The Inertia Senior Editor
Brazil, as it stands right now, is the most surf-stoked nation on the planet.

Brazil, as it stands right now, is the most surf-stoked nation on the planet.

The Inertia

Surfing is changing. Brazil is well on its way to becoming the new USA. If the Oi Rio Pro is any indicator, surfing is looking at a cultural shift in popularity, and at the same time, it’s looking at a shift in how it is perceived by the non-surfing public. In other words, surfing is sitting on fertile ground, and Brazil is the place where the seed has been planted.

For years, the business of surfing was (and still is, in fact) dominated by white people. Despite its roots in Hawaiian culture, the biggest surf companies were owned by white people. The best surfers were, by majority, white. Companies marketed to a white audience, instead of a surfing audience. It was a strange conundrum: the market was largely white because the companies marketed to them, and the market stayed largely white for the same reason. They created and enforced the surfer stereotype, simply by sticking to what they’d built. But all that’s changing now.

In the last few years, the Brazilian Storm has taken the contest world by, well… storm. Although there were many before him, it was Gabriel Medina who opened the floodgates, and the rest of the world isn’t even close to getting them closed. This year, Filipe Toledo has taken the reins, and while the year is far from over, he’s looking like a clear favorite.

Up until a few years ago, racism had more or less left surfing’s arena, with the exception of a few instances.There was the Otis Carey debacle, where Nathan Myers penned a line in an issue of Australian Surfing Life that was, if nothing else, a horrible choice of words. In at atmosphere like the one created by social media where, if the opportunity presents itself, any indiscretion, no matter how innocent it may have been, will be judged in the harshest light possible, word choice is a pretty damn important thing. But racism in surfing as a whole was pretty limited from the late 80’s on.

Enter a group of hyper-talented surfers with a country of screaming fans behind them. Racism became a hot topic in our little world. Xenophobia became a buzz-word. Allegations of racism, both valid and not, were thrown around the internet. Hell, my girlfriend received a Facebook message from a man from Brazil telling her than I was a racist and she should hate me because this website posted a video of Gabriel Medina dropping in on someone.

It goes back a long way. Back when Duke Kahanamoku was in the process of becoming the father of modern surfing, he headed to America as a stop-over on his way to the 1912 Olympics in Sweden. It was the early part of the century, well before America and the rest of the world began to realize how ridiculous racism is. Although he was competing on a world stage, he was refused service in hotels and restaurants. Then, years later, in 1972 and in the midst of South Africa’s apartheid era, Eddie Aikau wasn’t able to check into his hotel in Durban because his skin wasn’t the right color. There are a million other examples, but suffice to say, the race conversation in surfing is still very much alive. And when Medina began his World Title campaign last year, the pot began to boil.

Twenty-fourteen was a bad year in surfing–or, depending on how you look at it, a good one. It was bad because Medina’s charge for the podium exposed an ugly truth about surfing: racism ran rampant across comment boards and on beaches. It turned into an “us vs. them” mentality. But it was a good year because a Brazilian won a world title and started the ball rolling for a country full of the most fanatical fans ever to set foot on the beach. Take John John Florence’s walk down to the beach in his round five heat at the Oi Rio Pro. Even at Pipeline, where John John is a legitimate son of the entire island, there has never been such fan fare. Tears rolled down people’s faces as they stretched their hands out to touch him. Adoring fans screamed in an almost religious fervor. That has never happened before on such a large scale in surfing’s history. When Medina returned home last year as a champion, he was received with adoration usually saved for rock stars.

Brazil, as it stands right now, is the most surf-stoked nation on the planet. And surfing has never had a better chance to break away from its anarchist roots than right now–and although many surfers, myself included, don’t want surfing to become a sport on par with the NFL or the MLB, the business that is competitive surfing most definitely does want that.

Brazil is a nation that has competition ingrained in it. The country views surfing differently than the rest of the world. It’s more sport than art, more contest than pastime. And for those marketing surfing, it’s looking like a pretty damn good place to invest.

  • mrempty

    “Tears rolled down people’s faces as they stretched their hands out to touch him. Adoring fans screamed in an almost religious fervor. That has never happened before on such a large scale in surfing’s history.” See also: Slater, Kelly, late 90’s

  • Maria de Lourdes

    About time you realize the facts! Brazil is news for you now…but there’s nothing new…They are really a storm, and they finally arrived. They are a surf-soccer-tennis-everything-stoked nation. Sorry for the racists…they will have to tolerate some not so white faces in the competitions, but then again, the colour of the skin doesn’t prove anything…ARRIBA BRASIL !!! hermanos de Uruguay.

  • Tio sam

    Racism is present on the anonimous setting of social networks. Generalizations, mockery of different looks, habits, etc. not only agains brazilian surfers but also non-white americans like clarrisa moore. But i lile to believe this is a annoying minority of uneducated low lifes who will die with a horrible cancer.

    Truth is vast majority of people out there are truly stoked that the sport is finally breaking a 30year mold and becoming more interesting, more global. Happened to tennis, soccer, it’s only natural it would happen to surfing at some point.

    I honestly hope this Brazilian surge will spark the dormant competitive juices of US top talent and young promises to bring their A game to the WCT instead of focusing on videos and instagramming.

    Surfing is about to change profoundly. Whether for the better or worse, it will depend on your point of view.

    • Albee Doh

      That barely made any sense at all.

      Carissa is of mixed ethnicity, INCLUDING Western European.

      And if you think that surfing will be fun to do when it has achieved the same level of popularity as tennis and soccer you either don’t surf or are totally delusional.

      Competition is all well and good but surfing is a board sport that keeps trying to brand itself as a conventional ball sport. Skateboading and snowboarding don’t do this. Surfing shouldn’t either.

  • James B

    Well, The Inertia in a full campaign trying to change the image created by their own editorial line of being a racist, prejudicious and biased website. Too late, mr. Haro.

  • Albee Doh

    It isn’t an issue of race at all, it’s one of attitude.

    All this cry-baby BS about racism in surfing is just that, cry-baby BS.

    I’ve been surfing for nearly 40 years. Grew up on Oahu and lived all up and down the CA coast from SD to SF (in none of those lineups have I ever encountered an act of aggression towards a surfer that was racially motivated; does it happen? I’m sure it has. Has it been a proven trend? Not at all. It’s a rare exception in the greater CA surf community, a community that is overwhelmingly supportive of any and all non-whites that choose to be a part of it).

    Every CA town I have lived and surfed in has NEVER had an issue with skin color in the surfing community. Not ever. Well, except in Hawaii. And that was predominantly against haoles if it was against anyone.

    There was never an effort by the tour to deny non-white surfers; no effort to deny Balinese and Indo surfers; no effort to deny Japanese and other Asian surfers. In SA surfers like Martin Potter and Shaun Thompson spoke out against the racist polices of their government. Tom Curren actually boycotted SA events in an effort to draw more attention to the racial issues there. Brazil has NEVER been blocked from entry to the tour. Not. Ever. In OZ surfing has, for decades, been one of the few subcultures that has openly embraced and attempted to promote Aboriginal surfers and surfing (which is EXACTLY what Myers was doing and has long been doing).

    And guess what? SLATER ISN’T WHITE. The guy is of Syrian descent. The kid is hapa. Or didn’t anyone notice from the darkness of his skin and hair (well, the hair he used to have, anyway). Slater has been bronze his entire life.

    The only people playing the race card in the other comments here are the Brazilians – and YOU, Haro (WTF?!?).

    The problem people have long had with Brazilians (and only Brazilians for the most part, which is NOT an ethnicity but a nationality) is the “passion” they bring to lineups around the world. This “passion” is the excuse they use to snake, back-paddle, drop-in, intimidate, bully, and essentially ruin the experience for every other surfer in any given lineup (regardless of skin color) at every break around the world.

    And it isn’t even most of Brazil’s pros that are responsible for this. It’s all the monied, spoiled, entitlement-minded jerks that are used to getting away with murder (sometimes literally) at home and who think that means they can do the same abroad.

    Most Brazilians need to learn to adopt what so many of their surfing heroes actually embody: HUMILITY.

    Flavio P. and Fabio G. have it. Toledo and Medina have it. Alves has it in spades. Dos Santos should be canonized. The guy was awesome in every way.

    The color of your skin doesn’t bother anyone in surfing, your “passion” does.

    Grow. Up.

    And shame on you, Alex. This was poorly written.

  • Mr Tornado Rider

    Less corporate control. Now is only samsung. Before was Billabong, Rip Curl, O’neill, etc.
    2014 was the first fair judging in surfing history!

    • Albee Doh

      Where do Billabong, O’Neill, and Rip Curl have most of their products made?

      Yup. No less corporate than Samsung.

      Any surf company that goes public instantly sells it’s “soul” to parasites who couldn’t care less what is or isn’t good for surfing.

      Medina deserved his title. I’ve said so many times.

      But Brazilians on the whole have virtually no ability to control their emotions and behavior. You are slaves to your “passion.”

      Maturity should be embraced, not disdained and feared.

      Like the saying goes, “act your age, not your shoe size.”

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