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Inside Italo Ferreira's Impressive Comeback

Days after the Quiksilver Pro ended in March Italo Ferreira suffered a torn ligament in his ankle during a freesurf session on the Gold Coast. The injury was so painful he had to be carried up the beach, wincing. Relegated to crutches and a flight home, the high-flying Brazilian was forced to miss the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro, the Rip Curl Pro at Bells, and the Oi Rio Pro in Brazil, just a few hours from where he was injured. His doctors expected that, at best, he'd be ready for a return in July, at the Corona Open J-Bay.

Highlights: Ferreira and Medina Battle
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Just like that, Ferreira edged out the 2016 Fiji Pro winner, Gabriel Medina. Whatever Italo was doing to recover seems to be working quite well so far.

But Italo's recovery astonished his team. He beat that goal by a month, healing up just in time to fly to this week's Outerknown Fiji Pro. And so far, he seems to be back in a big way. After winning his first heat of the event, he went on to win another: In Round Three, he took down the 2014 World Champ and defending event champion, Gabriel Medina, in a nail-biter of a battle. In the aftermath of that upset, Italo's manager, Luiz "Pinga" Campos opened up on the work involved in the amazing recovery.

World Surf League: Beating the defending champion in Fiji was a big message that Italo is back. What has he been doing to return to form?
Pinga: After he got injured, we started some things in Australia, some medicine [to ease the pain]. And when we got back to Brazil we went to three doctors to decide which way were going with treatment, and then started physical therapy the same day. And we worked nine or ten weeks, every week, every day, except weekends.

I wasn't with just him on physical therapy days, but every day. When he got back to surfing, we went to Guarujá, for five days. And we decided, one day before he left, to go to Fiji.

But he had always wanted to go to Fiji, and insisted day after day, but I said, ‘We need to know what your foot says. What does your foot tell us?' [Laughs] But he was very comfortable, full of confidence. And he was very strong in the recuperation, his body healed very fast. He worked a lot.

Italo Ferreira's Big Shot
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The Brazilian surfer discusses the move that put him on the map, which he calls "one of the most beautiful maneuvers" of his life.

What has his recovery entailed?
Ultrasound, laser, icing, and wiggling [stretching] his ankle. We work with a very good crew: Dr. Marcelo, Italo's primary doctor; Dr. Masagão, the ankle specialist; Hygor, the physical therapist; and Marcos, the trainer. Everybody worked together -- Erika, who did the massage therapy. His food. Three-to-five guys would talk together every day about what was happening and what to do. Italo's plan was to come back in time for the contest in Rio, but we knew that wasn't possible, because, with a normal recovery time for this injury, the timeline for him to get back into the water would have been June 14.

But he as working very hard for this.

Is it true that Italo was only in the water for five days before he went to Fiji?
Yeah. Wednesday… six days. But he worked a lot for this. The first idea was that he'd be back for J-Bay. That's normal. But when the doctor saw the last MRI, he said, no problem. The labs are OK. But Italo worked so hard, every day. He never stopped. He was in São Paulo the whole time.

He needed a big gift, though.

Italo Ferreira Is Taking Flight
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Just about 10 weeks ago, Ferreira was pulling moves like this one. Then injury struck.

Were you nervous at all, watching him compete in Fiji?
His first was very important. He had to get his confidence again. In his heat against Gabriel he was more confident. The problem now, is his mind. Clinically, he's alright. He's very confident, he understands what's important, the tactics, the approach in the events.

We talk a lot about this, to pay attention to the other guys -- what the other guy is doing. What is his approach, what is his position in the lineup --the other guy's tactics, too.

What were the crucial elements that allowed him to defeat Gabriel?
Italo used the same tactics he used in all his heats there so far. Gabriel went outside for the bigger sets, but we know that in Fiji, not all the waves come through the outside. It depends on the swell direction. We know about this. And the tube opens more on the inside. I think that's the best thing there. In 2015, he made a good result there -- when he won against Kelly, he used the same tactics. But it's important to pay attention to this. And what the guys are doing with priority. We know which guys like to hassle in the heats, and who tried to put you out at the point. So we go out once, and then come back. Italo pays attention to what the other guy is doing. It's a mind competition.

Italo Ferreira prior to his round four heat. Pinga first met Italo at a regional Brazilian contest about a decade ago, and he's still in his corner. WSL / Ed Sloane

Everybody [on Tour] has the talent. But you have to pay attention, and think. My philosophy for working with these kids is this: I need to help the guys develop the mind. The last decision is not mine -- who is in the water is the guy. He needs to understand what's happening. The competition mentality -- the guys need support with that.

Tune in Saturday at 7:00 a.m. local time FJT for the next call at the Outerknown Fiji Pro.

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