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31 May

The Brazilian Storm

by Sam Bleakley

Ever since the first Surfing World Titles were won in 1964 by white Australians Phyllis O’Donnell and Midget Farrelly, competitive surfing has been largely dominated by white Western and South African champions. Of course there are a handful of Hawaiian and Peruvian winners, but it’s only more recently that Brazil has injected a much-needed spirit of diversity into the annual world title race in an exciting movement collectively known as ‘the Brazilian Storm’.

It’s no surprise that Brazil is producing some of the best surfers in the world from Filipe Toledo to Chloe Calmon, to Maya Gabeira to Tatiana Weston-Webb: the country has 7,491 km (4,655 miles) of Atlantic coastline that rarely goes flat, dominated by punchy, white sand beaches (such as Saquarema) and palm-lined beach-towns like Praia Da Pipa in the north and Florianopolis in the south. And the coastal mega-cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo have enabled surfing standards to become cutting edge. Beach life is a big part of Brazilian culture. But that’s just the beginning. By area and population, Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, with a biological diversity to match. The Amazon Rainforest and the Amazon River add to the Guinness Book of Records longest and largest lists. Brazil was also the first sustainable biofuel economy on the planet, running all cars on ethanol fuel (produced from sugar cane) since 1975.

The cultural cauldron of Brazil has also produced wonderful music styles fusing African rhythms and European influences, leading to samba and capoeira. Brazilian artists like Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto famously merged jazz with samba, opening up the quick beats and rhythm and slowing it down to make space, creating the new sound of bossa nova (simply ‘new trend’). One of the great experiences of Brazil is the almost constant background buzz of samba, capoeira and bossa nova rising from beach bars, restaurants, backyards and outdoor parties.

Brazilian surfing is as expressive as Brazilian music. It started in the 1960s, and by the 1980s and ’90s the country had some world class competitors like Flavio Padaratz and Fred D’Orey, but financial shocks and political instability rattled the economy and limited the growth of the surf industry. In the 2000s Brazil experienced more than a decade of stability and the once huge gap between rich and poor narrowed a little, creating a new middle class, more surfers and a more resilient surf economy. The new surfing talent now had sponsorship backing, international competitions to qualify for the world tours, and the financial opportunity to train and travel.

An early standout was Silvana Lima, whose futuristic and pioneering aerial surfing made her a world title contender. But she suffered discrimination from the surfing industry, failing to secure a salaried sponsorship. In the BBC’s documentary ‘Winners Brazil’ Lima explained how, “the surf-wear industry wanted models and surfers. So if you didn’t look like a model, you ended up without a sponsor, which happened to me.” But her surfing was electric, a raw fusion of power and grace, and in many ways she laid the performance foundations for the coming generation of hyper athletic male surfers, and now world champions like Gabriel Medina and Italo Ferrera. Along with Filipe Toledo and Tatiana Weston-Webb, these surfers seem to be able to compete like they freesurf, mixing the latest aerials with lightning fast turns and a desire to win.

Alongside Silvana Lima, the inspirational leader of the Brazilian Storm has been world champion Adriano de Souza, who grew up in a favela in Sao Paulo, and explains how, “a $7 second hand surfboard given to me as a gift from my brother when I was 8 years old kept me away from a life of crime, drugs and poverty. Surfing can really save your life in Brazil.” Adriano de Souza was heralded as the new face of surfing opportunities, where despite your background, raw talent and hunger could bring huge opportunities.

And while we know about the prowess of shortboard champions, longboarding is a big part of Brazilian surf culture, with world champions like Phil Rajzman and world title contenders like Chloe Calmon. Watching Calmon longboard is akin to watching the very best Brazilian footballers – a mix of silky footwork and samba dancing flair. As Calmon excels in small waves, Brazilian Maya Gabeira is a world record holding big wave surfer having ridden a 75 feet monster at Nazare in Portugal. And let’s not forget Brazil’s world champion adaptive surfers Felipe Lima and Davi Teixeira, and bodyboarders Isabela Sousa, Stephanie Pettersen and Neymara Carvalho, who have dominated the world bodyboard tour for the last few decades. The ‘Storm’ is now more a ‘Climate Change’ and certainly a healthy thing for waveriding diversity.