Jesse Mendes is one of the most battle-hardened rookies of this year’s bunch. The blonde Brazilian goofyfooter grew up in Gauruja, near São Paulo, and spent a good chunk of his formative years waging aerial war against friends and rivals Miguel Pupo and Gabriel Medina. In fact, he was one of Medina’s biggest threats in their early years of competing. But well after his buddies rocketed onto the Championship Tour to huge fanfare in their teens, Mendes endured a long, bumpy character-building slog during his time on the Qualifying Series. He spent seven seasons grinding through pro surfing’s minor leagues, coming oh-so close to making the big show in 2014 and 2016. Though doubts consumed him during his low moments the encouragement and support from friends, peers and his girlfriend Tatiana Weston Webb, who’s on the women’s Championship Tour, proved pivotal. Mendes finally broke through big in 2017 with a string of great results to kick off the season. Midway through he became the first surfer to lock up a slot on the 2018 Championship Tour, and he’s been flashing his big grin ever since. His blend of youthful energy and polished professionalism will be a welcome addition to the Tour. Jesse can grind out wins the hard way, and bust them wide open with a single maneuver. That balanced, all-around approach is what makes him so lethal.