Wiggolly Dantas has a lot on the line at the Billabong Pipe Masters. The Brazilian powerhouse is No. 24 on the Jeep Leaderboard, two spots south of where he needs to be to stay on Tour in 2018. At the same time, he's right in the mix to take the 2017 Vans Triple Crown of Surfing title, sitting at No. 3, thanks to his strong results at the Hawaiian Pro and Vans World Cup. This is Dantas' third year on the Championship Tour, but he's been apart of Hawaii's North Shore scene for more than 15 years, and he's hoping it'll pay off when competition resumes.
Back in 2009 I had the good fortune of staying with the Red Bull Rising crew in a house at Sunset Beach. There was a group of five talented surfers on the Qualifying Series back then, who had been identified and then coached by Andy King. The crew included a young Michel Bourez and even younger Wiggolly Dantas.
Wiggolly had yet to turn 20 and it was his first year on the QS. Soft-spoken and having only just started to learn English, it was a little hard to get a read on the Brazilian. His surfing talent, however, was all too obvious, as was his dedication. On that trip he would often sneak out before dark with an armful of Pipe pintails under his arm, only returning for the scheduled gym sessions and heat drills.
On one such morning with the house empty, there was a knock on the door. I opened it to the to find the unmistakable presence of legendary Hawaiian Eddie Rothman. My mind quickly went through the permutations of what could have precipitated an unsolicited knock from Eddie. None came close to the real reason, however. Eddie was armed with a tray of home baked oatmeal cookies and asked if I could please pass them on to Wiggolly. He told me he was returning the favor and to make sure that Wiggolly received them.
It was my first realization of the impact the quiet Brazilian had already made on the North Shore. He later told me that this was his fifth winter season in Hawaii. He would stay a minimum of six weeks, often longer, and had already dedicated himself to slowly, quietly and respectfully working his way up surfing's heaviest pecking order. In that time he made friends of all ages and backgrounds. It was clear it already had a big place in his expanding world.
It was surprising, then, that Wiggolly took another five years to make the CT. "I thought it would be quicker, for sure," says King, who has coached Mick Fanning and is now working with Julian Wilson. "However, when he did come on there was no rookie better prepared or who had done more work. He'd surfed all the breaks and his commitment and dedication had only increased. He was so ready. Maybe it was meant to be."
Dantas' rookie finish as World No. 15 in 2015 vindicated that process, but he did come close to losing his status in his sophomore year when he squeaked one place under the cutoff. This year his grip is even more tenuous. Going into Pipeline as the World No. 24 he will need a solid result to keep the dream alive. His loss in Round One on Monday means every heat is make or break now.
It is fitting that Pipeline is the venue for such a pivotal moment in his career. It is the wave to which he has dedicated his surfing life, and a wave that has shaped him as a surfer more than any other. In the last two years that dedication hasn't been reflected in results, but eventually you'd have to think that the time in the lineup and his for the place he calls his second home will pay off.
Additionally, his 2017 Hawaii competitive season has been the best of his career. A third place at Haleiwa and a fifth at Sunset means he is in the third spot on the Triple Crown Ratings. Fifteen years after he first fell in love with Hawaii, it just might be the place that saves his CT career. If that happens, he can expect plenty more cookie deliveries.