Before the US Open started last week, former event winner and World Tour campaigner, Shea Lopez, predicted the Brazilians would dominate. The basis of his reasoning was simply, “they want it more.” This might sound like a heavy call, especially when you know how badly every pro surfer wants to win. But after a week of Brazzo madness at the biggest PRIME event on the calendar, the only person who has grounds to seriously disagree is Julian Wilson.
By Sunday morning there were eight surfers left in the competition and four of them were singled out by Shea: Miguel Pupo, Adriano de Souza, Gabriel Medina and Felipe Toledo. They were all stacked against one another in two of the quarter finals, but if the draw had worked out differently, three of them would have made the semis. That’s what the scorecards say, anyways. Adriano and Gabriel’s bout was nothing short of phenomenal – in many people’s opinions it was the heat of the contest. Miguel gave Toledo a sound hiding and notched up the fourth highest total of the round.
With the exception of the final day, the Brazilian surfers set the pace all week long. It was textbook stuff: they sat where the best waves were breaking, surfed the hell out of them, and paddled the other surfers out of contention. Even in the earlier rounds when Taj, Parko and the other main muchachos were still in the mix, the South American New School were running the show.
With all credit to Julian Wilson (who pulled a rabbit out of his ass in the dying moments of his semi-final against Medina, before out-surfing Pupo in the final), the rest of the surfing elite weren’t keeping up. It’s not that the Brazilians were surfing better than Dane Reynolds, Nat Young or John John – the Brazzos were simply more focussed, calculated, determined and organised in their approach.
The Brazilian dominance in waves under four feet goes beyond the ability to do air reverses on command. Everybody at the top level of competition can do that. It’s their attitudes and mindset that makes the difference.
I’m just going to come right out and say it: many people don’t like the Brazilian flavour of surfing. The fist pumping, claiming moves and barrels, intense hassling and football-esque theatrics can rub people the wrong way. Doing inverted hacks and aerials should be enough to win heats without all the gesturing, but why stop if it’s working?
To use an analogy that would make Bobby Martinez sick, think of Maria Sharapova grunting every time she plays a shot on the tennis court. It’s not that different. Maybe it’s a by-product of her determination coming through, maybe it’s a purposeful distraction – who cares?
One thing is certain in the case of surfing: you can see Adriano, Pupo and Medina’s desire to beat the shit out of everyone written all over their body language every time they hit the water, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Surfing will always be pure, simple and beautiful on its own. But in a professional contest, it’s sport.
On the other hand, this is a compliment to the sheer ferocity of the Brazilian performance. There’s no denying that there is a big shift in the number of Brazilian surfers gaining momentum right now. They’re shaking the surfing world. The ous are talking to one another, encouraging and supporting each other well, and producing serious results constantly.
Medina’s semi-final finish at Pipe in ‘11 and 2nd place in Fiji this year won him new respect and fans around the world.
Adriano de Souza’s recent win at the Billabong Pro also showcased his versatility and gave people insight into how hard he must work on fitness. During the final he needed a big score with a few minutes to go. Then he caught a wave, didn’t get the score, got washed over the rocks, snapped his fin out, cut his feet and knees (look at this shot where he’s being chaired up the beach – you can check blood on his feet and cuts in his wetsuit), sprints the full length of the Supers point, dances over the rocks and paddles out to catch a winner just before the buzzer. It was inspiring stuff. Any normal person would have given up. He clearly wanted that one pretty badly.
Even if you think Adriano has a crap style and behaves like a teenager during heats, the guy is close to winning every contest he surfs. And if he, Gabriel Medina and the rest of the crew continue to prove that Brazzos can charge big waves and get barrelled, it’s not going to matter what anyone thinks. There will be a Brazilian World Champ, and that’ll be the only comeback he’s interested in.