After a total of seven years on the elite Championship Tour, Tiago Pires is retiring from professional surfing. As the first Portuguese surfer ever to qualify for the CT he was a pioneer, inspiring a generation of fans and young surf culture on his home turf.
Along his journey to the elite level Pires racked up some impressive trophies, from his 1999 European Junior title to Triple Crown rookie of the year in 2000. But he also struggled with repeated injuries that hampered some of his success, including a devastating knee injury in 2013. While Pires' CT run came to an end after the 2014 season, he has paved the way for the next generation of Portugal's surfers, including Vasco Ribeiro and Frederico Morais, both of whom were standouts at the 2015 Moche Rip Curl Pro Portugal.
As he hangs up the competitive jersey, Pires opened up about the best of times, the toughest of times, and why he's making his exit now.
Anna Dimond: What led to your decision to retire now?
Tiago Pires: All in all it was just a natural process. 2014 was my last year on Tour after fighting a very hard injury on my knee that started in 2013. It seems a bit partial to say this but just before I injured myself in May 2013 I was living what I believed to be the best moment of my life in terms of form. I thought I would recuperate way faster and I would find myself in that form again, but things never pan out the same way.
Just before I injured myself in May 2013 was the best moment of my life in terms of form. I thought I would recuperate way faster.
In 2014 I made my comeback and it was a nice year that unfortunately, with some close calls, didn't saw me qualifying at the end of the year. In October of that same year I found out I was going to be a dad, which was something that I've wanted for a long time. I think after that my mind immediately ease down from the competitive mode and I started to think more and more about the idea of retiring.
In 2015, I decided to give it a last shot on the Qualifying Tour just to prove [to myself whether] I could make it. So I did pretty much all the Prime events [now called QS10,000s], and that's what really made it clear for me. I didn't have the same competitive drive as I did for the last 15 or 16 years.
AD: What has been the best part of being a pro surfer, or best moment of your career?
TP: I've had so many best moments that I can't really recall one! The fact that I was able to live the life I've dreamed as a kid, that's pretty much the best part of it. I used to watch surf movies with all the same guys that I've competed with on Tour, it seemed so distant from my reality before. All of a sudden I was beating Kelly [Slater] on my rookie year in perfect, 6-foot surf in Uluwatu. That's hard to match!
AD: What was your toughest moment, or biggest hurdle in pro surfing?
TP: My last heat at Pipeline in 2014 was a very tough one. I knew I needed a Semifinal to stay on Tour, a very hard task for anyone, but to surf in pretty much out-of-control conditions and to lose without almost scoring at all, it was painful. I would've loved to have a nice memory of my last heat on Tour. But that didn't happen, so I'll have to cope with it.
I've always been a very competitive person and I've never accepted no for an answer.
AD: You are considered a pioneer for surfers in Portugal. How would you describe your own legacy, and impact on professional surfing?
TP: Yes, I guess I was very fortunate to grow up surrounded by good surfers at home. Even if they weren't famous they were the best I had to watch and to surf with. But that made want more. I've always been a very competitive person and I've never accepted no for an answer, so I just gave it all I had to go further and further. Things started happening during the end of my junior career and before I knew I was winning Qualifying Series (QS) events, which was completely impossible for Portuguese surfers before.
I see myself as a good role model for future generations and I hope I can have a positive impact on kids. There's a path and an example to follow now and I feel very proud to be associated with it.
AD: What's still needed to grow the sport, and particularly in Portugal?
TP: I think the sport has been growing a lot in Portugal and I would love to see it becoming even more professional. In the future I would love to see dedicated training sessions for the surfers who are competing to avoid fighting for waves, that's only one example. I think the QS could stand some improvement in its venues so that we're 100 percent sure we're qualifying the right surfers for the task.
Zé Seabra was the first person that told me I could go all the way to the CT. I thought he was a little crazy, but I soon realized he had a point.
AD: Who has been the most instrumental to your career, and why?
TP Definitely it would have to be my longtime coach and friend Zé Seabra. He was the first person that told me I could go all the way when I was 16 years old and still going to high school. At the time I thought he was a little crazy. But after we started working together as a team, I soon realized he had a point.
AD: What's next?
TP: I'm lucky enough to be locked in with Quiksilver for the next five years so I guess there's room for me in the ocean! I've a big project going on right now and that's going to occupy my time for this year but I'll definitely keep an eye open for exploring trips as I have that kind of [travel bug].
AD: Do you have any regrets, or things you would do over today if you could?
TP: Yes, I would have loved to win a CT contest or two. I think I came close a couple of times and that would have really sealed the deal for me, but all in all I'm a very proud soldier.
AD: What advice would you give to up-and-coming pros?
TP: Never stop believing because our careers are longer than you think. Be humble and respect everyone around you. The WSL is a big family that will treat you very well, so enjoy the ride and be happy leaving the best lifestyle on earth!