Charting the rise of Brazil as a surfing powerhouse. From Tracks # 547
The blonde, mop-headed kid with a board under his arm may still be a well-known cultural icon of the Aussie beach, but there's no doubt that the global face of surfing is in flux. With two Brazilians crowned world champ in the last two years, the fore- casted 'Storm' has well and truly hit. But what does this mean for surf culture worldwide? The cultural contrasts between surfing's dominant regions (the USA, Australia and Hawaii) and Brazil have, at times, kept Brazilian surfers under a haze of prejudice. But it looks as though the times they are a-changing.
I spent a year living in Brazil at the age of 17 as a Rotary exchange student. I left my small beach town on the NSW south coast where I did little other than surf, and landed wide-eyed in Campo Grande, far-western Brazil. The town name means 'Big Field'. I spent the year going stir-crazy in cow- boy country, telling myself there are other things to life than surfing. A good learning curve I suppose, but maaaan was it good to smell the salt air when I finally made it to Rio. I went for a paddle on a rented, dinged-up board, but never really got to explore the surf culture in any depth. I did however get a feel for just how deeply engrained the love for sport is in the national psyche.
When writing an article on the rise of Brazil as a surfing nation, I thought I'd best get some inside info. I asked Brazilian surfer Silvana Lima for her thoughts, and learned about her upbringing at the same time.
Like Adriano De Souza, Lima came from humble beginnings. She grew up living in a hut on a beach in Paracurú, north-eastern Brazil, and learnt to surf on an old wooden door. Her father was a fisher- man who had various other families. She believes she has around 20 siblings, and does not know them all. (This brought back memories of my 'Rotary father' who had five children to five different women. The two youngest kids were just a few months apart in age and were both, coincidently, named Julia. Suffice to say the two mothers were unaware of the existence of the other at the time of naming.) Lima's mother, unemployed and grap- pling with alcoholism, could not provide enough food for her five kids.
Lima managed to pull herself out of the slums through surfing, but it was no easy feat. As Brazil- ian surfing grows, perhaps we will witness more rags to riches scenarios. Lima was quick to point out, however, that the cost of equipment limits accessibility.
As well as producing surfers from diverse and interesting backgrounds, Brazil brings sports fa- naticism to a new level. At the 2015 Oi Rio Pro, the punters showed us what it really means to barrack for your team. When the conditions turned out to be pretty uninspiring it left many of us scratching our heads as to the location choice. The WSL made it clear that the upcoming Brazilian market has incredible potential, and holding the event at an accessible beach for spectators was paramount to an ongoing plan of industry expansion in the untapped South American region. Brazil is, after all, one of the BRIC countries – along with Russia, India and China – that is projected to advance significantly in economic power in the coming years.
Despite the crowd in Rio, Lima reckons surfing hasn't quite penetrated the mainstream. Medina's title bolstered the sport's popularity, but it's got nothing on football. It's early days yet however, and Brazil is writing new chapters into its surfing history. People have been surfing there since 1930, and surfers like Fabio Gouveia, Neco Padaratz and Victor Ribas represented the country's first wave of professionals. But the nation of sporting devotees were looking for a home- run, someone to revere as they do their futebol luminaries, and they found it first in Medina, and now in de Souza.
With a long coastline and a large population, targeted industry expansion and a passion for com- petition, Brazil is a force to be reckoned with, and will no doubt provide interesting narratives and new dimensions to who we are as a surfing species. •
Main Photo: WSL/Poullenot