Surf world in shock as Italo Ferreira splits from long-time sponsor Billabong

“Everything in life has a a beginning, a middle and and end.”

The 2019 world champ Italo Ferreira has officially split from his longtime sponsor Billabong after seven years with the famous and once iconic but not so much anymore Australian brand.

Ferreira, who is twenty-nine, signed with Billabong in 2016 after winning the previous season’s rookie of the year following a third in Rio, fifth in Fiji, fifth in Tahiti and a second in Portugal. He finished seventh in the world.

Wild, yeah?

Now, Ferreira has pulled, or been pulled, from the Billabong teat, although the colostrum is neither as creamy nor as free flowing as it used to be when Taj Burrow and Joel Parkinson were biting the teton and his disappearance is unsurprising as the brand pivots into hair oils and inflatable toys. I would suggest he was offered a vastly reduced salary which he refused.

“Closing one chapter of my professional life,” write Ferreira. “I’d like to thank Billabong for being part of my story! It’s been years of a partnership that began in 2016 and has contributed to my career. But as everything in life has a beginning, a middle and an end…This cycle ends for others to begin.”

I spent a few days with the kid in 2019 when he got on that tear to win the title and found a sweet sorta guy who didn’t  rip the top off his swinging masculinity. When his bank account started to get filled with sponsorship cash and prizemoney his first goal was to set his family up in Baia Formosa. He bought ‘em a hotel and restaurant called Pousada do Porto.

Once they were sorted, he bought himself a house on the beach in Baia and a restaurant in nearby, and fancier, Pipa Beach.

“Always trying to invest with my money rather than spend it all on shitty things,” he said.

Italo told me he hates drugs and doesn’t party ’cause three pals had died chasing the dragon.

“You have two ways to go, the good one and the bad one. It’s a choice,” he said.

When I asked him what his path in life was he didn’t hesitate.

“To be a good surfer that everyone can remember…”


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A post shared by Italo Ferreira (@italoferreira)

Gaza (pictured) getting flattened.
Gaza (pictured) getting flattened.

Surf world breaks sharply over expanding Israel-Palestine conflict

Gaza burning.

Surfers, by and large, have a reputation for aloof stupidity, saltwater-crusted brains with very little functioning power, though I think very much ill-deserved. As a group, we are relatively well-traveled or, at the very least, have friends and acquaintances who are. Global events affect our comings and goings, our World Surf League Championship Tour, our hither and thither and so it is of little surprise that the quickly expanding Israel-Palestine conflict is both captivating and polarizing the surf world.

Only the most dense will be unaware that, over the weekend, Hamas, the political party/resistance movement that rules the Gaza Strip, hugging the Mediterranean to Israel’s south, sent fighters through the border, kidnapping, killing and otherwise shattering a sense of inertia that had settled over the region.

It was one of the biggest intelligence failures in Israel’s history and its embattled Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, promised to deliver “mighty vengeance,” calling up over 300,000 reservists and pounding Gaza City with bombs ahead of a certain ground invasion.

The death toll, there, is already high and will soar as the Palestinians taste Israeli rage.

What then to think?

Surf feminist hero Lucy Small took the tact, essentially, that Israel is a brutal and oppressive apartheid state and posted #freepalestine on her influential Instagram account, adding, “End the violence, end the occupation.”

The other side, that Israel is “the region’s only democracy,” a proud country surrounded by savages who wish only for its destruction, came hammering back, with, “In Sydney, Palestinian people celebrated with fireworks the death of hundreds of innocents, looks like u and others here support this shocking,, u live in such a happy country and support terrorism ( or u can call it different after what they done ,, scary.”


Where do you land?

I spent some weeks in Israel/Palestine during my undergraduate studies, driving over from Egypt certain that I would fall in love with the courageous Israelis and their slice of desert they had “made bloom.” I was, instead, struck by the absolutely untenable position the Palestinians had been forced into and their struggle. Settlements, checkpoints, consistent acts of dehumanization around every corner for those sporting keffiyeh or hijab.

I have also tasted the aforementioned Israeli rage in Lebanon when three soldiers were kidnapped by Hezbollah, in 2006, and taken over the border prompting a full-scale invasion. Sitting up in the hills outside Sidon, at night, and watching the whole south getting pounded, ground shaking. Riding a motor scooter through Beirut, getting blown right out, almost getting lit up by Palestinian guns then spending some quality time with Hezbollah.

Around 1300 Lebanese lost their lives during that war. 165 Israelis did and, again, that was over three soldiers at a disputed border as opposed to this past weekend’s Hamas invasion leaving 800 Israelis dead inside Israel and possibly hundreds more absconded back to Gaza.

Which brings us back to our present trouble. Hamas knew exactly what was going to happen in the wake of its attack. Knew that Israel will, basically, bulldoze the entire Gaza Strip, burying as many Palestinians as it can exactly like it did to the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon during the 1982 civil war.

The group is not naive and, unlike many other regional players, has majority support of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

Hamas knew retribution would be ferocious, all-encompassing, indiscriminate and jumped the border anyway which only suggests an utter abandonment of hope.

When a people have lost hope what then can be done?


"On your various platforms, you acknowledge this era as the “turbulent dying days.” This suggests that you are actively trying to monetise a pain and struggle to which you have no personal connection."

Mami Wata Surf embroiled in controversy over clothing range inspired by apartheid-era Cape Town, “You are actively trying to monetise a pain and struggle to which you have no personal connection”

“VW Golfs, Ford Escorts, neon fashion, sportswear and fast food. It’s a vibe!”

The African surf brand Mami Wata has come under fire for the supposed insensitivity of its latest clothing range which is inspired by eighties surf culture in Cape Town, back when the damn Afrikaners called the shots and before international and internal pressure crushed the wretched Apartheid regime.

Per Mami Wata,

“The combination of the turbulent dying days of the apartheid regime in South Africa, Africa’s increasing exposure to global culture and brands, 80’s surf culture and a surf break in False Bay enjoyed by a predominantly Black surf crew, influenced amongst other things by VW Golfs, Ford Escorts, neon fashion, sportswear and fast food. It’s a vibe!”


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A post shared by Mami Wata Surf (@mamiwatasurf)

Artwork is by the absurdly talented Peet Pienaar, also a co-founder alongside Nick Dutton and Andy Davis. All men are of a white-ish hue, which is neither here nor there I think, but it’ll become important later.

It’s a nine-piece collection of t-shirts, sweatshirts, a short-sleeve button up, a couple of hoodies and a pair of trunks, although it ain’t cheap – tees seventy bucks, hoodies one-forty and trunks one twenty.

Again, I’ll spend four hundred on a pair of trunks if I think’ll serve my aesthetics for a couple of summers so the price don’t matter to me but, again, important in a second.

The Instagram account @surftherberg published an open letter to Mami Wata on October 5, giving ‘em hell for the range which dances, they say, on the trauma of apartheid-era surfers.

Dear Mami Wata,

Mami Wata presents itself as an African-centric surf and culture brand. Through this platform, you aim to convey African stories, utilise African iconography, and incorporate African nuances into your apparel, all while claiming to “deliver considerable economic, social and environmental value to local communities.”

However, in your most recent campaign titled “9 Miles” you have exploited a community of people who never sought representation by Mami Wata. They were neither consulted on your uninformed portrayal of them nor did they grand you permission to misrepresent their struggles and trauma for the benefit of a select few individuals with no real connection to the people you are profiting from.

The story of 9 Miles and the individuals who view this space as a refuge, a safe haven, and a place for healing have not given Mami Wata permission to misrepresent them,. They have not authorised the appropriation and profitization (sic) of their culture, their people, and their waves by Mami Wata.

To highlight a few discrepancies:

On your various platforms, you specifically reference the 1980s, a time when South Africa was under the rule of the Apartheid Government. During this period, people of color were forcibly removed from beaches, often with deadly consequences. They were denied the ability to swim, surf, and express themselves. Is it appropriate to turn this painful history into a t-shirt?

On your various platforms, you acknowledge this era as the “turbulent dying days.” This suggests that you are actively trying to monetise a pain and struggle to which you have no personal connection.

On your various platforms, you mentioned that a “predominantly black surf crew enjoyed this surf break.” Where did this perception come from? Who informed you that this “crew” consisted of a particular ethnic group? Who told you they enjoyed surfing there? Did this “crew” have a choice in where and how they enjoyed themselves? Furthermore, you reference their dietary choices of fast food as inspiration for your apparel range.

The story of 9 Miles and its surroundings should not be exploited by individuals who lack the right to do so. The residents of this place strongly oppose the use of its imagery, storytelling, and cultural references.

For those unaware, it’s important to note that Mami Wata is owned and operated by three South Africans, whose brand is built upon a culture that was nearly eradicated on the African continent. Visit the Mami Wata website and see for yourself if these three men should be representing Africa.
Lastly, the apparel ad merchandise are marketed as African yet they are priced at a level that many true Africans cannot afford. Go figure.

A comprehensive letter of complaint, no?


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A post shared by Surf Muizenberg (@surftheberg)

Comments were divided on the matter.

Against Mami Wata:

“I value your realness and well articulated points. As a Nine Miles local for most of my life, we have hopes and dreams to make Nine Miles accessible for all people to enjoy the break and the beach, and also turning it into a self sustainable area. It would’ve been cool if this brand came and sat down with locals, created a synergy where both parties win, but in this story, only one party wins! I feel yet again we as a people and our story, which these guys have no clue of what Nine Miles is about, are just out there to financially capitalize. Why Nine Miles? The place we were allowed to use as our place to swim and surf during the apartheid era. Our story is definitely not for these guys to be told!!!”

For Mami Wata:

“You’re opinion matter. I’m really sad you guys feel this way and sorry if you feel exploited and would like to understand that better, seriously.

“I think what mama watu does is above and beyond most brands. Do you know they donate 100% of there book proceeds to surfers not street children? They operate more like a charity then an actual brand, it’s actually insane in my opinion, sorry if that is opposing of yours. I can name 100’s of non profits where there founders get paid more then all of mama watus founders and employees combined! I’ve looked at the numbers and asked. Have you ever asked them if they are actually profitable?! How would you make them affordable? What brands do you support then?

“Is this feeling about all adversities ‘turned into profit’? Does Nike and hundreds of other companies putting #blacklivesmatter on their appearel bother you? Do books on apartheid not ‘make a profit’ off what happened? Hollywood Movies of wars and genocides!? Would you prefer if people ignored the past and never spoke of it? How would you like brands to operate, be reasonable cause entrepreneurship is so hard.

“Can you appreciate that someone stepped up and made a African surf brand period? So you don’t want them to exist and would rather support a billabong or ripcurl or anything else made in China?
If everyone had the time, money and resources to consult everyone agreed this world would be all peaches and cream, but I think everyone’s doing their best these guys especially ! Let’s celebrate the positives and spread that. Happy days and more waves!”

Both sides are terrifically persuasive, although I think the underlying issue here is the cost of the gear and the lack of an indigenous African among the founders, ie too many whites.

Selema Masekela joined the brand in 2018 as a “co-founder” along with various investors (two million bucks was raised by crowdfunding in 2020) but by 2022 had “stepped back from his roles and responsibilities as co-founder, but remains a shareholder and creative collaborator. “

Tyler (left) and Owen Wright, dreaming of spice. Photo: WSL
Tyler (left) and Owen Wright, dreaming of spice. Photo: WSL

Surf Olympian Owen Wright details horror childhood hothouse from pre-dawn family kung-fu sessions to flavorless vegetable dinners!

Welcome to the second circle of hell.

Olympic bronze medalist Owen Wright is nothing if not prolific in retirement. The 33-year-old Australian has built a “staggering” real estate portfolio and become an author. His book, Against the Water, an instant classic detailing his heroic journey from duck dive-induced brain trauma at the Banzai Pipeline to the third highest step on Tokyo 2020’s stage.

Wright, described as “model-handsome with long blond hair,” sat down with The Guardian, recently, to add flavor to his story, something he was not allowed as a child.


For starters, the Pipeline incident was not the first bonk on the head for Wright. Far from it, in fact, as he shares that he probably had somewhere between twenty to thirty concussions while surfing.

And also more details of his hothouse upbringing.

Per the piece:

Rob Wright believed there was no shortage of great surfers, but very few great competitors. And he set about drilling his children: they had no TV and no toys; mornings would start with a family kung-fu session, sometimes at 4.30am. They ate plain vegetarian food, served with no sauce or seasoning, and travelled to surf competitions around Australia on a school minibus. That last detail reminded me of Richard Williams, the rambunctious father of Venus and Serena, whose eccentricities were showcased in the film King Richard, starring Will Smith. Wright laughs, “Watching that Williams sisters movie was kind of triggering.”

Wright says he was his father’s clear favorite, something that didn’t necessarily bother his siblings. “The attention was never that great,” he said. “I was also the one who got up at the crack of dawn and trained and all the rest of it. They were more than happy to pass on that!”

Unlike his sister Tyler, Wright doesn’t seem to wholly blame father Rob, crediting him, in fact, with the life he now lives. “My dad did so many things that clearly got great results,” he confesses. “That relationship was the reason I surfed, it was the reason I pushed, it was the reason I rebelled, it was the reason I pushed again. It’s part of the reason I’ve retired. And it’s part of the reason I made it back out of the head injury.”

Today, he is caring for his father while parenting his own two children, slightly worried that his eldest son might follow in his footsteps. The six-year-old surfed in his first competition. The waves were big though the child was brave. Later, though, he came and told Wright they were, in fact, too big.

“What have I done?” he wondered. While also recognizing “The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.”

Buy Against the Water here.

Surfer-hero “Gordo the Great” reunites with Ukrainian nurse he saved from wild seas, “I just said ‘jump on’ and we paddled like gladiators!”

“She was in the most dangerous spot imaginable. I looked around and the only person who’s going to save her is me."

The larger-than-life surf cinematographer John “Gordo the Great” Gordon has been reunited with the Ukrainian nurse whose life he saved in a wild battle of “underwater jiujitsu” six months ago.

Gordo, sixty-one but presenting with excellent T levels and smelling like a locker room, filmed the world surfing tour for twenty years before being dumped by the World Surf League, inexplicably and without warning last year.

Gordo’s filmic career is marked by awards, acclaim etc. He worked for the Seven News network in Queensland for two decades, in between gigs with Jack McCoy and his series of iconic Billabong films, before shifting into surf full-time.

So when a Gold Coast-based Ukrainian nurse jumped into the water at Fingal up there on the NSW side of the border with the Gold Coast and Gordo saw her being washed around the headland, he wasn’t going to stand by and wait for Superman.

A day to blow or get blown!

“She was in the most dangerous spot imaginable. I looked around and the only person who’s going to save her is me,” said Gordo, who described trying to rescue the gal as like “underwater jiujitsu.”

The nurse, Liv Titor said:“I couldn’t believe it. I stepped into nothing and it got me straight away. Johnny jumped in with his surfboard, told me to hang on and said we’ll get through it together. And that’s what we did.”

Six months on, both of ‘em still have flashbacks about the event, Gordo haunted by what might’ve happened if he wasn’t there and Liv, nightmares about being back in the water and having her legs pulled out from under her by a ferocious current.

“I only took two steps into the water and I just felt this pull in my legs and it just took me around the rocks and out,” she told Channel Nine.

Now, Gordo plans on getting Liv back in the water before she’s sunk by fear of the ocean.

“We’re going to get back out there ’cause the ocean has got so much to offer, it’s so great but you’ve got to respect her.”