Italo Ferreira: Little Boy Who Learned to Surf on Drink Cooler’s Foam Lid Wins Pro Surfing World Title!

Beats Kelly Slater, Gabriel Medina, wins Pipe Masters, world title.

Minutes ago, on an overcast eighty-degree afternoon at Banzai Pipeline, the little boy from a remote town in north-east Brazil who was too poor to buy a surfboard so learned to surf on a drink cooler’s foam lid, was crowned surfing champion of the world.

Italo, who survived a win-at-all-costs challenge from defending world champ Gabriel Medina, was flawless throughout the event, his pace seldom slackening despite an injured elbow, eventually winning his first Pipe Masters.

“I can’t imagine,” Italo wept, afterwards. “This is coming to my grandmother. She passed away two weeks ago in Europe. She was stoked for me to do it. So I did. God gave me this.”

Italo world title merch.

Italo Ferreira, who is twenty-five years old, grew up and still lives in the beachside hamlet of Baía Formosa; a joint where the only paved roads are the ones that lead into the village.

Italo’s daddy would wander the beach and buy the catch of local fisherman, selling the fish to restaurants. His skinny son wanted to surf so Pops gave him the foam lid from the box he kept his fish in.

The rest, the elevation to stardom, came quickly

In 2014, Dino Andino, daddy of one of the other contenders at Pipe, went up to Timmy Patterson, who’s been making Italo’s boards since he was fifteen, and said, “Who is that Italian guy? He’s doing floaters on eight-foot closeouts on grinding beachbreaks and making ‘em. He’s going to be on tour next year. That guy’s a freak.”

Dino knew.

Italo was rookie of the year in 2015, won three events and almost the title in 2018 and, this year, two events and the title. Italo is now the third Brazilian in four years, after Adriano de Souza and Gabriel Medina, to be crowned world champion.

In May, I spent two days with Italo and his girlfriend Mari as he prepared for the Margaret River Pro and as he struggled to erase the spectre of Great White death from his head.

On day two, I recorded this interview.

DR: I want to talk to you, first, about Bells this year. You’re the defending champ and the world number one after winning Snapper. First, you get thrown against the Winkipop cliffs, your apparent drowning broadcast live, then you get called on the most technical interference I’d ever seen, an overly punitive response. Talk to me.

Italo: The interference? When Jordy dropped into that wave he was in the whitewater and I saw clean face for him. I got out of the wave and I was, like, this is not an interference. After I got to the outside I heard, “Italo, you just got an interference against Jordy.” I was, like, fuck those guys. Later, I saw the photo of Jordy on his stomach and holding his board in the whitewater and I’m pulling off the wave ten metres away.

Mari interjects that it was a new rule and in this instance it was the first time it had been exercised in competition.

Italo: All the Brazilians do crazy things so they’re always trying to change (the rules) ‘case we’re always so hungry. We do everything to win! That’s why the rule changed.

DR: In this instance, it was Jordy, a South African, who did everything to win when he spun around in the dirt. A very Slater-at-HB sorta move.

Italo: He tried to play the game with the rules.

DR: Were you ready to swing when you came in?

Italo: Yeah. I punched the locker and broke everything. I almost broke my fingers. That’s how I put all the negative things off. By punching back!

DR: Is it painful for you to lose?

Italo: I feel a lot of pain.

DR: There’s an arresting photo of you, in tears, on the stairs at Bells, Mari comforting you. That was after your brush with mortality at Winki, yeah? Tell me that story.

Italo: The wave smashed me and my board hit me in the face. I was under the water for thirty seconds. When I came up I saw the jetski coming but there was a set behind it and he couldn’t get me. That’s why I think to paddle to Winki. I catch the whitewater and go to the stairs there. I was standing there and someone say, the ski is coming, so I jump back in the water but then another set came and it was hard for the ski to come back.

Mari: No one was talking about it! Nothing! I was asking the other guy, the microphone guy, “What about Italo?’ The jstski was on the outside and no one was on the inside!

DR: How were you feeling, so close to the beach, the crowd, but also so close to being skewered in front of 10,000 people?

Italo: I was trying to breathe, to stay relaxed, but I was nervous because I didn’t know what was going to happen. After that, I asked the locals and they said, one guy dead at that place, many many years ago.
Mari: The first thing he told me was, “I thought I was going to die” and then he started to cry. It was crazy.

Italo: That’s why I’m staying on the stairs, without energy, nothing. I can’t feel the legs. I stayed there and tried to breathe.

DR: Who are you and what is your life like?

Italo: It’s a quiet life; I do nothing crazy. I don’t like parties and these things. I just like to wake up early and surf and get a good breakfast and back to the water again. When I go home to Baia Formosa, I don’t have a lot of time there so I try to enjoy every single moment. I surf and I film and I have a quad bike so I can do crazy things on the beach. I have a sports car, too.

DR: Describe growing up in a little Brazilian surf town.

Italo: I start to surf eight, nine, years old. I was, like, a fast learner because we have nothing to do there.

DR: What was your first surfboard?

Italo: I didn’t start with a surfboard. My father buys fish to sell at the restaurants and, because I was so small and so skinny, I was able to surf with the foam lid from a box. After that, a friend gave me a board and then I started to compete. I start to win these contests and I tried to win cars, motorbikes, tickets to fly overseas.

DR: How long do you surf in a session?

Italo: It used to be for three or four hours. Now I try to surf for one-and-a-half hours to save my body for the contest. Those things are a marathon. I’m not the crazy guy I used to be in the past. Instead of one five-hour session, I have four surfs in one day. I think it works better.

DR: How many waves will you catch in one hour?

Italo: Maybe thirty, thirty-five. I catch a lot of waves. I always try to get away from the crowd so I can catch waves because I like to surf and not sit there. I don’t like places like Margaret River where there’s just one peak and you only catch one wave in thirty minutes.

DR: Do you remember your first air?

Italo: I can’t remember because I’ve done a lot. All the guys from the north-east of Brazil, the first manoeuvre you learn is the air because we have small shirty waves. One foot, strong wind, so you stand up, go fast and do an air. That’s why Brazilians have more of a facility to do airs and it’s why we have a problem with barrels and big turns.

DR: What you do with your money? Half-a-mill in prize money from the past year or so alone ain’t a bad windfall.

Italo: The first thing I did when I started to get money was to buy a hotel and a restaurant for my dad and my mom. Now I just think about my future because I’ve taken care of them.

DR: Why do you think you can win a world title?

Italo: Perseverance. And I have the talent. I have a piece of paper with all my goals written on it. I can’t show it now but when I get a world title, I’ll put a photo of it on Instagram.

DR: How often do you look at it?

Italo: When bad things happen I go there and look at the paper and it puts my mind on the way again.

Breaking: Did a breach of WSL Rule 171.11 just cost Gabriel Medina the World Title?

"Intentional, unsportsmanlike and of a serious nature..."

Rules are funny things. Live by them, die by them, as they say. For certain you either watched, or heard of, Gabriel Medina’s dying seconds burn of Caio Ibelli during his Round of 16 heat at Pipeline. Medina, and/or his step-father Charlie deduced that Ibelli would not have enough to win even if Gabe was served a priority interference.

And so Medina burned.

Savagely beautiful to watch.

In the post heat interview, Medina shrugged the whole thing off as “…that’s a rule in the book. I used it to my advantage.”


…Did Medina consider Rule 171.11 and let us now read together from the World Surf League’s performance manual.

171.11 Serious Unsportsmanlike Interference
If the Discipline Director and Commissioner’s Office determine that an interference during an Event was intentional, unsportsmanlike and of a serious nature, notwithstanding any penalty available under Article 188 (which may include suspension from Events or an entire Tour), a Surfer will lose the benefit of counting their best Event result when calculating their Ranking on the relevant Tour (e.g. if this Article is violated at a QS Event, their QS Ranking will be effected). Notwithstanding any resulting discipline being imposed by the Discipline Director, the heat in question can be re-surfed if determined by the Head Judge that the result was affected by the Surfer’s conduct referred to within this Article.

Medina admitted himself that he intentionally interfered and I don’t see how the Discipline Director could see it any other way.

Do you?

Calls in etc. and, as always, more as the story develops.

(Thanks to @drewcantreid for the head’s up…)

Comment live: Kolohe Andino v Italo Ferreira v Gabriel Medina in world title decider, Billabong Pipe Masters!

The moment of truth etc.

Today’s episode of the world title showdown at the Banzai Pipeline will be a bag of mixed fruit.

Italo would make for a marvellous world champion, the kinetic motion of his thighs in Metallica trunks a sight to behold. And, laying in a rack in my hallway is a five-ten Tim Patterson with familiar orange camouflage spray, a gift from Italo to my children when I interviewed the Brazilian in Margaret River. All would be thrilled if it became a world title year surfboard. Some value on the secondhand market etc.

My current high-rotation  surfboard is a five-ten Medina shaped by Johnny Cabianca. It is in Gabriel’s exact dimensions and, as I’m fond of telling people, I ride it because it eliminates the excuse of poor equipment for my bad surf riding. A third world title for a man who can win at Teahupoo and Pipe as well as in a swimming pool would be well deserved.

And, Kolohe, well, I have to resist the temptation of running my knuckles up and down his lovely vertebrae. And daddy Dino is a long-time friend.

I joke. ish.

This is a title showdown for the ages.

Kolohe needs to win the event, which isn’t out of the realm of possibilities, although Peterson Crisanto has to be beat Italo in the first heat of the day and Gabriel must lose in the quarters.

Stranger things have happened.

For Italo and Gabriel, it’s a game of who cracks first.

A penalty shoot-out.

A very tough day for God, who must now choose between the three men, all devout.

Who has the divine will?

Watch here.

Billabong Pipe Masters Round of 16 Matchups:
HEAT 1: Italo Ferreira (BRA) vs. Peterson Crisanto (BRA)
HEAT 2: Yago Dora (BRA) vs. Julian Wilson (AUS)
HEAT 3: Ricardo Christie (NZL) vs. Jack Freestone (AUS)
HEAT 4: Seth Moniz (HAW) vs. Kelly Slater (USA)
HEAT 5: Gabriel Medina (BRA) vs. Caio Ibelli (BRA)
HEAT 6: John John Florence (HAW) vs. Soli Bailey (AUS)
HEAT 7: Jesse Mendes (BRA) vs. Griffin Colapinto (USA)
HEAT 8: Michel Bourez (FRA) vs. Kolohe Andino (USA)

Exposed: What the World Surf League doesn’t want you to know about big wave surfing competitions!

Dirty secrets from the belly of the ocean.

We all thrilled at Jaws, each and every one of us, at the bravery the skill the bravery. It was a spectacle that made us forget Pipeline and, apparently, the World Surf League forget Pipeline too. Is it still on? Has it been concluded? Who is the men’s World Champion?

Except while I was watching Jaws, thrilling etc., I became extremely disturbed by the use of flotation devices amongst every single competitor.

Oh my beef wasn’t aesthetic, though it was that too. Big weird bulky things making every single competitor look as if he and she forgot leg day forever. So, yes, that but mostly it was the fact the CO2 is used to inflate the bladders and CO2 is precisely what’s killing the ocean.

The exact thing.

As you are aware, I’ve had a recent rebirth as an activist-cum-surf journalist, knowing that there’s not one organization currently doing anything about the death of the ocean, our ocean. Knowing that it is up to us to save her.

And how will we save?

First by declaring Enemies of the Ocean and shaming them into right behavior.

In today’s episode we will add Big Wave Surfing Competitions to a list that already includes Jeep, Erik “ELo” Logan, Wave Pools, CO2 and possibly Kelly Slater.

Doing good feels good and now I finally understand Greta Thunberg’s whole “thing.”

The frailties of Prophecy: How the WSL and Surfline got the Pipe Masters forecast so wrong!

The beautiful unpredictability of ol ma ocean…

If there’s one beautiful thing left in this charred piece of steak we call mother earth, it’s the unpredictability of the ocean.

Even with all the buoys, virtual and real, computer modelling and so on, man still can’t correctly predict what the surf’s going to be like even one day out.

To wit, for the past few days, the Pipe Masters has been readying itself for a six-to-eight-foot west swell.

“Finals Day is looking really likely for tomorrow” has been the mantra although each morning sleepy eyes on the North Shore reveal nothing like the official surf forecaster, Surfline, predicted.

Here’s a few days of tweets.

Now with two days left in the waiting period, one presumes tomorrow is the day.

But who knows, yes?

The one man I can always count on, and whose eponymous youtube channel always leaves me feeling moderately high, is Jamie O’Brien, who grew up in a rental house at Pipe, won the Pipe Masters in 2004 and who bought his own domicile behind the famous Lopez house, one hundred or so steps from the sand.

Jamie, now thirty-six, was shopping for Christmas presents in Haleiwa when I called.

“Everyone kept asking for my two cents, it doesn’t matter for me, I’m not in it,” says Jamie.

I point out that as a former Mr Pipe Masters and a long-term resident of that stretch of sand and reef, his opinion is worth something.

Jamie laughs and says, “I think it’ll be stressful to be one of those three guys trying to win a world title trying to figure out if it’s going to be the beautiful Pipe they’ve been training for or an air contest.”

For tomorrow, he says it’s going to be “pretty dang good. The swell is 320 degrees which is the almost perfect direction (north-north-west). The wind looks tremendously better than today. I think it’ll be six-plus but the winds might be weird. It’ll start off north-east (good) but then it could be funky. This season has been hard to judge. All the wind models have  been wrong this year.”

And the sand that promises a terrific closeout end section?

“Well, the sand was crazy, the north-east swell brought a lot of sand in. The sand’s not all gone but it definitely looks a lot better than the other day.”

I mention that it’s been fifteen years since he won the Pipe Masters.

“Goddammit,” says Jamie, who won the event as a Rip Curl wildcard. He adds that the labyrinth one must navigate to get into the contest is too much for most to bear.

“You need to have enough points to qualify for the Volcom Pro, then you have to get through four heats or better to get into the Billabong Pipe Masters trials and then you have to get a first or second to get into the Pipe Masters. It’s a nightmare.”

Is he excited for finals day?

“I’m pumped. It’ll be a good show. Finals day is awesome for multiple reasons. The world title showdown happens and I’m excited for everyone to go home. It’s a win-win.”