Adriano de Souza (BRA) brought his 2015 WSL World Champion trophy back to his hometown of Guarujá, Brazil last week, where he was greeted by an ecstatic crowd of adoring fans. That was just the start of a long day that included a national press conference, a meeting with his hometown mayor, an evening parade through the streets, and a rowdy rally and even some fireworks.
The lengthy celebration began at the Sao Paulo Airport at 10:00 a.m., where national press swarmed their beloved hero in an effort to celebrate the culmination of his journey which began with a surfboard his brother bought him for seven dollars -- a significant chunk of change for any kid living the humble corner of Sao Paulo where Adriano and his brother were born and raised.
During De Souza's grueling decade-long climb up the WSL ranks he solidified a reputation as a giant-killer, consistently upsetting tour icons like Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning, Andy Irons, and Joel Parkinson. Meanwhile, back at home in Brazil, his unstoppable attitude was proving to be contagious. De Souza inspired a new generation of talent that has since been whipped into today's Brazilian Storm.
By January of 2015, however, the odds makers were talking up the new youth movement. Gabriel Medina had just delivered Brazil its first World Championship, and while Medina graciously tipped his cap to De Souza for paving the way, the odds of De Souza capturing a crown amidst the new youth movement were clearly dimming. De Souza would have preferred facing that problem. But in January he was forced to deal with one much, much worse: the tragic shooting death of his friend Ricardo dos Santos.
Losing his childhood friend forced De Souza to reflect on the love that exists back at home. A home he was missing after spending much more of his time in the USA. He'd sacrificed a lot to get as far as he had. While enduring the pain and reconnecting with his roots De Souza quietly dedicated his 2015 campaign to Dos Santos. He shared the same tattoo Dos Santos wore on his bicep. The words "Strength, Balance, and Love" were what it would take for him to succeed.
Succeed he did. Through pure grit and relentless grinding, Adriano de Souza again defied the odds. He spent all season in the shadows of others, defying doubters with his steely resolve, and one solid performance after another. As Kelly Slater noted in his congratulatory Instagram post to Adriano, "There is no substitute for hard work and desire."
Indeed, there was nothing instant about Adriano's gratification. That's the lesson. And it's one that's resonating well beyond his hometown crowd today.
After a long press conference near the airport, De Souza had another meeting with the mayor of Guarujá, who later said she'd never seen a crowd as big as the one that turned out to celebrate de Souza's return.
After another lengthy press conference De Souza was perched atop a fire truck and driven through the streets where those who grew up around him came were waiting in the dark to cheer him on. The streets were lined by thousands of screaming fans, and he savored the moment, doing his best to thank each and every one of them with a wave and a wink.