Italo Ferreira could not have chosen a more dramatic context in which to earn his first-ever Championship Tour event win. Thursday afternoon at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach, the electric Brazilian defeated the man of the hour, three-time World Champion Mick Fanning, whose impending retirement after Bells added a bittersweet weight to the proceedings.
But when the two paddled out for what would be a first for one of them, and a last for the other, none of that mattered to Ferreira. Instead, he showcased what he is capable of, and made his first serious step towards joining a World Title conversation.
Plus, if you're going to win your first CT event, taking home the most coveted trophy in surfing isn't a bad way to go about it. Add Mick Fanning to the mix and it's even sweeter.
"I can't believe it," said Ferreira. "It's just amazing. Mick Fanning is a hero to me. He's inspired me every single day, at every single competition. Remember his movie 3 Degrees? I've seen that 2000 times."
Ferreira grew up surfing Baia Formosa, which is a right-hand pointbreak in Brazil. The long walls on offer honed his style and made for one of the most explosive backhand attacks in the game. The Bells Bowl provided the perfect opportunity for Ferreira to showcase one of his trademark skills -- making quick transitions look seamless.
"I just want to thank my family and God for the victory," Ferreira continued. "I'm so nervous right now but this is unbelievable."
If Ferreira continues with his current approach, he'll be getting in a lot of post-win interview practice. His backhand lit up the Bells Bowl, earning him the highest heat total of the year so far. During the Quarterfinals he earned two excellent scoring rides -- with an 8.83 and a 9.03 -- for a massive 17.86 heat total against Ezekiel Lau. Earlier in the event, Lau eliminated John John Florence after a controversial heat, but he was no match for the on-fire Ferreira.
Although we've seen sparks of brilliance from the Brazilian before, his performance today put him firmly on the radar. To say he's dangerous would be an understatement. If Ferreira is able to continue this momentum, top seeds will be hard-pressed to stop him.
Of course, Fanning didn't wrap up his last-ever CT heat without a fight. It was obvious from the start of their Final that neither would go down quietly. Both surfers laid everything they had on the table given the conditions on offer, battling until the end (and inducing serious stress among the spectators). Fanning, for example, earned an 8.10 on his first scoring wave, but Ferreira was able to find a last-minute gem, securing an 8.33 to take the lead. With only a few minutes left on the clock, Fanning was left out the back with little to work with.
Ferriera took the win with tears streaming down his face, in what will go down as one of the more memorable events in history at Bells Beach. While Fanning will surf into numerous sunsets on his next venture, The Search, Ferreira has another event to look forward to, in less than a week. Catch him fighting for another victory starting April 11 at the Margaret River Pro.