Memory of resentment and a theory of success
By Júlio Adler and João Valente - the Buoy Brothers
The temptation is hard to resist. And the fault is all yours.
By 'you', we mean the Anglo-Saxon surf press. Having grown up under the War of Cool between American and Australian narratives in competitive surfing, we know all about John Witzig’s 1967 Surfer Magazine article 'We’re Tops Now', following Nat Young’s pivotal win in the 1966 World Championships, and the American's vindictive, and somewhat suppressed, response, about thirty years later in the same mag, 'Who's Tops Now?', by Sam George, celebrating the Momentum Generation/Slater-led mid-nineties Yank dominance.
But the times, they were a-different. Printed mags still mattered and literary battlefields were a bit more elaborate than today’s comment box shitstorm. Still, who’d be to blame if someone from Brazil, decided to write their own 'Look Who’s Tops Now!', or something to the same effect?
Entitled they’d be, wouldn’t they? If justice had anything to do with surfing history, the Brazzos of present-day surfing have more than earned their right to make a victory claim. After all, when you are a young emerging rookie from Brazil you not only have to come through the backdoor… but you also have to bust that door down before they hear ya knocking.
If that last sentence sounds somewhat familiar, a coincidence it is not.
“What is history, but a fable agreed upon?”, once offered Napoleon Bonaparte from the height of his shortness. And fables we, as surfers, know a thing or two about, don’t we? Our world has been based upon epic, well-crafted tales of characters and events, witnessed by few, echoed by many, accepted by all.
Our history itself is a sum of these people and episodes, endlessly propagated through numerous magazine articles, books, and movies under one single certainty: surfing history is an Anglo-Saxon fable agreed upon. An American story, embraced early by the Aussies and ever since it's been seen through these dual lenses, all but ignoring everything else outside its self-absorbed scope.
So, here’s an open invitation to you, readers from the Anglo-Saxon axis, to come out of your bubble and assume another point of view. All it takes is empathy, or disgust. The idea is tallying, not tackling.
In 1976, when 19-year-old Pepê Lopes lined up alongside the other five Pipe Masters finalists, the Brazilian was the only one whose board sported a sponsorship sticker — JB, then one of the main newspapers in Brazil.
That is not to say that Pepê was the first surfing professional. Every other board displayed the iconic Lightning Bolt logo — "a mark so perfect, so instantly identifiable, that it required no lettering," as described by Matt Warshaw — making them gliding billboards for the leading surf brand of the time.
Still, it’s somewhat ironic that the only finalist — amongst Lopez, MR, Rory Russell, Paul Naude, and Mike Armstrong — with a non-endemic sponsor, coincidentally is the one who’s most often overlooked, if not blatantly cut out off the picture, when recalling that contest.
Way ahead of it — twelve years earlier, to be exact — Peruvian Eduardo Arena had been invited to the Manly World Championships where he watched in amazement as a crowd of thousands joyfully cheered the surfers and rejoiced with Midget Farrelly’s win.
"About 7000 people packed Manly Beach on the Saturday but it was the second day of the contest – Sunday, May 17 – that saw an estimated crowd of between 65,000 and 70,000 packed onto the sand and the promenade to watch the event," according to Sydney's Daily Telegraph. Realising the lack of a global organisation to regulate the sport, Arena launched the International Surfing Federation in 1964 and started crowning world champions annually. He basically created the rules and nurtured what would eventually become, many decades later, this weird monster who charms nocturnal zombies into watching men and women battling in waves for numbers no-one can really explain.
From within our bubble, we walked hand-in-hand. The reality was, however, a bit tougher. While Yanks and Aussies, the odd Saffa thrown here and there, were focusing on their own shit — and what a glorious shit it was, truth be stold — we were all here, right next door, all the time, eagerly following everything that was published by the Yank-Oz connection, absorbing photos, words and films, wherever they came from. The abyss did not exist yet, just a language barrier keeping universes apart. You just weren’t paying enough attention.
As always, there were exceptions.
Felipe Pomar made history, ignoring any barriers. The same applies to the French De Rosnay brothers, Joel and Arnaud. The latter even marrying Jenna, John Severson’s gorgeous teen-daughter, may the old bastard rest in peace. But that’s a whole other story! Fact is, other than that, all of South America, Europe, and pretty much the rest of the world were just an exotic adventure.
...back to that Pipe Masters photo.
If at the very beginning of everything — and, mind you, it’s just the competitive universe we’re talking about here — due to the innocence of the moment, acceptance seemed enough to keep us all satisfied, yet time would show that the motivation for Latin American competitive fury would be the vilest of feelings: resentment.
We hate it when our friends become successful
In the study of resentment, we find valuable clues to understand how dominant nations conduct themselves in war or in sport — basically the same shit with fewer casualties.
The origin is the same in English, French, Italian, Portuguese, or Spanish: sentimentum. Where sentir means to feel, and therefore resentment means to feel again. Sorry for the etymological deviation, but hopefully everything shall make sense later on.
A study published in the Brazilian Journal of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapy managed to separate the five emotions most often diagnosed by psychologists: anxiety, guilt, depression, indecision, and insecurity. A bomb! It worked like aviation fuel for Australia in the swinging sixties and the psyched seventies, and as Nick Carroll smartly pointed out, it was just a matter of time till some other nation fed on the same frustrations and hit back.
I shall be released
It may be an exaggeration to explain so much history with just one bold word. An exuberant economic moment in the early 2000’s combined with a brilliant generation less the vices of the previous ones, also helped a lot.
Believe us: on the back of every white smile and every hard-fought Brazilian tour win, there are at least thirty years of bitterness. We cannot speak on behalf of other Latin Americans, such as the Peruvian world champ, Sofia Mulanovich. What we know is that after the initial fling with Brazilian surfing, suspicion got the better of both sides.
For us, a total lack of acknowledgement was infuriating. We didn’t ask for much. Perhaps a minor credit for the fact that we were all sharing the same moments? Maybe acknowledgement of the brief competitive success of Pepê Lopes and Daniel Friedman, or the discovery and exploration tales of Tito Rosemberg, or the attitude of the devil-may-care Brazil Nuts in Hawaii between '72 and '86, or the simple fact of being there, on the circuit, from its very beginning?
On the other side, meanwhile, the alarms began sounding about that noisy bunch, who only really posed a threat when competing at home but who, nevertheless, were starting to believe they deserved a place in the newly created IPS club. How dare they?! If during the first couple of years Brazilians traveled the Tour looking mostly for adventure and particularly good waves, suddenly entering the picture is someone with a different attitude towards the contest scene: Cauli Rodrigues.
Carlos Felipe Veiga Lima Rodrigues is our Midget Farrelly: stubborn, gruff, and competitive as hell, he ruled the local competitive scene between 1978 and 1984, prior to the creation of the Brazilian professional surfing circuit in 1987. Cauli dared to dream that he was part of the club and he left for Australia looking to improve his performances, equipment, results, and, there you have it, his level of recognition.
The first cut is the deepest
Fast-forward to 2012. A few minutes before the horn blows in Peniche, Gabriel Medina comfortably leads the final over media darling Julian Wilson. Remember the feeling? Who was tops..?
Gabriel followed Adriano who took on the world between 2008 and 2015, and who followed an entire generation scorned and despised.
History repeats itself, fueled by anxiety, guilt, depression, indecision, and insecurity, till we get cycles of resentment.
The WSL seems to ignore this tough, unappreciated, and fascinating part of professional surfing. Derek Hynd understood from the very first time he was forced, either by impulse or need, to write about competition, quoting Russian authors. To wit: Life is pain, man is unhappy.
This is the first in a series of articles that'll delve into our collective memories.
Mind you, we don’t mean to change anything. We just want to tell good stories - new fables we can all agree upon.
// JULIO ADLER and JOAO VALENTE are the BUOY BROTHERS
Júlio Adler and João Valente are veteran surf journalists from, respectively, Brazil and Portugal. Together they have a podcast and collaborate on written work documenting the rise of the Portuguese-speaking surf world. If your self-esteem is based upon Anglo surf dominance then you best get the sandbags ready.