“I know how to lose! But go fuck yourself.”
With three minutes remaining in the last quarter-final on Saturday, 2019 world champ Italo Ferreira held a lead and priority over Jack Robinson.
Robinson needed a high six, an achievable score but a solid one for a day with waves of uncertain quality.
Jack hunted for space, but Italo gave none. The men were so close their arms clashed on every paddle stroke.
“That is how you get your opponent in check,” said Rabbit. “He is within the turning circle of his surfboard.”
Sets roll through.
Out of position, they duck the first ones.
Less than a minute-and-a-half remains. Italo is forced to utilise his priority and take a wave.
It sections on takeoff but he floats it smoothly. He wraps under the lip, turns off the bottom, comes back and hits it. As the wave fattens he wraps twice more before hitting the end section with power.
It’s as good as any in the heat so far, and looks certain to at least equal the 7.10 he’s currently holding as his top score.
He rides out in the whitewash, standing tall and triumphant. One arm with outstretched index finger is in the air, pointing towards the beach and judges.
He thumps his chest with his fist.
Job done, heat wrapped.
But, not quite.
With just twenty seconds remaining Robinson takes off on a mediocre wave. He carves under the lip with some speed, comes back, hits the lip again, before nursing the flatter section. He makes the end section in unspectacular fashion, clapping himself to the beach.
The wave is fine, but looks unlikely to trouble the result, particularly given Italo’s final, larger wave.
The partisan crowd are audible, as they have been throughout Jack’s final wave, but the cheers seem disproportionate to the ride.
We wait for the scores to drop.
It’s likely that Robinson has his second best scoring wave, but unlikely that it’s enough. It’s unclear how much he knows about Italo’s final ride.
The camera stays with Jack. He stops on the stairs and closes his eyes. He is mouthing something we cannot hear, a silent incantation to the judges, willing them to give him the score.
He’s given a straight seven, Italo a 6.70.
It was almost as if the scores had been mixed up.
The cameras follow both men on a split-screen, once again highlighting the clear and uncanny improvements in production quality at this event.
Jack is congratulated by friends and supporters, Italo smashes his board on the walls of the locker room and screams at the wind. Someone in his entourage quickly puts a cap over the camera lens.
As Jack heads to the lockers, a crew of cameramen are seen rushing out, clearly in pursuit of a furious Ferreira on his way to confront the judges. If this is the Make or Break crew, which I can only presume it is, they are certainly getting the drama they’re looking for.
Then, in an uncharacteristically slick move by production, we see a drone angle of a shirtless Italo in the judges tower demanding answers.
It was genuinely engaging and for once the WSL were not shying away from the negative side of professional sport.
For every winner, there must be a loser, and often this is more compelling.
And what of winning?
Have you tasted success? Did you like it?
More importantly, what did it do to you?
Whatever your understanding of success, I don’t think it’s a stretch for me to suggest that not one of you has come so far in such a short period of time as Italo Ferreira.
But, at what cost?
Remember who Italo was when he came on Tour.
He was unknown to all of us, but a clear talent with an electrifying backhand. Out of the water he was characterised by a beaming smile and endearingly broken English.
Seems like someone else now, right?
Who could’ve predicted this character arc. It’s a mere four years since he won his first event, three since his world title. Chalk up an Olympic Gold medal, national hero status and millions of followers.
Who else in the history of surfing has become so detached from who they once were because of success in competition?
The impact is apparent in his demeanour, his physicality and his style.
His body looks hewn from granite. It’s adorned with elaborate piercings and jewellery, risqué fashion choices and tattoos. He travels with influencer girlfriends and an entourage. He sprays aggressive slogans on his boards. And he wears an almost permanent scowl.
All of this is fine. His choices are his choices, but it’s a long, long way from a boy whose first surfboard was the lid from a cooler where his father kept the fish he sold on the beach.
In the space of a few short years Italo Ferreira might as well have been whisked away from his old life and transported to another planet, and all because of surfing.
Realistically, it’s hard for any of us to truly empathise with Italo or understand his psychology.
But winning is addictive.
It doesn’t matter what the context is, once you’ve had it you never want to let it go.
What would you do to keep hold of this feeling?
Would you clench your jaws around it like a terrier with a rat, shake until its spine snaps, until its belly tears open from anus to throat, and blood and entrails drip from your chin?
That’s Italo’s approach to surfing. It has changed his life and he’s not about to let it go.
During the heat there was a phone-in from Tom Carroll. He revealed he and Italo share an affinity.
They “just clicked,” said Tom.
“It makes perfect sense,” agreed Joe.
But the Tom Carroll today, meditative, measured, intelligent, is different to the Tom Carroll of old.
I wonder which side of the man Italo identities with?
And what does Carroll see of himself in Ferreira?
I’ve no doubt that Italo will figure things out, but it might not be this year. It might take time and perspective, and perhaps some help.
We can’t fault his hunger or drive, nor should we deny him it. Without consequence and passion sport is nothing, and that’s what Italo gives us.
“Eu sei perder! Mas vai tomar no C…” he tweeted after the dust had settled. Complete with middle-finger emoji.
Translation: “I know how to lose! But go fuck yourself.”