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Meet the Coach Behind the Rio Fireworks

Behind the massive fireworks Wednesday at the Oi Rio Pro, in which a 20-year-old wildcard took down multiple World Champions and an emotional Adriano de Souza won his first event in well over a year, was one man: Leandro Dora.

Trials winner Yago Dora of Brazil advances to the Quarterfinals of the Oi Rio Pro after defeating former World Champion Gabriel Medina (BRA) in Heat 2 of Round Five at Saquarema, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Yago and Leandro. WSL / Damien Poullenot

Dora coaches both De Souza and the statement-making wildcard, Yago Dora, who also happens to be Leandro's son. (Leandro also coaches Tatiana Weston-Webb, on the women's Championship Tour.) Until this week in Saquarema, Yago's reputation was largely limited to his explosive performances in video parts and surf films like Sorria and Pyschic Migrations. Since the 2017 season began, however, Yago has shot up 40 spots on the Qualifying Series (QS) rankings, already well within reach of making the Championship Tour (CT) next year -- for now.

But his performance Wednesday in Saquarema was simply transcendent -- born of pure passion and talent, lip-launches and last-minute airs. As Dora took down Gabriel Medina and then Mick Fanning -- only to be stopped by De Souza in the Semifinals -- he gave fans something palpable to cheer about: dreams, hope and promise, all flying high above them on a packed beach.

And in the end, there was Leandro, standing by, soaking it all in. In tears at one point, stoic and calm at another, he shared how he came to work with De Souza, his philosophy of coaching and what's changed for both ADS and Yago since last year:

Adriano vs. Yago
1:15
De Souza earns an 9.57 against Yago Dora in Heat 1 of the Semifinals.

How did you start working with Adriano?
We talked with Adriano at the end of 2014 and started the work, but not in the contests. Only training and talking. And then, at the start of J-Bay in 2015, we started working together at events.

But we knew each other for years. Adriano lives close to my house, and before we worked with him, I surfed with him. This all started with Ricardo dos Santos [who was murdered in January 2015]. Ricardo worked with me for five or six years -- a long time. He talked to Adriano, saying, "You need Leandro." Then Ricardo went to the other side and Adriano came to work with me and said, 'Let's go, let's start work.' He said, 'This is the time.' Too emotional for me, and Adriano, and Yago. Two days, the energy stayed here.

Why is Yago pushing competition now? What changed in terms of wanting to make a serious run at qualifying for the CT?
This last year, I talked to Yago, and he told me, ‘I'd love to do the CT. Let's go work for this.' Last year, he finished at No. 43 on the QS rankings and told me that it's possible. So this year, it's been our focus. But the trips and filming and videos, he loves doing them and hasn't stopped. It's necessary for him -- not just to work and compete. It's important to relax and surf with your friends.

Trials winner Yago Dora of Brazil advances to the Quarterfinals of the Oi Rio Pro after defeating former World Champion Gabriel Medina (BRA) in Heat 2 of Round Five at Saquarema, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Yago, with his adoring fans. WSL / Damien Poullenot

This is Adriano's focus this year, too. He changed this. Before he worked with me, the life of Adriano was only competition. And I told him, ‘Hey, let's go to Fiji and just surf.' And he changed. He stayed at the competition one week extra, just to surf. And this year, after the Australian leg, he went to Bali to surf. It's really good to bring up your level of surfing, to surf without pressure. There was a change in his spirit -- for me, it stays on the good side of the sintonia [harmony].

Yago Soars Past Medina
3:20
The 20-year-old Brazilian wildcard becomes the first breakout star of 2017 at the Oi Rio Pro.

How was it watching both Adriano and Yago in the same heat?
I am so happy for this. For me, it's better to have two guys in the Final. But in saying this, this is perfect.

Is there any particular advice that you gave to them before their Semifinal?
No. Only to go out there and have fun. Do it for the love of it.

Are you surprised at how well Yago did here in Rio?
Yeah, it's a very good result. I talked to him, heat after heat. I said, 'It's only about the surf. Only you. Your brain. Focus on yourself and your board and the wave.' And that worked well.

Does Adriano ever give advice to Yago?
Yeah, sometimes. More during free surfs, but sometimes he talks to Yago about competition.

What are the goals for your athletes this year?
Adriano is coming back to run for a World Title, maybe, for the second time. Last year was a very turbulent year for Adriano. Too much -- it was a crazy time with the World Title. And the next year after [winning a Title] is sometimes good, sometimes not. But this year, he has renewed his energy.

And Yago, the mission is to stay in the Top 10 on the Qualifying Series (QS) rankings.

How would you describe your philosophy of coaching?
Love of surf. Go out and surf for love and surf free. Not for the rules. Surf for your heart and your soul. For me, surf is mystical, it is a mix of dance and meditation.

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