Surf No.1 Medina takes indefinite break
Reigning world surfing champion Gabriel Medina will take an indefinite break ahead of the World Surf League season opener in Hawaii to focus on his well-being.
The Brazilian made the shock call just five days before his title defence was set to begin at Hawaii's Billabong Pro Pipeline.
It comes after a 2021 campaign disrupted by his refusal to have the COVID-19 vaccine.
"The past few months have been a difficult time for me personally and it has taken a toll," he said in a statement.
"I had every intention of competing for the full season, had made all the preparations medically, (I took my COVID vaccination during my holidays) and mentally and physically, but I'm not in a place where I believe I can perform against the world's best surfers right now and I need to focus on my well-being.
"I don't know how long it will take, but I aim to return to the championship tour as soon as I am ready. I very much appreciate everyone's ongoing love and support. I'll be back when I am able."
Medina has not finished outside the top three since winning the first of his three world titles in 2014 and he is a past winner at the Banzai Pipeline, where the competition window opens on Sunday (AEDT).
Clarification of Medina's vaccination status comes after the world champion skipped last season's Tahiti Pro because he had knocked back the Brazilian Olympic committee's offer of a COVID-19 vaccine before the Tokyo Games.
France's mandatory 10-day quarantine period for unvaccinated arrivals meant he would miss the event.
"I'll be forced not to go," he said. "But good. I can rule out a stage, so it's good."
A day later Medina backtracked, writing on social media that "it was a mistake not to fit the immunisation into my training schedule" and "vaccines saves lives, guys!".
Eleven-time world champion Kelly Slater has also caused a stir with his public derision of the vaccine and defence of tennis world No.1 Novak Djokovic after his dramatic, failed attempt to compete at the Australian Open with a medical exemption.
He will line-up in the season opener in Hawaii, but the WSL and federal government have made clear there will be no special treatment for Slater if he intends to compete in Victorian and Western Australia in April.
WSL chief executive Erik Logan said the governing body fully supported Medina's decision to prioritise his well-being.
"We'll obviously miss having our reigning world champion at the 2022 CT kick-off at the Billabong Pro Pipeline, and we will be here to welcome him back when he's ready," Logan said.
- with Reuters
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