipe Toledo's 15.70 score with a 16.30. In heat two, Medina was again victorious 17.53 to 16.36. After a break due to a shark in the water, Medina came back swinging and earned a 9.03 score on his seventh wave. It was the highest ride of either final heat.

"I’m so happy. I achieved my biggest goal in surfing. I’m crying right now because it’s a lot mix of emotions," Medina said afterward. "Sad, happy, excited. That was a long year." - Gabriel Medina

Medina's two previous world titles came in the 2018 and 2014 seasons.

"It's not every day that you accomplish your dream. It feels so good to dream," said Medina. "Every dream seems to be impossible, until it's done. This is a special day for me. I've had this dream in my mind for a long time."

The victory tops off a remarkable year for the 27-year-old who made some big changes ahead of the 2021 season. As well as getting married, the Brazilian transitioned from being coached from his stepfather, to being coached by former pro surfer Andy King.

The results spoke for themselves with Medina making the podium five times out of seven in the regular season.

For the first time, the WSL title was decided by a single one-day winner-take-all finals event, rather than accumulated standings throughout the WSL Championship Tour season.

Tokyo Olympic champion Italo Ferreira, the event's No. 2 seed, failed to qualify to the final, after falling to third-seeded Toledo earlier in the day. He, along with Moore, were the WSL world champions in 2019, the last time the full WSL Championships Tour season was held.

2021 WSL Finals competition format and schedule

With a new competition comes a new format.

The Top 5 surfers in the end of season rankings qualified for the WSL Finals, and each one of them received a colour-specific jersey to wear for the competition, which was held in a ladder format, with each higher seed receiving a certain number of byes into later rounds.

In practice, that meant the fifth seeds, wearing orange, faced the green-jersey fourth seeds in the first match, a head-to-head traditional heat.

The winners of the first match then took on the third seeds, who wore pink, in the second match, again held in the same head-to-head heat format.

Again, the victors moved on to Match 3 with the same format against the blue-clad second seeds.

Finally, the Tour leaders, with their signature yellow jerseys, entered in the title match against the winners of Match 3. This decider was held in a best-of-three-heat format, with the first to two becoming the 2021 WSL World Champion.