The Inertia

If you’ve been watching the World Surf League’s Championship Tour this year, you’ve likely heard a relatively new voice on the broadcast. The 31-year-old Brazilian pro surfer Jesse Mendes has been adding his insight and surf expertise to the on-air commentary. It’s all part of a new chapter in life for the 2018 Triple Crown champion that includes stepping away from competition, forgoing his chance to qualify for the Olympics, and focusing on freesurfing. 

His sponsor, Body Glove, just dropped a new edit that illustrates his mindset going into this new stage in life. In the video, while sitting on a tropical beach preparing for retirement, Mendes reminisces about the highs and lows of his career and realizes that he still has a lot left to give to surfing. Retirement from competition isn’t the end of the road. 

To learn more about what Mendes has in store, we caught up with him to chat about this juncture that has him sitting in the announcer booth and chasing waves around the world.

In your new edit you reflect on your career and realize that it’s not over. Who came up with the concept?

It was both me and my cousin, Caio. He edited and filmed a big part of it. We’ve done a few videos with that idea already, as far as acting and stuff, kind of like “Loose Change” vibes from back in the day. The script was written by me and him together. The ideas for shooting were obviously more him.

What’s the main message you want to get across in that skit?

Mostly in Brazil, people only see the competition side of surfing. Very few people see the freesurfing part. When I was saying I was going to stop, a lot of people were telling me, “You’re so young, you should keep doing this and that.” And they’re not wrong. It’s just their expectations. I think surfing is much bigger than just competing. It’s always been like that for me. The message is that it was a great career, I’m happy with what I did, and it’s time to move on. It’s not done. It’s just a different part.

So it doesn’t exactly feel like retirement, would you say?

Retirement from competing, yes. But I don’t want to sound like a retired surfer because I never will be. I’m never going to retire from it unless I really stop surfing – hopefully, 50 years from now.

What was the highlight of those competition years?

For sure the Triple Crown. That was the biggest achievement.

Lately you’ve been transitioning to CT announcing, at least for the start of the year. How’s that been?

It’s been pretty good. I did (the first two events this year) and two events last year as well. This Portugal CT will be my fifth event. I have a good time. I mean, I talk about surfing with my friends watching at home anyway, so I might as well make some money off of it and have a good time. And I like the people, obviously. I’ve been traveling with the crew – via the tour – for the past 12 years. So I know them all and they’re good people. I’m super stoked with the opportunity because I love surfing and love to watch competitive surfing.

Jesse Mendes Talks Early Retirement and the Art of Surf Commentating

Mendes’s work has changed: from making heats to talking about people he surfed against. Photo: WSL

What have you learned, particularly in the last two events?

I learned that when the waves are firing, it’s very hard to commentate. You want to surf (laughs). And hats off to those guys because it’s not easy to keep the energy throughout the whole day of an event. In Portugal sometimes you can commentate for maybe nine hours straight. You have to come up with something every time someone stands up on a board. There’s a lot of creativity out of (the commentators), being on top of it every time and making things more fun – especially the play-by-play guy. I’m an analyst, so it’s easier for me. I just break it down the surfing from things that I see. But for them to be keeping the energy the whole time and coming up with stuff when there are breaks and no one’s catching waves, it’s tough. It’s not easy.

Do you see a future for yourself in the webcast commentating world?

They’re very stoked (with my work). They want me to keep pushing. There are long days and since I still surf and live off surfing, the broadcast head guy tells me to not burn myself out and do too many events. I don’t know what the future is ahead of me, but I’ll probably announce a few events every year. That’ll be fun to travel and surf. They only run usually four or five days out of the 10-12 (day window), so I get to surf all the rest.

What about the short term? What does that look like for you?

The plan is to travel and try to find good waves. That’s why I’m in Portugal right now. But I’ve been here for a week and I’ve only surfed about 20 minutes the whole time. It’s been either huge and extremely windy or tiny and windy. So it’s just been pretty rough. I tried to surf today and got washed down the beach. It was pretty solid, 40 knot winds, rip currents, maxed out. 

I have so much free time now since I’m not on tour that I can choose wherever I want to go when there are waves. This time I came to Portugal early because my wife (Tatiana Weston-Webb) is in Puerto Rico doing the ISA and the forecast at home looked bad. So I was like, I’ll just go there and cruise. I have family here, so it’s fun to hang out. And I’ll try to do some strike missions, maybe Indo after the Australia events.


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