Do you really not love her? Really?
Miguel, Gisele, and the Architecture of Sex first appeared in The Surfer’s Journal…
Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking and when she passes each one she passes goes ahhhhhh….
The west is pregnant with Brazil. There she sticks, all round and glorious, into the warm Atlantic. She is pure possibility, pure potential, and she has been since the Age of Exploration. The Portuguese saw it first. They saw fertile, river-fed lands. They saw sugar, coffee, wood and gold. And they went forth and grabbed. But Portugal is Portuguese, small and weird, and the colonial power, fighting more robust English and French powers in the Old World, could not provide enough resources to give birth to her pure possibility, pure potential.
She gained independence in the early 1800s but ineffective monarchies, a brief romance with Fascism and a longer romance with military dictatorship kept Brazil with child well past her due date. Everyone saw it, the river-fed lands, the glowing people, everyone knew that the baby could be the greatest ever if only…if only…if only…if only…
If only finally turned into the 2000s and booooom! Labor pains! The end is nigh! Baby on the way! Baby almost on board! Yes, Brazil, today’s Brazil, has the sixth largest economy in the world and the seventh largest purchasing power. Her GDP growth rate of over five percent is one of the fastest and she has closed the competitiveness gap with giants India and China. She has more billionaires than Japan and she has more surfers too.
When she walks she’s like a samba that swings so cool and sways so gentle that when she passes each one she passes goes oooooooh….
The history of surfing in Brazil is shrouded in as much salty mystery as the history of surfing in general. There are whispers that, maybe baby, a small surf community sprang up on the beaches of Sao Paulo in the early 1940s but these whispers are the same as those that say surfing, in general, started in Peru and not Hawaii. Weird whispers that feel fundamentally flawed. The real pioneers, the real first timers, paddled into the warm Atlantic off of glimmering Rio de Janeiro.
Rio in the 1960s was as hot as dusky sin. Oscar Niemeyer was erecting sex in the form of architectural gorgeousness. “I am not attracted to straight angles or to the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man,” he said of his vavavavoom buildings. “I am attracted to free-flowing, sensual curves. The curves that I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean, and on the body of the beloved woman.” Oh Brazil’s beloved woman! Dusky sin! On the beaches of Rio, these beloved women were experimenting with bikinis so small, so teeny tiny, that the imagination was turned entirely off. No need to guess what lies beneath when it is right there in full Technicolor. Those bottoms! Those tops! Right there in full Technicolor! And those hips were not just standing still, uninvolved. No. Those hips were swaying to the hottest new sounds anyone has ever heard.
It was called Bossa Nova and it mooooved those hips in an effortless sort of liquid back and forth. The name itself meant “new trend” and it combined traditional Brazilian samba with cool cool jazz. Traditional Brazilian samba, from the favelas, was all boom boom boom rhythmic west African boom. Bossa Nova, from the beaches, was like a breeze. It floated along with barely a care.
And the first surfers would move through this fog of swaying hips and barely a care, paddling out at the rock of Arpoador located in the southern zone of Rio on a small peninsula between Ipanema and Copacabana. Unlike their counterparts in America and Australia, these pioneers were scuba divers. They picked up surfing from who knows where. Movies? Travelers? Who knows and who cares. They picked it up and it caught right on with the young people. What could be better? Buildings as sex on land, bikinis as sex on the beach, Bossa Nova so sexy in the air and surfing, perpetual sex, in the water.
But I watch her so sadly. How can I tell her I love her? Yes, I would give my heart gladly, but each day when she walks to the sea, she looks straight ahead, not at me.
The center of the surf revolution would move, in the 1970s, from Arpoador to the Ipanema Pier. This area was considered “free” during the era of military dictatorship and surfers and musicians and intellectuals and girls, girls, girls would dance to the hymn “E proibido proibir!” “It is forbidden to forbid!” Tropicalismo blasted from speakers, all electric, and nothing could be finer even in the face of nasty authoritarianism.
Surf continued to grow, grow, grow with the first contest being held in 1972 and the first international one being held in 1976. Now, Australians and Americans and South Africans experienced the glories of Brazil too. They rode in the Waimea 5000 and won $5000 United States Dollars. An unheard of sum for surfing competitions back in the day. And yet, somewhere along the way, as the 1970s turned into the 1980s turned in to the 1990s turned into the now, the western surf establishment began to grumble. “Brazilians have an unfortunate style.” “Brazilians wiggle too much.” “Brazilians are horrible snakes.” “Brazilians claim too too much.” “Brazilians travel with too many other Brazilians.” “Brazilians (grumble grumble grumble)…”
I have never been exactly sure where or how this grumbling began. I, too, have been snaked by a Brazilian. I, too, have giggled at Brazilian exuberance after exiting a barrel. I, too, have had to push past traveling Brazilian mobs in Mexico, Australia and Bali and been vaguely annoyed. But still. In my heart I have always felt that nobody does surf culture, at least theoretically, like Brazil. Surfing, once again, like everything else in that fertile, pregnant land, is sex and, as always, how good is that? How perfect for the sport of kings to transition from its Island birth to its Puritan upbringing to a wild and free adolescence under the South American sun? It matters not what I think, though. It also matters not what the grumbler thinks for, baby on the way, baby almost on board, Brazil is the future of surfing and this is a hard fact.
Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking and when she passes I smile but she doesn’t see…
There are so many Brazilians on surfing’s professional world tour, have you noticed? It used to be only Neco Padaratz, that strange man with the gold hoop earring that was ripped out by Sunny Garcia. Neco was fun but he could not surf. Now, we have Adriano de Souza and Gabby Medina and Alejo Muniz and Miggy Pupo and Filipe Holy Toledo others I don’t recall. They are there, en masse, and they are winning and they can all surf well. Not that surfing’s professional world tour is necessarily representative of surf culture writ large but it is representative of progression and talent and Brazilians no longer wiggle too much. They air very progressively and thrash the likes of Kelly Slater and Taj Burrow in Brazil and in Tahiti and on the Gold Coast. Other Brazilians, like Carlos Burle, have entered the pantheon of big wave hellmen with XXL Award performances. They charge unfathomably huge Mavericks and Teahupo’o alongside the best of them Others, like Pedro Scooby Viana, marry the sexiest woman on earth. Yes, Scooby is a fine Brazilian surfer with a repertoire that includes tricky little air moves and fearless barrel moves but he made a name for himself as the first man to pull a kerrupt flip while naked. He also surfed macking Pasquales tubes for two whole days, while naked. His trickiness and fearlessness and nudity garnered him Luana Piovani, one of the most famous stars in Brazil and voted “The Sexiest Woman on Earth” by VIP Magazine. I once asked Scooby about his outrageous fortune. He just laughed and said, “It was love at first sight. But her world is very different than mine. It is interesting but it is not all good because we have no privacy. But we get to go to amazing parties. It’s fun!”
And this is, very specifically, why Brazil is totally and completely awesome. Its surf stars marry pop culture royalty. Sure, American and Australian surf stars dabble. Kelly Slater once famously dated Pamela Anderson and maybe Cameron Diaz. But did he really date or did they just go to dinner? Whatever the case, he certainly did not marry. And neither Pam Anderson nor Cameron Diaz, gorgeous as they may be, has ever been voted “The Sexiest Woman on Earth.”
Surfing is not an outlying amusing, but otherwise forgettable, pastime in Brazil. It is mainstream. It moved from Rio’s beaches into the very soul of the country. Carlos Burle, when he is not charging giant waves, does television commercials for Bridgestone tires. Gabby Medina, when he is not thrashing Kelly Slater, does television commercials for Renault. Alejo Muniz is sponsored by one of the most popular Brazilian soccer (football) clubs, Santos. What if young Dane Reynolds was sponsored by the Dallas Cowboys? What if younger Kolohe Andino was sponsored by the Los Angeles Lakers? Then surfing would be a growth industry in the west instead of mired in economically troubled waters.
Olha que coisa mais linda mais cheia de graa ela, menina, que vem e que passa num doce balano a caminho do mar moa do corpo dourado do sol de Ipanema…
Brazil’s surf brands, like the rest of her economy, are doing just fine and maybe this, above talent, above newfound no wiggle ability, above even marrying pop stars is why Brazil is the future of surfing. Her economy is booming, her middle class is growing, her surfers are accepted into the mainstream dialog and her surf industry is reaping the rewards. The traditional Hurley, Volcom, Quiksilver are doing well and home-grown Hang Loose, Mormaii, Greenish are exploding as middle class children flock into the warm water. And they are no longer emulating the west. They are now emulating themselves, their own culture, their own stars. I can easily imagine a time not too far away when Brazil’s version of surf is what gets exported to the rest of the world instead of blonde California cool. Its middle class children will travel. Its middle class artists will make television and movies. Its middle class artist will sing songs. Its middle class will become the face of surfing for other exploding middle classes. Maybe? Yeah? Ricardo Macario, editor of Brazil’s largest surf magazine Fluir, still thinks the west is primary when I ask him if Brazil is the new heart of surfing. “I don’t know…maybe not the heart but the lungs we could be. California has been the heart for a long time and we are still a young surfing culture…” And I love California, dearly, but I have to disagree with Ricardo. California’s middle class is being crunched under the weight of American decline. Or, not American decline. I don’t believe in American decline. Our future is bright (for the very rich and the very poor)! But certainly it is being crunched under the contraction of America’s middle class. And without a middle class exporting new and cute and young surf fashion, surf slang, surfy surf style around the world we will lose our place.
Am I putting too fine a point on the economics of surfing? Yes? Well, then I can also say surfing is sexier in Brazil. It is sex and, as always, how good is that? Look at her beaches, for pity’s sake. Where Bossa Nova once swayed hips wearing non-existent bikinis it STILL sways hips wearing even less. The beaches are crowded with lust and music and hot hot air and caipirinhas. And I don’t mean to be self-loathing but that whole scene smashes American Budweiser and Lady Gaga Labor Day shoreline parade. The lineups are another story. They are crowded and crowded and snakey. But whatever. With beaches like those, who needs lineups? That is what traveling to Indonesia and mainland Mexico and Fernando do Noronha is for.
O seu balanado parece um poema a coisa mais linda que eu j vi passer aaaaaaaaah por que tudo eh tao triste?
How, then, does this, our future look? Ricardo Macario is right. Brazil’s surf culture is young and does have some kinks to iron out. The general Brazilian surf approach, in the air, is a thing of beauty, but in the water it needs to find more fluidity. The surf brands are a bit too loud. Too many graphics all jammed together on low quality t-shirts. But they will find their way, I have no doubt, because Brazil is the country that gave us Oscar Niemeyer who brought his sexy curves all the way to Manhattan and built us the United Nations building. An architectural gem. And it is also the country that has given us Gisele Bundchen. Can you, honestly, tell me that you have seen a model so fine? Her cheekbones look molded from porcelain. Her hair looks gold. Her legs are skyscrapers that go up to the heavens. Gisele married our favorite Patriot, Tom Brady. No one is more Americana than he, and they have a beautiful child and this is how our future looks. It looks like Gisele Bundchen and Tom Brady’s beautiful child.
Style is not a zero sum game. Brazil’s birth, Brazil’s rise, Brazil’s full embrace of its potential does not necessarily mean that western surfers will start claiming waves like maniacs, dancing capoeira, celebrating carnival and calling it carniVAL instead of CARNival. No. It will mean that we re-discover our sexy. We will expand our vocabulary. We will broaden our tastes. And we will not do this because, all of a sudden, we decide to be citizens of the world. We will do it simply because surf culture as a whole will come to look more and more like Brazil. This Brazilification will be incremental, not a sudden, shocking submersion and surfing will be saved because of it. Surfing will be more fun, it will be more exciting, it will be better looking. It will be far better looking.
The die-hard Americanos will continue to grumble, grumble, grumble but they will also get older, start SUPing and die. The tuned in surf child, though, will instinctively know that Brazil is a place to go. That Brazil’s Miggy Pupo does a mean stalefish. That Brazil’s Scooby surfing giant Pasquales wearing only God’s wetsuit is fantastic. That Brazil’s Gabby Medina, even though he is a horrible snake, is also a world champion. That Brazil is as much “them” as anything in surf. Who doesn’t want to marry Gisele Bundchen? She is so tall and tan and young and lovely. We can only hope, at this point, that when she passes, and we smile as she passes, that she sees. And that she consents to having our beautiful child.