Adriano de Souza didn't grow up in some beautiful beach town. He didn't even know that his family lived a couple of miles from the ocean. He never saw it growing up. All he saw, and all he knew, was the life inside the favela.
His rags to riches story is perhaps one of the most inspiring in modern competitive surfing. As a young boy, his brother Angelo saw him show an interest and potential in surfing and decided to save up for a board for him.
The seven-dollar secondhand surfboard was the equivalent of lunch for a whole week for the brothers. The act would change the course of Adriano's life forever.
Now, on the eve of the Corona Open Mexico presented by Quiksilver and with the 2015 World Champion in his retirement lap year, de Souza is about to go full circle: He is one of two competitors left on the CT who were present for the historic 2006 Rip Curl Search at Barra de la Cruz which produced some of the best waves ever seen in an event.
Back then, de Souza was the vanguard of what is now called the 'Brazilian Storm', the standard bearer for a cohort of elite athletes who have pushed the sport forward which now includes Gabriel Medina and Italo Ferreira.
The only other competitor on Tour in 2006 and still competing now is Kelly Slater. In that space of time, the sport has been transformed by phenomenal athletes from Brazil.
When he jumped on the Tour in 2006, de Souza quickly asserted himself as a genuine contender with a third-place finish at the Snapper Rocks Quiksilver Pro and a fifth-place finish at the Billabong Pro at J-Bay. Both times he was stopped by Australians Taj Burrow and Mick Fanning respectively -- who were at the height of their powers.
That same year marked the Rip Curl Search Mexico event at Barra De La Cruz, which saw the world's best compete in arguably, as far as wave quality goes, the best CT event of all time.
A decade before the likes of Medina, Filipe Toledo, Ferreira, and Yago Dora elevated Brazilian surfing to its current dominance, ADS was ploughing away laser-focused on one goal for well over a decade -- win a world title.
Medina may have pipped him to the post to claim Brazil's first world title but his commitment finally paid off in 2015. Before Medina's ascent, he was also the only Brazilian who ever came close to challenging Slater, Andy, Fanning, Parko, and Taj.
Adriano's determination is legendary. He would turn up to event locations weeks before the hooter sounded and stay well after the circus had left town, studying the break determined to unlock its secrets. He made history, becoming the first Brazilian to win the 2013 Rip Curl Bells Beach Pro in its 52-year history -- and the first winner to ring the bell trophy so hard he shattered its timber casing.
"This is the most important event on tour to me," De Souza said after his historic win. "Guys like Andy Irons, Kelly Slater, my hero Mick Fanning, they have all rung the Bell. I have been coming here a lot of years. I love the place."
As flagbearer of the Brazilian Storm, Adriano has earned nothing but love and respect. At Surf Ranch, in a tribute to his illustrious, World Title-winning career, all the Brazilian surfers have had his name emblazoned on the backs of their jerseys.
The Tour has changed dramatically since he first jumped on in 2006. Australians, Americans, and Hawaiians once traditionally held a firm grip on the rank of world number one. Now, Brazilians are the world beaters that can't be stopped.
When he announced that he had lost the passion to compete at the highest level and that 2021 would be his last season on Tour he acknowledged after seven CT wins and a World Title he was ready to set his sights on another life chapter.
"I want to celebrate these past 15 years. During this time, I built relationships around the whole world, with beloved ones, and developed a strong connection with family, friends, and fans."
"I want to spread a message of a new light on my path. With a competition jersey, I was always focused on great results because I'm a world champion."
"But I wanted to do some things I've always imagined, like participating in special events without less pressure and go on a surf trip with friends."
As Adriano prepares for the last two events of his career a final CT win would be a fairy-tale finish. But perhaps after a 15 year-CT career that has inspired millions as he battled his way to the very top is achievement enough worth celebrating.