It's hard to believe that Italo Ferreira has been on the Championship Tour for barely more than a year. Three events into his sophomore season he's already ranked World No. 3 on the Jeep rankings, making him the highest-ranked Brazilian.
Unlike most of his high-profile peers, Ferreira's not from São Paulo, but Baia Formosa -- around 1,500 miles northeast of Medina's hometown. Italo's coach and mentor, Luiz "Pinga" Campos, discovered Italo at a regional contest about a decade ago, while scouting somebody else. They had a quick chat, and Italo and his mom were at Pinga's colleague's office the next day 9 a.m., ready to work. Ten years later, they're still going strong.
But while Italo has been rapidly gaining accolades (WSL Rookie of the Year, 2015), sponsorship (Billabong signed him at the start of the year), rankings points (he jumped from No. 8 in 2015) and fans in Brazil (His WSL jersey is rumored to be a top-seller.), his recent rise has been eclipsed by the flood of incredible upsets by the likes of Matt Wilkinson and Sebastian Zietz. Add to that his private persona and preference for interviewing in Portuguese -- and it's easy to see how he's still something of an enigma.
WSL: You have been making your way up the rankings, step by step, and ahead of guys who have had success, like Medina and De Souza. How do you feel about your year so far?
Italo Ferreira: I'm very confident I had a very good Australian leg. Good results, good boards. It just makes me more confident for the rest of the year with a big goal and I know it will not be easy to get there. With hard work and effort, God-willing I'll achieve it. But it's too early to talk about it yet and have a lot of steps ahead of me. Rio is another step in the process, a good start is what matters. I plan to continue like this and win my first race, and I hope to continue at this pace and achieve my goal here.
WSL: Is there more pressure on you in Rio, in your home country?
IF: It's very good to be here in Rio. Of course, there is a bit of pressure as you say, a Brazilian crowd in my favor and in favor of all Brazilians is pretty cool, because it motivates you more. It happened in my heat when I managed to get my first good wave, the crowd cheered enough and it motivated me a lot. So I love competing here in Brazil and to have that support is wonderful.
WSL: What's your biggest goal for the year?
IF: My focus this year is to try to be able to better all my results over last year. I already did this in Australia and now I am here at the Brazil contest, where I did well last year. So the goal is to get the same result or try to improve on it. It's still too early to talk about the world title because a lot can happen. I'm very confident and motivated to achieve it -- but yes it's a fight for the title at the end of the year.
WSL: What do you see as your biggest challenge, professionally or personally?
IF: My biggest challenge is my fear. It influences me a bit but I try to leave it aside and try to enjoy myself when I'm doing my job. I believe that my motivation and faith can overcome fear.
WSL: When you are working with Pinga, what do you do on a daily basis?
IF: Pinga is boring (laughs). We have worked like this together for quite a while. Luiz is a guy who taught me quite a lot and even today he still teaches me.
He gives me confidence too, he is a very experienced guy. He has already put several athletes on the world tour, so I trust in the work and it's no wonder that we are together today. He's a very tough guy and keeps you in check, and that's what he does for me and thank God it's going well. I've worked with him for 10 years, I believe, and this partnership has been working to this day. He's a key guy in my career. He goes after all my sponsorships. He tries to leave me very calm to do what I like.
WSL: Is it hard to have a girlfriend when you're on tour?
IF: So, it's very difficult. I travel a lot and she has to study and go after her goals but she is coming to Rio and will give me support with her family. But it is a little complicated and we don't see each other often, but I think that's what keeps a relationship strong: Our longing becomes more profound during events and then after, when we see each other, we make the most of it and try to enjoy every moment together and live it to the fullest.
Catch Ferreira at the Oi Rio Pro. Watch live daily on the WSL website and app, through May 21.