In naming him its "Athlete of the Year 2021," SurferToday wrote that No. 1-ranked Gabriel Medina "seems to have found a personal stability that clearly influences his competitive performance." The 28-year-old Brazilian announced Monday on Instagram that he's bowing out of the 2022 World Surf League season, at least initially, in order to work toward that place of personal stability—joining a growing list of top athletes who've gone public with their need to take time to care for their mental health. Medina wrote that "the past few months have been a difficult time for me personally and it has taken a toll. 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."
He said he "had every intention of competing" and even got vaccinated over the holidays so he'd be eligible to do so, but he ended up navigating "a roller coaster of emotions in and out of the water" last year that left him "completely drained," per the New York Times. "Recognizing and admitting to myself that I'm not well has been a very difficult process, and choosing to take time to take care of myself was perhaps the hardest decision I've ever made in my entire life," he added. The Times reports he indicated he would return to surfing when he felt up to it, and the Inertia cites one of his sponsors, Rip Curl, as suggesting that could happen later this year. In its statement of support, Rip Curl noted, "We support Gabriel 100% in his plan to recover in full and be ready to rumble later in the WSL season." (Read more mental health stories.)