Who is Michael Rodrigues?
Not since Italo Ferreira's explosion onto the world stage back in 2014 has a Brazilian surfer qualified for the Championship Tour in such a mysterious, unheralded fashion. While fellow Brazilians Jesse Mendes and Yago Dora stole much of the spotlight in 2018, and QS journeymen Tomas Hermes and Willian Cardoso attracted the sentimental storylines, Rodrigues plugged away outside the limelight, focusing on the ultimate prize -- a spot on the 2018 CT. But how did he get here?
For starters, Rodrigues began surfing at a young age near his childhood home, and he was hooked instantly. "I was seven years old and I lived next to a surf school, so I couldn't not start surfing (laughs)," he told Brazilian surf website, Surfar.com. After earning a series of schoolboy titles, Rodrigues built an impressive competitive resume on home turf: Brazilian Junior Champion (2011), Brazilian Open Champion (2012), ISA Games Open World Champion (2013).
Yet, despite being overlooked by most of the mainstream surf media outside of Brazil, his explosive aerial game and power-based carving did not go completely unnoticed once he turned pro in 2014. After a win at the Oceano Santa Catarina Pro14, his coming-of-age party was at the 2015 Oakley Lowers Pro, where he finished 9th. In the aftermath, …Lost Surfboards shaper/owner Matt Biolos, not a person known for spewing unsubstantiated hyperbole, stated that the young Brazilian was the best surfer on the QS.
Later that season, he again put the world on notice, taking Wave of the Week honors at the Ballito Pro with a perfect 10 (and a 9.20 for his second ride) in his Round One heat. He finished 2015 ranked an impressive No. 17 overall on the QS leaderboard. But in 2016 he suffered the dreaded sophomore slump, struggled for form and fitness and finished at a somewhat indifferent No. 31.
By most accounts, he's a friendly, low-key guy who grew up under challenging circumstances and humble beginnings in Fortaleza, in the state of Ceará, a beachside metropolis located along the tropical northeast coast of Brazil. Similar in many ways to Miami Beach, Rodrigues admits Fortaleza is a place where aspiring pro surfers struggle with the often small, windy conditions better suited to wind and kite surfing, and a general lack of support from the surf industry centered in the south of the country, down in Rio and São Paulo.
Over the past three years he has worked his tail off to make it this far and is determined as hell to make the most of his Championship Tour opportunity. Now based in surf-rich Florianopolis, located in Brazil's southern state of Santa Caterina, the 22-year-old credits hard work, laser-like focus and a strong faith in God for his good fortune in 2017.
Some of his friends from ...Lost Surfboards, specifically fellow team rider and CT rookie Griffin Colapinto and brand founder Matt Biolos, have nicknamed him M-Rod, a reference either to street skater Paul "P-Rod" Rodriguez or former NY Yankee Alex "A-Rod" Rodriguez.
Much in the same way that his compatriot Ian Gouveia qualified in 2016, M-Rod's run to Championship Tour qualification was in large part the result of a two excellent results during the QS's European leg -- specifically in Spain and the Azores.
A runner-up finish for the second consecutive year at the Pull&Bear Pantin Classic Galicia Pro got things started. Before ultimately losing out in the Final to Jorgan Couzinet, he took down two of his more highly touted countrymen in successive heats: first, Dora in the Quarterfinals, then Mendes in the Semis.
"I love competing here, it's always a great time," he said in Spain. "I need to win one at some point, it's a bummer to finish second again but it's a great result and I'm stoked and excited for the next events. Losing with the highest single score is not easy, but that's how it goes."
At the very next event on the QS calendar, the Azores Airlines Pro, he once again made the Final, this time losing to Dora. He'd earned another 4500 invaluable points. "I'm feeling really happy, I tried to do my best and unfortunately it just wasn't enough this time," he said after his loss to Dora in the Final. "This is another amazing result for me and I'm so excited to keep going and compete in the next event."
Over the course of six brief days he'd amassed 9000 points, forever altering the path of his qualification campaign. In less than a week's time he jumped from No. 28 to well within striking distance of the qualifying cutoff line, which is No. 10, depending on whether CT surfers double-qualify (which opens up spots below QS No. 10). Only Hawaii's North Shore and its two QS10,000s remained. "Game on, it's just started," Rodrigues stated confidently from the podium after the event.
Unfortunately, a finishing flourish in Hawaii did not happen -- he placed 17th at Haleiwa, and 49th at Sunset. A full-time spot on Tour hung in the balance. Situated as the No. 11-ranked surfer on the QS and last man standing outside the top 10 cutoff, he needed some help. Fate intervened in the form of Kanoa Igarashi.
If Igarashi could once again pull off double-qualification at the Pipe Masters, Rodrigues would get bumped inside the cutoff zone. Right on cue, the young Californian conjured up another dose of Pipe magic and more than held up his side of the bargain. Igarashi's CT requalification meant Rodrigues became the fifth Brazilian member of the 2018 rookie class.
The regularfoot will now get a chance to showcase his explosive aerial pop and flowing power game on the world stage at Snapper Rocks in early March for the 2018 CT's opening event -- the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast. Surfing a perfect, reeling, right-hand Australian point break to kick off your CT career? It's not a dream anymore, but it's still a long way from Fortaleza.