J-Bay Open

Miguel Pupo: Eye of the Storm

Miguel Pupo has been on the Championship Tour since 2011 -- the same year that fellow Brazilian Gabriel Medina joined -- but in terms of points Pupo, who's ranked World No. 22, has had a tougher go of it than his fellow Brazilians. That includes Medina, who became Brazil's first world champ, as well as more recent CT additions like Italo Ferreira (No. 4) and Caio Ibelli (No. 8).

Pupo's Buzzer-Beater
In a heated last-minute exchange during their Round One match, Italo Ferreira and Miguel Pupo traded blows.

Despite his relative struggle, Pupo is slowly but surely turning things around. A realization that he belongs among the world's best and connecting with his competitive side, have helped his cause. So far this year, he had a fifth-place finish at May's Oi Rio Pro and a few 13th-place finished elsewhere. In an upcoming WSL profile, Pupo describes what early life was like in Brazil, what was missing for him on tour and how, at 24, he's coming into his own. Here's a sneak peek:

WSL: What is your earliest memory of surfing?
MP: I remember my first wave. I almost drowned, I was four years old. My dad used to stay outside and push me in the wave, and my mom was there on the beach so she could catch me when I was there on the end. But I fell in the middle and they both started running to catch me. My mom found me and picked me up by the hair. I didn't want to take a shower for a couple of months. I was scared of the water and didn't want to touch it at all.

My first wave I almost drowned, I was four. I didn't want to take a shower for a couple of months.

And then I was six, and my neighbor started surfing. I hated surfing with my dad, somehow. I only surfed with my friends. My dad was gone all the time, he was on the QS by then, and was probably gone half of the year. So I surfed with my neighbor and friends from the street. When I was seven, we moved up north and that's how we started the whole thing, loving competing and loving to surf. My mom used to film everything. I used to walk 10 miles to go surf.

trials Surfing is the Pupo family business. Miggy's dad, Wagner (L), made the tour when the kids were young, and helped pave the way for his son. Miguel's brother, Samuel (R), is next in line. - WSL

WSL: You walked 10 miles to surf?!
MP: I was around 7 or 8. My dad didn't have much money, so he bought a piece of land at the top of a mountain. He built a little house and we had to walk down. The little beach that we had didn't have waves, so I had to walk three miles, plus another mountain to go surf. My dad had a car but he didn't want to drive every day.

I had two biscuits -- one for the way, and one for the way back. I used to surf three hours and I was stoked on that. Now, if I walk 10 meters I'm bummed!

I had two biscuits -- one for the way to the beach, and one for the way back. I used to surf three hours and I was stoked on that.

When we lived in the mountains, it was like a jungle childhood, a crazy thing. We had snakes in the kitchen, and monkeys there every morning. It was sick. We had nothing to distract us but surfing. I used to surf and come back and stay with my brother and my sister at home.

Miguel Pupo winning in Round 4. Pupo's performances are always electric. - WSL / Daniel Smorigo

WSL: You made the Championship Tour in 2011, with the mid-year cutoff. What was that like for you?
MP: I was home, and I was watching the New York event, they were having the cutoff after that. I had all the math written out on a piece of paper. Eight guys had to make heats to push me out. That's a big number. The first guy won his heat. Then the next guy made his heat. I was like, ‘Come on!' Then someone lost, and I was in!

Miguel's 9-Point Punt
Despite moves like this one, Pupo has typically lagged in CT points, either finishing the year ranked in the high-teens, or needing a strong QS performances to keep his job on the elite tour. If he continues on his upswing, this season could be different.

My dad was crying. My mom was in shock. I couldn't believe it, I was 18 and on tour. My best friend called me and said, ‘I can't believe it! I want to surf with the World Tour guy right now.' I had a brand new board. First wave, broke my board. And then I had to sit on the beach and watch my friend surf for an hour and a half. That was my first surf as a Championship Tour surfer.

WSL: What have been some of the hurdles, and highlights, of being on tour?
MP: I knew I had to make a name for myself, because I made the tour with Gabriel, and he was the guy. And John John. I used to play video games with John John when I was 10. Everyone knows who he is.

I started hating going to events -- not hating, but not comfortable -- to look at my heroes. I used to be intimidated. It took me years to realize that if you really want to be on tour, you have to put that to the side.

That's when I started overthinking it and putting pressure on myself to make a name, and win events and be the guy. Even for three years after that. I started hating going to events -- not hating, but not comfortable, to look at my heroes. As a kid I used pretend I was every CT guy and give points and rankings. They were my superheroes, I used to be intimidated by them. It took me a couple of years to realize that if you really want to be on tour, you have to put that to the side.

When you see someone as a hero, it's hard to put that aside. And then one day, maybe a year ago, I thought, 'I get to surf against my heroes, but I get to be friends with my heroes.' That's even better. That's when everything started changing for me. I'm competitive but my personality is different, but when it comes to the water is turns around. I was leaving that aside, like, 'What should I do? Should I take a wave?!'

Miguel Pupo during an early morning free surf. Next stop on the Championship Tour is Jeffreys Bay, South Africa, where Pupo was eliminated in Round Two last year. That leaves him plenty of room to improve there and enjoy more perfect, pre-dawn sessions. - WSL / KC

WSL: What does success look like for you, 10 years from now?
MP: My biggest fear is 10 years from now, waking up and thinking of things I should've done but didn't. Like giving my best in every heat, giving my best all the time. That's what I'm trying to do all the time now. Just give my best, and don't really worry about the result, even if it's 10 seconds to go, or the start of a heat.

I picture myself at home, with my kids. I really want to be a dad -- not right now, later on. But I'd love to have kids around, do things with them. I remember when I was 10-ish, I took care of my sister. I want to make as much money as I can so I can sit home and take care of my kids. That's what I want to do.

Catch Pupo when the J-Bay Open kicks off July 6 local time, live on the WSL app, website and Apple TV.