Wild new documentary follows rags-to-riches-to-rags story of Peruvian gang-banger turned pro surfing hopeful: “Soon after, he’d be in the hospital nursing two bullet holes through his body”

Easy to judge, hard to watch.

The new film En La Tormenta documents the last five years of WQS hopeful Jhonny Guerrero.

Here’s the short version:

Guerrero taught himself to surf on a snapped board in Lima as his dad sat in Peru’s hellish Lurigancho prison, his mom and baby brother without food and broke in Chorrillos, one of Lima’s many dangerous barrios.

Naturally, gang life seemed like a fun option for Jhonny until he was shot through the back in a drive-by.

While not explicitly prohibited in the ‘QS Rule Book, none of it is best practice.

Director Adam Brown originally set out for Peru in 2015 to shoot Projecto Sofía Mulánovich, a talent scouting and surf training academy led by Sophia herself, a former ASP World Tour Champion and current ISA World Games gold medal winner. Most of the kids invited into the Projecto came from the country’s middle and upper classes, equipped with fine quivers and supportive parents.

Jhonny had neither, showing up on the beach alone with an old board and a hole in his wetsuit.

Brown said that he “kept hearing about this kid called Jhonny Guerrero who was from a tough neighborhood. He had supposedly taught himself to surf on a piece of foam and then a broken board he had found on the beach and now he was absolutely ripping. He seemed like a bit of a myth and whenever I said to Sofia’s team that we should get him along to the trials, there was always some hesitatio. There were (unfounded) rumors at the time that Jhonny was robbing people on the beach to survive.”

Still, Sofía took a chance on the quiet kid, seeing both his drive and natural ability to read a wave right.

“Here in Peru mostly all the families that surf know each other and their love for the sports comes from generation to generation,” Sofia told me. “But Jhonny came from the city and nobody really knew about him and his family. He comes from a really unstable social background and I decided to help him because he didn’t have the means to get good equipment and coaching but he was super talented .”

And he was every bit as good as people had described: smooth and fluid, a raw talent that got Sofia and her coaches excited. Jhonny ended up being selected as part of a group of ten talented kids that would be trained by Sofia and her team.

Sofia’s interest in helping Jhonny went beyond teaching him how to get more power off his back foot. She and the others at the Projecto helped him keep distance from the gangs infesting his barrio.

“Jhonny was always in an environment that led him to street life, so we tried to help him by guiding him in the best possible way to put all his energy into his surfing. We moved him to a different house with a really nice family that surfs,” said Sofia.

In the film, we see Jhonny pick up sponsors including Hurley and others who throw him clothes and money, some of which he uses to buy a bed for his little brother and give some to his mom who says him, exhaustedly, “I’m so hungry.”

Happily ever after. Thank you, Hurley.

But the story arc of En La Tormenta isn’t that clean.

Even with the lifeline Sophia hands him, Jhonny goes back to what he knows. He’s anchored to the street. During the Peruvian under 16 finals, Jhonny was the favorite to win, but he never makes it to the sand, leaving Sofia and his support team defeated. When the camera catches his coach trying to shake some sense into him, Jhonny looks numb, indifferent at best.

Soon after, he’d be in the hospital nursing two bullet holes through his body.

It’s easy to judge him here, a raw-talented kid given a golden ticket to learn fromSofía Mulánovich with all the trimmings: boards, swag, cash then tossing it all to go back to the temptations of his barrio.

But environment everything and need has no law.

This is where the film is at its best, leaving us to wrestle with Jhonny’s decisions as we run our own eyes around our cozy, carpeted living rooms.

Fortunately for Jhonny, Sofia and his coaches didn’t let him run around the streets for long and within months of the shooting, we watch an emotional Jhonny back in the water on the ‘QS, nailing down some fine results.

En La Tormenta ends before Hurley dropped its team last year and before COVID-19 shut down Jhonny’s chances of continuing on tour.

“Cut adrift by circumstances,” as Director Adam Brown says.

Both Sofia and Brown are in frequent contact with Jhonny. Neither know if he’ll be able to get to the ‘CT.

Back in Chorrillos, Jhonny is pursuing his interest in Latin rap and has been seen lately in a few surf contests around Lima. Sofia thinks Jhonny has learned through the years that hard work pays off.

“He is a really charismatic young man that can succeed in many areas if he puts his heart and mind into it.”

Watching the movie, we’re left to wonder what’s going to happen to the kid who’s captured on film crying more than smiling, splitting his time between ocean and street.

And while beautifully shot (JJF’s filmer Erik Knutson spent some days behind the lens), En La Tormenta ain’t no promotional video.

In case you want to throw a buck or two to help poor kids from Lima’s barrios learn to surf, you can check out Alto Peru.

It just won Best Film at the 2020 Brooklyn Film Festival and will be available on BBC’s Storyville in January.

Good watching between CT contests.


WSL fans go "bad dog".

World Surf League’s own fans turn on master over Instagram post celebrating Tyler Wright’s Pipe Masters win: “When you go woke you win. Not actually surfing…stop with this stupid hype… WSL should be ashamed of this post!”

WSL fans go "bad dog".

I doubt if there was a heat in pro surfing history pressed with as much tension as Sage Erickson and Tatiana Weston-Webb’s Pipe opener five days ago.

It wasn’t threatening Pipeline by any stretch, but if you’ve ever tried to ride the joint you’ll know it is a devil of a wave, unpredictable, dangerous and surprisingly difficult to find a barrel without max skills. 

God, I felt for Sage and Tati, whose heat was a curtain raiser to the first WCT women’s heat at Pipe. All those condescending and critical eyes. Given I tend to view surfing through the prism of my own abilities I was pleasantly surprised by the surfing. 

Rails held, a little vision here and there, Carissa, unsurprisingly, the stand-out, Tyler’s win an anti-climax, I suppose, although she looked comfortable enough.

Here comes the however.

BeachGrit’s tour correspondent Steve “Longtom” Shearer spoke for many fans when he wrote, “If performance at Pipe is the measure then we are way behind the standards of the previous century… In one of the more blackly comic scenes of the day Pipe pioneer Rochelle Ballard was reduced to giving real-time lessons in technique for successfully threading Pipe tubes to hapless contestants.”

And, today, in response to a WSL post celebrating Tyler’s Pipe Masters win, surfing’s “bad dogs” turned on their master, bludgeoning stroke after bludgeoning stroke, all with the casual precision of a butcher. 

vidalcordova: First person to win an event in pipeline with ZERO barrels

nathan____bishop: 12 year olds at 3 foot lowers get deeper than that

betaklein: She’s calling herself a PIPE MASTER on her last post! Check out her trophy. 😂 Delusional much? 🤣😭

grom_dad: When you go woke you win. Apparently the new judging criteria. Not actually surfing

jonwest843: That’s a two,,, just sayin

loco.lobo.loco: Stop with this stupid hype. Worst pipe win ever . Wsl should be ashamed of this posts

chatty_cathy_doll: Why would you want someone else’s trophy? Carissa won kook.

therealjayse: Shame WSL

lau_z_foto: i feel if you don’t get barreled at a pipeline comp, your score shouldn’t be higher than .05

ju_pdvn: Barrel dodge much?

dkeps808: Two turn champ! What a joke this is👎🏽hawaii and everyone knows who won. Barrels win the pipe💯

dkeps808: Two turn champ! What a joke this is👎🏽hawaii and everyone knows who won. Barrels win the pipe💯

bchsiao: Man I would hate to have a trophy where all my peers and elders say I didnt deserve it… Really not Tyler Wrights’ fault that the event format and judges gave her the wi

michael_r._hogue: Shame on the judges and the WSL.

glenndurflinger: I went over the falls and hit the reef in 2’ Pipe – does that make me a Pipe Master? 😂💩

masemonsta: Pipe not a good idea. WSL very lucky no girls got seriously hurt.

crawdady: Sick head dip !

andy_ruddock: @tylerwright I have always appreciated your level of finesse, but the digital edit to say “Pipe Master” over the top of your Maui Pro trophy is disrespectful to the pipe masters who have come before you – @gerrylopezsurfboards, Micheal and Derek, @markocchilupo, @kellyslater, Andy, @bruceirons, @whoisjob, @john_john_florence and all the other legends that put in the time and work to earn the right to that title. Can’t wait to to see the 2021 Pipe Masters with all the ladies charging! Respect to @rissmoore10 for getting out there and charging early with @whoisjob. Mick O’Brien says she won…can anyone argue with that? Thank you Jamie for helping the best to get better. I love to see you giving back. #RissGetsBarreled

And, this.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CJPVqvjhEcu/

Tough crowd, I suppose.


Listen: “The holiday season is that most wonderful time of year we get together, as fans of professional surfing, and mercilessly criticize everything the World Surf League has done!”

A new tradition.

And, like that, a new holiday tradition has taken flight. This gorgeous Christmas Eve, David Lee Scales and I woke up (him in Newport Beach, me in Cardiff-by-the-Sea), left our loved ones, drove to San Clemente and began to bad-mouth the World Surf League.

We could have been lending a hand in baking Christmas cookies, cleaning homes for socially distanced parties, building vanities so they can be placed under the tree for morning joy, out running last minute errands, but no.

Surf needed to be spoken.

And how many other surf podcasters have ever gotten together on Christmas Eve to perform a service for The People™? Has Dave Prodan? The Great Mark Occhilupo?

I think not and I think a Christmas Eve surf podcast will become as much a December staple as gingerbread.

Yum.

We, David Lee and I, spake of many things but mostly how the World Surf League is rudderless and may be finished before year’s end.

Fun.

Sneak away from what you should be doing and listen here.


Watch: In act of brazen whimsey, Australian man gang presses partner into paddling him around gorgeous island while he observes the enchantment under the sea!

More questions than answers.

It is Christmas Eve in America, a beautiful time to be home basking in the love of family. Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow finding it hard to sleep. Husbands mixing comforting batches of egg nog. Wives stringing popcorn chains. Grandpas and grandmas nowhere in sight due the threat of Covid-19.

But what is the worst thing you’ve ever done to your significant other?

While you’re thinking, a man vacationing with his partner off Rottnest Island, near Perth, made her paddle him around on a SUP while he observed the enchantment under the sea.

Brazenly whimsical.

The video has gone mildly viral with people commenting unimaginative things like, “When you want to go snorkeling but don’t want to get wet.” And “No need for all your dive gear, only a mask and snorkel.”

Did you visit the World Surf League’s YouTube page, by the way, and read any of those comments while the Billabong Pipe Masters in Memory of Andy Irons presented by Hydro Flask was happening?

Wow.

Ok, what is the worst thing you’ve ever done to your significant other?

Also, has World Surf League CEO Erik Logan ever made his wife paddle him around on one of his many, many SUPs?

A strong possibility.


Barrel or Nah: Kelly Slater stuffing John John Florence in the dying moments of the world’s most accomplished surfer’s semifinal loss?

Shark.

I know this has been discussed, both in the Open Thread and on Longtom’s Pulitzer-adjacent Billabong Pipe Masters in Memory of Andy Irons presented by Hydro Flask contest wrap, but not as thorough, or specific, as I would like. So, what are your true feelings surrounding Kelly Slater’s stuffing John John Florence in the dying minute of that semifinal?

A fantastic flourish a la great showmen or cheap, funny, character revealing?

I’ll show my cards here.

I loved it.

Loved the implicit rage, loved John John’s shrug, loved Kelly enjoying a Backdoor just for the sake of enjoying it knowing that his Pipe Masters campaign had reached its end and that he might as well catch a wave that he enjoyed even though it fundamentally goes against every “rule” in our sort of surfing.

But I don’t want to influence your opinion, not that I hold myself highly enough to think I could, so what did you think?

High water mark of 2020/21 World Surf League season or low-ish water mark?

Tell me true.

Also, are you happy that Kelly Slater is my new shark or sad?

More as the story develops.