As gathering clouds made their way Tuesday across the Pacific, they provided a beautifully ready-made metaphor for the new and improved Brazilian Storm at the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast.
That group of men and one woman on the WSL Championship Tour (CT) earned its name starting around 2014, when Brazil hit a tipping point of talents making the elite stage of pro surfing. The so-called "Storm's" reputation was only further solidified when, at the end of that season, the country's golden child, Gabriel Medina, became the first-ever Brazilian surfer to win the CT Championship. Adriano de Souza, the Tour veteran of the group, carried the torch in 2015, when he won his first-ever World Title after 10 years on the CT.
But now, three years later, that group of incredible athletes has been slightly reconfigured, losing a few established CT surfers who weren't able to requalify (Wiggolly Dantas, Miguel Pupo and Jadson Andre), and gaining a handful of fresh faces, too (Jesse Mendes, Michael Rodrigues, Willian Cardoso, Yago Dora, and Tomas Hermes), for a total contingent of 11 across both the men's and women's Tours. The rookies, however, have reinvigorated the group, bursting out of the gate with confidence and courage, no matter the opponent.
And Tuesday, through Round 2 at Snapper Rocks, those opponents likely wished they'd brought better game faces with them, to weather the rough seas. The onslaught started, fittingly enough, with the biggest star of the bunch, Gabriel Medina. After being relegated to Round 2, the uber-competitor was not about to lose to a wildcard, and ensured that Leonardo Fioravanti didn't stand a chance.
As Round 2 went on, the thunderclouds of collective strength continued to clap loud and strong. And the fervor of the rookies -- and a few of their unofficial team captains -- was palpable.
After winning his heat over French surfer Joan Duru, new Brazilian CT surfer Tomas Hermes was brimming over with excitement. His surfing had been electric, and it was clear that his loss in Round 1 Sunday was far from the whole story.
"The first day of the event, for me - it blows my mind," he said of Sunday's opening heats. "The Tour is totally different from what I imagined. The conditions, the challenge of the ocean. I'm a different guy. I'm not looking for mathematical stuff, for today, I just surfed for myself. For me, the secret for the rest of the year I think is, don't think about the numbers or where the best waves are, go ahead and stick with your [instincts]."
Michael Rodrigues also took down Tour standout Sebastian Zietz with an impressive 8.00 ride on his first scoring wave. The Florianopolis native looked surprisingly calm during his first couple heats on the Championship Tour. If continues his momentum, the unsung rookie could be poised to be one of the biggest hidden threats of the season.
"It's very difficult to describe it," he said of his feelings on the Tour, three days in. "There are so many Brazilians on the beach, you can not disappoint them. I feel obligated to surf well to give my best. They are here in the hot sun wanting to see our best. It was very difficult, I knew it was going to be difficult against Seabass [Sebastian Zietz]. Now I am happy and confident for the next heat."
Rodrigues, though part of the collective force representing Brazil on Tour, is traveling on his own, and prefers not to room with friends who he might meet as opponents in the water. Before his heat, he worked to bring that focus to the beach. "I have to use a headset, high-volume music," he said. "It is difficult to concentrate here, there are a lot of Brazilians, there are a lot of competitors in the athletes' area. It's very difficult but I've managed to [find a way].
"I listen to Drake and some religious songs, gospel. I listen to a bit of everything actually -- rock too, I'm mixing a bit so I do not get too hyped or too mellow."
Willian Cardoso was another rookie who made it through Round 2, eliminating fellow Brazilian Caio Ibelli in the process. The 32-year-old was able to put up two solid scores despite a relative lull in conditions. "He's light on the bottom turn, and then when he does his turn, he's super heavy, and just drills buckets," said Mendes, a fellow Brazilian rookie, in a recent WSL Profile. "I don't even think there's anyone more powerful than he is".
In addition to the three rookies that made it through the dreaded Round Two battle, Tour veteran Adriano de Souza also made headway taking down Ian Gouveia.
The Storm gathered steam today, and will face new battles Wednesday in Round 3. Watch live on WSL.com and Facebook.