After falling off the women's Championship Tour at the end of 2013, Brazilian Silvana Lima is back on the elite stage, and pushing the limits of the women's contest repertoire. She wowed crowds and judges alike at the Roxy Pro Gold Coast, her first contest back, with a huge air-reverse that earned her a perfect 10. It was the first 10 of the season, and marked what may be a new era for the Top 17, with Lima among the strongest on Tour.
Name: Silvana Lima Santiago da Silva
Shaper: Johnny Cabianca
World Surf League: In March, you had an incredible return to the women's elite Tour. How do you feel about it all? What do you think of your performance?
Silvana Lima: I feel really happy. Starting from scratch was really important to me because I tried to fix all my flaws and come back better. I feel good. One-hundred percent recovered and despite being the oldest in the competition (laughs) I'm in the best phase of my surf.
WSL: Were you nervous going into the first contest of the season? What were your expectations?
Lima: No, I'm totally calm. No pressure at all. My expectation is to be able to surf better and better to get good results and if God allows me to fight for the title, I will! That's why I got back!
I had to give all I had, I had to believe in myself and it paid off.
WSL: Your 10-point ride at the Roxy Pro Gold Coast only drew more fans to rally around you. How did that feel, what's your take on all of it?
Lima: My 10 was sensational, it made a lot of people who didn't know who I was start following me and what I do. I'm really happy I could pass that heat which was really hard, I needed more than 17 points -- two great waves -- in only 8 minutes, when it came I couldn't do any different. I had to give all I had, I had to believe in myself and it paid off.
WSL: What was the best moment of the Roxy Pro Gold Coast for you? What was the toughest moment?
Lima: The best moment was really that 10, and the worst moment was in the Quarterfinals, in the heat against Steph [Gilmore]. I kept waiting for the wave, and it never came... When I heard the siren, after 5 seconds the wave came and I had run out of time. Even so, I'm pretty excited. After 2 years struggling with my body, being able to feel so comfortable and well in the sea again -- I never get tired of saying how happy I am.
WSL: You are among the so-called "Brazilian Storm" on the CT. What has it taken for Brazilian surfers to get a foothold on the elite surf Tours? What do you think you and your fellow Brazilian surfers bring to Tours, and how are you changing them?
Lima: Yes, I am. And I'm proud to be a part of the Brazilian Storm. It is a great team. We bring a lot of guts, and will to win. We Brazilians get very excited with our achievements and we are very welcoming -- it's our culture! I come from a very poor family, I suffered with hunger during my entire childhood and teenage years, until I turned 17. By 17 many of the girls on the Tour had sponsors and were already traveling to surf, while I didn't even own a surfboard. I learned how to surf on an old door. Everything was harder to me. Even today I have no main sponsors. Having to sell my house and car to run WQS 2014 [to compete on the Qualifying Series] was totally worth it because I could be back here. So, you can imagine how important it is for me to be here.
Having to sell my house and car was worth it because I could be back here.
WSL: How has having a Brazilian World Champion impacted your view of your own career, if at all? Has it changed Brazilians' views on surfing?
Lima: Nowadays surfing has conquered a lot more space in the media in Brazil. Before, it was only soccer, UFC, the Olympics. Now we have some room for us too. It also means more business people will be willing to invest money in Brazilian surf. I really hope I find someone who believes in me and in my career. And helps me overcome my challenges.
WSL: What differentiates you from the other surfers on Tour -- as a person, and as a surfer?
Lima: Well, my childhood was harder than theirs, probably... I had no opportunity to study or eat well as a kid. I know it changes the future of an athlete. I couldn't take part in the Pro Junior (circuit) which I imagine would have been perfect for me. I'm glad I could change the life of my family with this sport: I could buy my mom her first house, first bed, first refrigerator full of groceries. I feel like a winner already!
WSL: In a bold move in 2013, you started SilvanaFree to crowdfund your surfing career. At the time, your website reportedly said, "Silvana Free is a wake up call: surf is about nature. Beaches are not catwalks and athletes are not fashion models." In your view, has anything changed for female athletes since then?
Lima: Yes, surfing has gotten sexier... hotter... and it doesn't bother me at all. What bothers me is the fact that it takes more than just talent for people and sponsors to notice an athlete. I hope it changes sometime soon!
WSL: What, if anything, has changed for you in terms of your sponsorship? Are you looking for sponsors? Do you have what you need to stay on Tour?
Lima: I don't even have half of what I need, I need to pass heats and get good results to be able to go to the next event. I try to stay calm and forget about it, I don't want to have to think about that all the time -- about the bills I have to pay, the money I have to send to my mom. While I'm here I try to focus on my job only.
What bothers me is that it takes more than just talent for sponsors to notice an athlete.
I keep fighting. I know it's not easy because I see many girls and boys out there from different nationalities who don't have a sponsor to help their careers, just like me. I won't give up, though! I'll never give up.
WSL: How do you keep calm in surf that scares you?
Lima: First I think in God... He never lets me down and I have faith that things are going to work out.
WSL: How did you keep calm in your big heats on the Gold Coast, your first contest back on Tour?
Lima: I'm psychologically ready for competitions. I feel like I was born not only to surf but to compete. When the siren goes off I really feel pretty calm, that's why I'm patient to wait for the final seconds -- it only ends when the siren goes off (smiles). I pray to God and He keeps me calm.
WSL: You seem to have a rekindled rivalry with Stephanie Gilmore. How would you describe surfing against her?
Lima: We're not rivals, even though a lot of people write about it... She won in the Quarterfinals [on the Gold Coast] and I saw a lot of people writing about it. But it is just a competition, whatever happens during the heat stays there.
Of course, sometimes we get upset we lost the heat, but it is not about the other competitor -- I like Steph, she is a great person and extremely talented.
WSL: What's your favorite thing to do when the waves are flat?
Lima: I go to the gym (I love working out), I watch a lot of videos to see how I am, what I need to change or work on. When I'm home I like to watch movies and take care of my 8 bulldogs. (I own a French Bulldog Kennel @bahiabullkennel.) I get a lot of financial support from the kennel to be able to afford the trips.
WSL: What are your weaknesses -- emotional, physical, or otherwise -- and how are you working on strengthening them?
Lima: My weakness was I couldn't stand losing... Failure used to make me really upset. I've changed a lot. I know athletes sometimes win, sometimes lose. I went back to the bottom and came back more confident, wanting to achieve my highest goal. My biggest weakness now are my dogs. When they get sick I suffer a lot.
WSL: Who do you train with and who supports you -- mentally and physically?
Lima: In Brazil, I train with Alex Souza, my personal trainer at the gym, and who does functional training [with me]. But my biggest support comes from Tatiane Rodrigues. She's been traveling with me for eight years now. She films me, takes my pictures, takes care of all of my professional life, and [supports me]. She is always there when I'm sad and also to share the happy moments. I notice that all athletes like traveling with someone. Having good company with you is just amazing, since we spend the whole year away from home.
Lima will next compete on home turf, at the Oi Rio Women's Pro, LIVE here daily May 11-22. In Round 1, Lima will face Courtney Conlogue and Sage Erickson in Heat 5.