Of the many hoary clichés that the surfing world zealously cultivates, (from “selling out” to “soul surfing” to “unspoiled natives”) one stands out above the rest as being particularly ugly – the Brazilian stereotype. It is rare that the subject of surfing’s third nation comes up either in conversation or print without someone mentioning supposedly Brazilian traits like lack of etiquette, poor style, loud demeanors, “passion” (whatever the hell that means), and/or a propensity towards violence. As Australian Surfing Life once put it, (way back in 1994, no less) A Brazilian in the water is “The bastard surfer…a dark-haired, rude-as-fuck, uncivilized prick, ripping off [waves] like a pirate stealing gold.”
“Prejudice is a reality in surfing but people don’t talk about it,” says Brazilian pro surfer Junior Faria. “It has been shamefully hidden behind words like “stereotype” and “joke.” I’ve heard and read things that are really heavy and the worst part is that people actually think it’s okay to make those statements. They think that we won’t understand or that everyone thinks those statements are funny, too.”
I got in touch with Faria and the Executive Editor of Brazil’s version of The Surfer’s Journal, Jair Bortoleto, to ask them about prejudice, if some of it is well founded, and what they make of it. Unfortunately, I don’t speak Portuguese, so although they were able to give me insight, they had to do it in their second languages, which, as Faria pointed out, is another issue that Brazilians have in trying to explain themselves to English speakers. “Some ignorant people think that we aren’t as intelligent because of the accent we have when speaking English.”
“The main stereotype I hear about Brazilians is that we are loud and aggressive,” says Bortoleto. “I say it’s true in some cases, and it’s not true in others. People can get angry everywhere. In Australia, for example I’ve seen some nasty stuff from the surfers. So I think you have to see both sides of the coin.” He also points out that what is sometimes construed as aggression is instead a certain cultural demonstrativeness. “Passionate is not aggressive. There are passionate Brazilians, that surf for the love, and there are aggressive guys that mostly travel together and are loud.”
“People who assume this (that Brazilians, as a whole are loud and aggressive) don’t have a problem with Brazilians only, they have problems with anyone who comes from different backgrounds or cultures,” says Faria. “I know that some guys have no respect and sometimes act like dick heads, but there are assholes everywhere: Australia, America, Mexico, Tahiti, every single country in the world has their share. Most ‘international’ surfers think every single Brazilian is loud, aggressive, blah, blah, blah, but that’s a huge mistake. I think 90% of the surfers that have that prejudice against us have never met us.”
By this point, some of you, dear readers, are perhaps disagreeing with the gentlemen I’ve quoted. Maybe you’ve had a first hand incident while traveling somewhere that proves that yours isn’t a prejudice, but an unconditional truth. I know: your home break gets invaded by large groups of Brazilians and they take your waves without showing due respect. I know: Adriano De Souza gets over-scored in Brazil, unforgivable. Unfortunately, if you think any of this adds up to substantial evidence supporting a generally negative view of Brazilians, you have miscalculated. The prevailing negative view of Brazilians in the surf world is a product of underlying prejudice within American and Australian society, and I’m going to explain why.
To get to the heart of the Brazilian stereotype, we need to reach back into the country’s history. Brazil’s surfing boom and subsequent integration into the world surfing economy occurred during the late seventies and early eighties, a time period that coincided with the dying throws of their military dictatorship (which didn’t officially end until 1985). The legacy of the dictatorship, along with various external economic factors like heavy IMF debt coupled with Structural Adjustment Programs, left behind an extremely divided society in which the rule of law was weak, violent crime rates were off the charts, the divide between the rich and the poor was among the highest in the world, corruption was prevalent, and drugs and prostitution rampant. Although the last decade has seen a dramatic drop in both violent crime and poverty rates, many of these issues continue to haunt the country as it still has one of the largest income gaps between the rich and the poor in the world.
Although it would be easy to point to these phenomena as formative factors in an aggressive and unfriendly Brazilian national psyche, that would be misguided. Brazil is a multi-ethnic country of nearly 195 million people who inhabit a landmass bigger than the continental US. Some are far wealthier and better educated than most in the first world while some live on less than a dollar a day. Saying that they act a certain way because they are from a place with a high crime rate or a lot of inequality is like saying all Americans are gun-toting crazies because the US has comparatively high incidences of gun crime. Not the case.