Over the past six years the sport's perennial global powers of Australia, America, and Hawaii have been dealing with a fresh force from Brazil. The brigade of high-flying talent from South America has, in short order, changed the face of pro surfing.
Sure, Brazilians were always tour participants, but for decades their impact at the elite level was mostly limited to the back half of the Top 30. That all changed in 2012, as a flood of high-flying talent from Brazil hit foreign shores hard, and began reshaping the entire surfing landscape: The Brazilian Storm was doing damage.
And while it might have felt sudden at the time, it was anything but. The rise of Brazil's professional surf roster was the 30-year project of surf marketer and coach Luiz Campos, better known as Pinga. His protégés have included most of the current Championship Tour's resident Brazilians, including Adriano de Souza, Miguel Pupo, Jadson Andre, Caio Ibelli, and Italo Ferreira. And yes, there are more in line who Pinga has hand-picked to join his elite team.
Pinga grew up surfing in Rio, and has been working in the Brazilian surf industry since the mid 1980s. After stints with Quiksilver and Oakley, he started The BOX Sports Marketing firm, where he designed a holistic approach to scouting and developing young surf talent. The immersive program helps them get training, equipment, and sponsorship. One of his first graduates was reigning World Champ Adriano de Souza. Today, Pinga's bench is as deep as ever, so we caught up with him to find out how he does it.
WSL: What do you look for when you look for young surf talent?
Pinga: The first thing is the family. What the family wants, what the family goals are. Because it takes a long time. To build a professional career, it takes five, six years. For me it's very important, too, not just for building an athlete, but building a good guy. It's a 360 view. One part of it is high-level performance competition, one part is the personal understanding why he's doing it: Why do I have to train outside the water? Why do I have to go do an interview? Not just because my sponsor paid me for it.
The first thing is the family. What the family wants, what their goals are. Because it takes a long time. It's important not just for building an athlete, but building a good guy.
For example, maybe you have a party tonight, but you compete tomorrow morning. He understands he needs to go to sleep a little early for the comp. This is important when you start at the beginning with very young kids. I began when Adriano was 9, Jadson 12, Miguel I think 10 or 11, Caio 9 or 10, Italo 12 or 13. Now I work with a kid who is 18, three kids who are 14, and two kids are 10, and they're all with different brands. For professional guys now, though, I'm only with Billabong.
WSL: What did you see in Adriano when you first met him?
P: He called me. I worked before with two kids from his beach in Guarujá, in São Paulo, so I said, 'Hey, go see these guys in my office.' He went, we talked, and at that time I was working at Surf Co., with Hang Loose and Reef and Oakley and others. I quickly put him with Oakley. After three or four weeks I put him with Hang Loose and we began to work together. He went to swim school, English classes, private school. I do this for all the kids.
I meet with the families before we start. Except with Adriano, he controls the situation!
WSL: What was his family's reaction?
P: It was good. His family is very cool. His father is a good man, his brother is a great guy. I meet with the families before we start. Except with Adriano, he controls the situation [laughs].
WSL: Before he won the World Title last year, Adriano changed coaches, and now works with Leandro Dora. How did that go?
P: I think it's okay. It's a life cycle. We worked together 16, 17 years. It's time. You go for another point of view.
WSL: You're also working now with Italo. What was special about him when you first met?
P: Italo was a bambini! The history is interesting. I went to Natal for one event, and I stayed there for 15 days. I went with Jadson, Caio, Miguel and a few other kids. I went to see another kid, who I had been watching for six or seven months already. When I went to Natal, though, I didn't like what I saw. I stayed quiet, but didn't get a good feeling.
Then, one day, I went surfing very early. I got to the beach, got out of the car, and saw this kid, doing a 360 air. Another 360 air. I thought, ‘Who is this kid!?' The event started two days after, and I asked the guys there, 'What's the kid's name?' The kid is Italo. OK. I made a note and watched his all his heats. He won the contest.
After the final, I said, 'Jadson, go talk to Italo.' Because if I go, everyone will know what's happening. When he came over I said, ‘Call me tomorrow.' This was Sunday. Monday morning, 9 a.m., his mother found me and called me in my hotel.
I went to their house in Baia Formosa and met her, and Italo's father. He had had a small sponsor before, but then we signed him with the Oakley team. We put him in English classes in São Paulo. His city is very small -- maybe between 9,000-11,000 people in Baia Formosa. I brought him to São Paulo, to Guarujá. All the guys lived there together, all the guys living outside SP, I put an apartment for them to live there. Jadson, Italo. Caio already lived there. Caio's family was more well off, he was ok.
WSL: What is the difference between working with kids with more resources, and ones that don't?
P: It's very different, between the rich and the poor. A different mentality. The poor are [growling noise], angry, aggressive. It's like basketball in the USA, and American football. When the guy has studies, a good education, and a work ethic and when he's angry, he can get to the top. I am happy with the Adriano title, because when we worked before -- I have many people working with the athletes. A doctor, another doctor for the mind, a physical trainer, we work with four or five people on the team.
It's very different, between the rich and the poor. A different mentality. The poor are angry. Aggressive. It's like basketball in the USA, and American football.
What we did is a good reference for the other kids. After this, we had a great generation -- Jadson, Caio, Miguel. This kid, Marco, who won the Rio trials is fantastic -- good kid, great family, quiet. If he makes the CT, he'd be great. He's from Bahia.
WSL: What is the biggest challenge working with kids who maybe have more to worry about, from home life to economics?
P: For us in surfing it's easier. The guys are expected to take care of each other, talk to each other, have a beer together. We have a community. For instance, what's happening in Brazil, it's a very important moment for us in terms of politics and economics. For us [as Brazilians], it is easier to weather this kind of thing.
WSL: So is part of your job to protect your surfers a bit?
P: Yeah, but our focus is on the surfing. My idea is to have a better situation with the training, know what looks good in the water, so the guys know what they're doing for those 25 minutes of a heat. To know who they're competing against -- I send a lot of information on the other surfers in their heats.
WSL: What about dealing with setbacks? Jadson was recently injured, Adriano was, too, before he won the title. How do you help them?
P: They train more and more to prevent injury. There's more impact now, with airs. The guys, overall, are strong. Their personal lives have a big influence too -- what's going on with their girlfriend or wife, their parents, friends. You try to understand what's happening with the guy in the moment. One guy might need more quiet, another guy might need more confidence. Another needs to relax more. Like Jadson, he's very intense. So with him, I try to get him to relax.
WSL: How do you see yourself and the role that you play for the surfers you work with?
P: I just try to make it simple. I think simply, too, about my job. I observe everything -- like Matt Wilkinson won, for example. What's he doing differently? I ask questions.
WSL: The Brazilian Storm has changed the face of surfing. What do you think the biggest difference is between the Brazilian surfers on tour and everyone else?
P: It's a good opportunity for changing their lives.
WSL: Was your goal to build up the Brazilian presence on the CT?
P: Yeah, it was my goal. My goal was to make one world champion. And now, it's to continue my job.