New gen­er­a­tion of Brazil­ians aims at world surf glory

The Jakarta Post - - SPORTS - Sebastian Smith

Slightly built and aged just 10, Rick­son Fal­cao looks no match for the waves crash­ing onto Brazil’s At­lantic coast, but within sec­onds of launch­ing his board, the kid surfer is trans­formed.

Waves rise and curl and foam and in the mid­dle of them the tiny fig­ure of Fal­cao on his short­board swoops about like a dol­phin.

“He has no fear. He’ll surf any­thing,” says life­guard Flavio Souza, 23, watch­ing Fal­cao cross him­self, then pad­dle through the boom­ing water off the beach in Saquarema, east of Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil­ians have been surf­ing for decades. In the last few years, though, they’ve got scar­ily good.

The sud­den in­flux of tal­ent even has its own name — the “Brazil­ian storm.”

It’s a storm led by su­per­star Gabriel Medina who blew down the doors of the sport’s elite club dom­i­nated by United States, Hawai­ian and Aus­tralian ath­letes when he be­came World Surf League cham­pion in 2014.

The next year it was the turn of an­other Brazil­ian, Adri­ano de Souza, and to­day, 12 out of the top 44 in the rank­ings are from Brazil, some­thing unimag­in­able just a short time ago.

Medina will get an­other shot at the crown when he tries to de­throne Hawai­ian John John Florence at the Bil­l­abong Pipe Mas­ters start­ing in Hawaii this Fri­day — the last event in the 2017 cham­pi­onship.

And if any­one in the tra­di­tional surf­ing bas­tions still hopes that the “Brazil­ian storm” will dis­si­pate, they’d be ad­vised to check the fore­cast com­ing out of Saquarema.

Fal­cao, who lives and goes to school next to the water, and spends half of ev­ery day surf­ing, be­gan when he was two. He’s now rack­ing up age-group tro­phies, as are sev­eral of his beach bud­dies — and is re­mark­ably fo­cused.

“He has the psy­chol­ogy of an ath­lete. That’s very im­por­tant,” says his mother Re­jane Fal­cao, 37, who dou­bles as coach and man­ager and PR agent.

The tou­sle-haired boy, sit­ting in his tiny home, sur­rounded by tro­phies, doesn’t sound re­motely big-headed when he de­scribes his dream in a quiet voice:

“My dream? To be world surf­ing cham­pion.”

And along Saquarema beach, where Medina is con­sid­ered an idol, he’s not the only one.

De­spite its vast At­lantic coast­line, Brazil has few ar­eas with world-class surf­ing waves. Un­til re­cently, it also had only a small mid­dle class with the means to travel.

One tra­di­tional hotspot has al­ways been near Sao Paulo, where Medina is based. The other is Saquarema, a sleepy sea­side city fa­mous for a beau­ti­ful church on a rocky promon­tory, di­vid­ing two long beaches — each lashed by con­sis­tently good breaks.

Lo­cals call Saquarema the Mara­cana of Brazil­ian surf­ing, re­fer­ring to soc­cer’s grand tem­ple in Rio de Janeiro. Where New York is syn­ony­mous with yel­low cabs and univer­sity cities are of­ten crowded with stu­dents on bi­cy­cles, in Saquarema you quickly get used to peo­ple of all ages wan­der­ing down streets with a surf­board un­der their arm.

At the core of that lo­cal cul­ture is Luiz Au­gusto de Matos, a burly re­tired fire­fighter who opened the Saquarema Surf School in 1990 and ded­i­cated him­self to turn­ing gen­er­a­tions of tod­dlers into wave wizards. To­day he has 30 stu­dents.

The “Brazil­ian storm” lacks the fi­nan­cial heft pow­er­ing Australia, Hawaii and main­land US com­peti­tors.

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