Italo Ferreira's well-deserved win at the Corona Bali Protected has vaulted him to the top of the Jeep Leaderboard, where he's sitting nicely at World No. 1. While he's caught many off guard this year, his rise isn't all that shocking given that the explosive goofyfooter found himself in World Title contention during his rookie season, in 2015. That year, he finished at World No. 7 and was named Rookie of the Year, signaling a bright future ahead.
But over the last two years, he's hit some bumps in the road. During his sophomore season he fell to No. 15, after seven straight 13th-place finishes. Then, in 2017, he injured himself at Snapper and missed three events before making a late charge at Pipeline --- where he requalified without needing the injury wildcard. Today, the high-voltage star from Baia Formosa, Brasil, is peaking, and he's building a very strong case as this year's biggest World Title threat. Here are five reasons why.
1.) Roots: Ferreira's humble beginnings instilled a steely determination that just won't let him quit. Like his early mentor, Jadson Andre, Ferreira grew up well outside of the spotlight, in the far northern corner of Brasil. Both surfers became pupils of famed coach and manager Luiz "Pinga" Campos, and moved away from home in their early teens to pursue their surfing dreams. While he's come a long way since, Ferreira's well aware of how fleeting good fortune can be. He's not one who takes anything for granted.
2.) Versatility: Italo grew up in front of a long, righthand pointbreak, where he sharpened the powerful backside attack that's carried him to two victories this year. But he's no slouch on his forehand, either. In fact, taking into account all of Ferreira's results, across his three full seasons so far, he's made it to the Quarterfinals or better at every single stop on the Championship Tour (CT) except for J-Bay (and Trestles, which is off the schedule this year). While his backhand might be his strong suit, he's performed in all variety of lefts, including Fiji's Cloudbreak, Oahu's Pipeline and Tahiti's Teahupo'o. That last bit could come in handy down the stretch.
3.) Momentum: After his injury-plagued season last year, Italo is clearly hitting a high mark. His backside aerial attack in Bali set a new standard for seamless execution, and his artistry is far more aesthetically refined today than it was when he first entered the World Title conversation back in 2015. Having just bagged his first two Championship Tour wins this year, his confidence is clearly soaring.
4.) X-Factor: One of the most significant stories of this season has been the judges' shift to demand and reward bigger-risk maneuvers. The bar has clearly been raised in terms of what they are expecting, and larger scores have been much harder to nab as a result. Ferreira, however, is one of a few who have been successful at cracking the code. During his Bells and Bali wins he owned the highest heat scores of the entire event, and he's got as many 9-plus rides as anyone this year.
5.) Awareness: Italo is still only 24, enjoying the very steep portion of his learning curve. As he transfers his growing base of knowledge into wisdom we can expect him to get even better. It takes discipline to be an observer, and to let your surfing do the talking. Italo has an acute awareness of the bigger picture and the longer game, and some of his tactics are amusing. For example, he likes to pretend his English isn't all that great to avoid interviews, and that ploy often works. He's still a bit of an enigma to non-Portuguese-speaking fans. But with performances like those that he put on in Bali, he won't be much longer.