By Júlio Adler and João Valente
Mark Twain, he of the glorious mustaches, shining white garments, and Huck Finn fame, who once notoriously surfed naked in Hawaii, said that some people never make the same mistakes twice, they always find new ones.
Well, the Brazilianana Woz office was courteous enough to do just that for the sport of surfing: They found a stellar new way of breaking a model that has been showing signs of its own worn-out condition for a long, long time.
While the rest of the globe slowly returns to sports world sanity with a praxis (from the, er… Greek word for practice) routine, the Latin America’s WSL branch innovates in echoing failure.
Sounds exaggerated? Well, let's see how it's worked out...
The first to attempt (and succeed, mind you) at returning to surf competition on its best, no-bullshit manner, were the Portuguese. That was way back in June, through their professional regional tour, which is one of the last operating circuits that still insist on naming national champs.
In fact, as I write these very words, on September 19th, the best Portuguese rippers (and some acolytes, like the ever-smiling Spanish Portugal-transplant journeyman, Gony Zubizarreta) are in Oporto competing in the fourth out of five contests, without an audience, with solid non-endemic sponsorship (Meo, Allianz, Renault) and focused on what has always been the core interest of this sport: waves and surfers.
After that pioneering move, the rest of the world was soon to catch up.
Firstly, the US had the perennial attempt at making Uncle K’s Ranch an enjoyable specatcle. Afterwards, a shark-spooked Australia staged its li'l play and is planning on doing two more. Europe is in a waiting window and has guests from its most represented countries: France, Spain, and Portugal, while throwing Italy’s Leo Fioravanti into the mix, as well as Kanoa Igarashi who these days is equally good for Asia, Europe, and North America.
On a sidenote, I wonder what has happened to the UK, once one of the Old Continent’s prime surfing nations that today seem as outdated as Russell Winter’s snaps and as misplaced as a Union Jack in Brussels.
Also, during the COVID interim, Japan, Chile, and Australia have been testing out media-oriented contest models, including web series in several formats.
And so, finally, the time has come for professional surfing to make its comeback to the homeland of WSL’s last two male world champs. And what exactly did the latino outlet of pro surfing do? They glowingly dropped the ball, bringing to the table something that has never been present before the arrival of its new CEO, Ivan Martinho - a sense of shame.
Judging from the Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook shitstorm, the most common word to describe the poorly named Onda do Bem (Translated: Wave of Goodness, whatever that means) was “embarrassing”. Simply put, the barely-visible, crappy-wave, night-surfing on LED-adorned surfboards by a mixed field of World Tour surfers and anonymous (outside of Brazil, that is) celebrities, was simultaneously scorned, bashed, and shunned in Portuguese, Spanish, and English — I don’t follow any French or Japanese feeds, but have little reason to think they would have reacted differently.
Fact is: everything about this event was or sounded fake, starting with the gimmick of waving the solidarity banner while setting up a gigantic structure on Itamambuca beach amidst an ongoing war of narratives between deforestation and preservation, to the philanthropy smokescreen scantily disguising the astronomical differences between the cash actually spent on the event and the sum that will eventually find its way to the appointed beneficiaries. In fact, not even the official communication office of Onda do Bem is clear about how much was raised for the publicised Ondas project.
As soon as the whole thing kicked-off, I was bombed by links to a real live “storm” (to use the exact term adopted by the OFF channel, Brazil’s prime action sports cable TV outlet) of smiles and superlative-ridden interviews. As usual, I checked the numbers, which showed just 2,600 live viewers in Portuguese on YouTube. Later on, I made sure that there was an English broadcast on the same platform where I found 730 resilient sufferers enduring Chris Cote’s desperate attempts to inculcate some sense for the always-sought, always-missed audience outside our limited surfing comp-watchers bubble.
As for what was happening in the water, the current world champ Ítalo Ferreira and even the SporTV commentary team (I kept zapping between streaming platforms) had trouble identifying each of the ghost-like figures riding the multi-coloured LED-decked boards. Amongst the darkness, the cameras were as lost as a nun on a honeymoon in their desperate and vain search to film anything worthwhile.
Finally, be it a (sad) coincidence or not, the evening news came on showing the much brighter, albeit infinitely more dramatic, lights of the bushfires that have are again consuming the Brazilian forests in biblical proportions, while the ever-smiling, tanned on-site surf audience have fun at the expense of those who should be concerned with preserving the remaining little pieces of dignity in the first place.
It could all be a metaphor. You know, showing grace, happiness, and beauty in the face of disaster.
It is not.
It's just disrespectful.
PS: For all the Spanish-reading people out there, I highly recommend the words our hermano, Pablo Zanocchi, put together on his website about how WSL Latin America despises anything that's not Brazilian-centric. It’s a worthwhile read about Brazil’s place in the world surfing scene and how we are on our way to replicating the same egotistical mistakes that for decades we blamed the Aussie-Yankee axis of.
PPS: While Itamambuca seethed with happiness, a few kilometres away, Gabriel Medina posted a clip of himself riding a wave sitting down, Corona bottle in his hand, that has reached 1,500 more people than all of the Onda do Bem guestlist combined.
// JA and JV
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. Through the wonders of Google Translate they'll begin contributing to Swellnet