Any true surf fan will immediately recognize the name Todd Holland. Cocoa Beach’s other favorite son was a mainstay on the professional surfing circuit in the 1980s through the 1990s. Described as “baby faced” by surf historian Matt Warshaw (subscribe here) and “a scrappy pug” by surf journalist Steve Barilotti, Holland was the only east coast American top 16 pro for a solid handful of years, P.K. (pre-Kelly).
Pure red, white and blue though Holland also had the most eventful, exciting escape from the green and gold in professional surfing’s grand history, thus far, and the story has resurfaced ahead of the hours-away Oi Rio Pro where enraged Brazilian surf fans have promised to let their displeasure in recent judging decisions be felt.
But let us jump in our time machine and revisit the scene, told wonderfully by Hillard Grossman in Florida Today.
In the fall of 1993, just outside of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Holland was looking for one good finish in a World Qualifying Series event. That would have enabled him to rejoin the world tour the following year — and also would have allowed him to return to Cocoa Beach to see the birth of his son.
Instead, things got wild — and scary.
Holland was called for a paddling interference against Victor Ribas, one of the top Brazilian surfers.
“When you get a paddling-interference call against you,” Holland explained, “the only way to win is to get one called on the other guy. So I just sat on him, trying to grab any wave in front of him.”
Then, the contest announcer began inciting the crowd to turn against Holland. Suddenly, people were chasing Holland in the water.
“A guy jumped on my back and another hit me in the head,” Holland said. “I got hit on the beach a couple of times. The whole crowd tried to get me.”
Armed police, with guns drawn, did their best to clear a path on the beach for Holland, and they escorted him in a van to a jail cell, where he spent a few hours — but only for his protection.
“They told me to shave my beard off right away,” he said. “Then, later that night, another surfer came by and sneaked me onto his floorboard and then onto a plane. Basically, they sneaked me out of the country.”
If he had made it through that heat with Ribas (both were eliminated), Holland would have seen his son born. Instead, it was on to Hawaii, where he requalified with ease.
But the memories still haunt him.
“It’s something that should have never happened,” he said. “If I went back there, I know it would not have been safe. But I really never had any desire to go back.”
By 1995, his pro career was virtually over. Because he was forced to skip the big-points events in Brazil, it was nearly impossible to qualify for the world tour.