This time last year, Brazilian powerhouse Italo Ferreira was hobbling around on crutches, after tearing an ankle ligament before the season had barely begun. He went on to miss the next three events, and struggled to regain his competitive footing until December, when he bounced back with a fifth place at Pipe.
But 2018 has been an entirely different story -- and the fulfillment, perhaps, of the promise that close observers of Ferreira's career have long held close: That this guy is a sleeping giant. He arrived on the Gold Coast lean, focused, and with unmistakable upper-body definition that suggested a go-for-broke gym and nutrition routine. Results-wise, he left with an inauspicious 13th-place finish, falling to fellow Brazilian Filipe Toledo by just a hair. But at Bells, the next event on Tour, Ferreira made good use of that sweat equity, earning his first-ever win on the WSL Championship Tour (CT). His achievement was all the more meaningful because in the Final he faced Mick Fanning, who was retiring there after 17 years.
Now, Ferreira will paddle out at the Margaret River Pro as World No. 1, and wear the yellow Jeep Leaders' jersey for the first time (as will Julian Wilson, who's also No. 1 after winning on the Goldy). His breakthrough, however, was anything but accidental. As he kicked off his season, his coach, Luiz "Pinga" Campos, shared some of what may be fueling Ferreira's performance.
World Surf League: In years past, you have worked with multiple Brazilian surfers at the same time, from Adriano de Souza and Jadson Andre to Miguel Pupo and Caio Ibelli. Why did you decide to work just with Italo this year?
Pinga: Because of my deal with Billabong. And, I think, year by year, the Tour is also more difficult. The level of the surfing, and the level of the competition. When you work with two or three guys, it's good. But when you put the focus only on one guy, the energy is totally focused, everything is different. It's the first time for me, too. The past few years, I've worked with three guys, four guys on the CT. But, it's different, but I think we have a good possibility for the results, it's positive. I think it's a tendency, if you look at a lot of the athletes on the CT, they have their coach, their manager, their filmmaker their crew. It's like this with Filipe [Toledo], with Gabriel [Medina], and others. It's like in other sports, too. Tennis, golfing, cycling. It might be part of the sport's evolution.
What have you and Italo been working on so far this year?
We put more focus on the physical training, and the psychology. We talked about this last season in Hawaii, and we thought he needed a stronger mind, he needed more balance to stay well, and to contribute to his focus throughout the heats. He lost a lot of heats in the last five minutes, eight minutes.
What do you think is happening in those moments?
I think it's because he's a young guy. Everyone has a different mind, no? And injury -- when a guy is injured, he has a different year. Everything is different. It's not just this, but also the maturity. When you work on the psychology, you find more maturing in terms of competition.
We work with two people, one woman -- a sports psychologist. She works more on one's personal life, confidence, this side. One year ago, we began to work with Nuno Cobra's son, a high-level guy in Brazil, who has worked with Senna, and global tennis players. When Italo had his injury, we stopped a little bit, but it's this: our team is a doctor, these two people and me. Together to find the best for Italo, the maturing, more confidence, more balance.
What was your goal in working with Cobra?
More confidence, more balance, more calm. Putting attention on his goals, not the things around him. At the [WSL Championship Tour] events, there are a lot of people around, a lot of talk. The surfers need to focus, listen to music. It's important that the guys understand that this is important. I know the guys try to do their best, but the VIP and family areas on site are different [and busier], it's not like the athlete area.
What kinds of tools has Italo been using to get focused?
Music. Brazilian music, hip-hop. And at the beginning, Nuno showed him some movements to do before the heats to help him focus.
Italo also looks ripped, muscle-wise. What has he been doing?
Training! We have a good crew, and we made a plan for him to spend more time at his house. The same guys takes care of his training, Marcos and Igor, and a doctor who manages everything. He trains at a gym close to his house, the owner is Ricardo, a famous beach volleyball player, he owns the academy and gym. It's good, because the crew knows him. He puts just one guy to take care of Italo, and the guys have very good communication. We wanted to have Italo get more time close to family, close to his house, in Baia Formosa, before the season starts.
Why is it important for him to spend more time at home?
It depends on the guy. We do what we think is important for individual posts. Every person has their own personality. Before, we did the same thing for everybody. When a guy likes to stay on the road, no problem. Travel all year long. But when another says, 'Hey, I need to go back home. I need to be with my wife, my girlfriend, my family.' You need to respect this.
Italo loves being at home, it's very important for him. For him, it's more important to spend one week there, against one week of training. The results are better.
What is Italo working toward this season?
The goal is to try to put him in the best position possible, and then see [where we're at] in July, so we'll know then about his chances at winning the World Title. The rankings are very difficult. When you stay there, in the top position, you can say, now it's my time [to go for a Title]. We work for this. When his opportunity comes, he'll be ready. If the Title's possible, let's go.
And if not?
We try for the highest possible in the rankings. Also, our goal is to stay well, his health. His ankle is 100 percent, physically he's very strong now. We believe, me and him, because of the mind balance, and physical, it's easier, you do what you need to do. Because you stay well, you're not tired. When you get tired, you think, ‘Oh, what am I doing? I have 15 minutes, I need eight points.' When you stay well, it's easy. ‘I need a four, ok. I stay in position and get a four.'
How do you build the confidence?
I think it's the balance. When the guy is well physically, the mind is good. The guy has good equipment. If the guy is happy, it's easier.
As Italo is climbing the ranks, there is also a whole new crew of Brazilian rookies on Tour this year. What's your take on some of them?
Tomas [Hermes] is a great guy, his wife Ana is a fantastic person. I've known Tomas a long time, since he was a kid. He's a had-working, focused guy. It's not a surprise for Brazilians, he's a hard-working guy -- work, work, work. He's professional and a good surfer. He's every good competitor. Maybe for everybody, [it's surprising] because he's not a young guy.
Willian [Cardoso], everybody knows. He's been trying for 10 years to make the CT. He's worked for this. Michael [Rodrigues] we know, too. He's crazy! He surfs very well, an impressive guy. When he catches a wave, normally you don't know what he's going to do. An air, carving? He's a passionate guy, with a lot of energy. This is characteristic of the nordestinos, the guys from the northeast, the state of Ceará. It's the same area as Jadson [Andre], Michael, Danilo Costa, Marcelo Nunes, a lot of guys from this area. The characteristic of people from this area is passion, very strong. Michael is this. I think he has the most potential this year, and Griffin [Colapinto], among the rookies.
What is it that you would like to help make click for Italo to break through this year?
It's the timing. Everyone has different timing. For him, he needs more experience. More calm, more patience in the heats. Like, ‘Hey, I need an 8.0. Stay quiet, I don't need to catch eight waves.' This is patience, this is maturity, this is experience. We need to work on this. Because the level is very high, so you need a stronger mind. Kelly [Slater] has a very strong mind. Mick has a very strong mind. All the World Champions have strong minds, that's the goal. Like Gabriel [Medina]: Gabriel is the guy, how many times will he be World Champion? Maybe one? Three? Four, five six? We don't know. When the guy is strong in his mind, it's more difficult to beat him. Filipe is the same, he's gotten more confidence year by year. Look at him from three years ago.
Every year, Italo's mind is stronger -- he has more experience and he's he has the tactics, the equipment, and the surfing, and now he needs only to organize his mind. That's our job, helping him with this. Everything is there.
Catch Italo at the Margaret River Pro live daily on the WSL and Facebook from April 11 -22.