The past year was going really, really well for surfer Filipe Toledo.
The 20-year-old Brazilian clinched the Oi Rio Pro in front of a raucous home crowd, finished fourth in the world title standings, released the mindblowing Spinning at the Speed of Now with SURFING and signed a lucrative sponsorship deal with Stance socks.
But right now, all of those achievements are an afterthought for Toledo, and all of those accolades seem a mile away. Toledo is currently rehabbing a groin injury suffered during the season-opening Quiksilver Gold Coast Pro, and trying not to lose his mind.
“It’s been really hard to be out of the water,” Toledo told GrindTV in an interview last Thursday. “It’s hard for me being stuck at home watching the competitions, not being able to go against these guys and keeping my name out of the top five.”
Toledo saying that it’s hard to not be in the water is just a slight understatement.
The Brazilian is notoriously energetic and, as evidenced by a recent feature story with SURFER, nearly impossible to pin down for an interview, often returning from surf contests only to disappear for days at a time on surfing endeavors.
But being hurt has given Toledo the opportunity to reflect on his whirlwind life. And first and foremost on his mind are the successes he and his fellow countrymen have been enjoying of late.
“It’s just nice to finally have the opportunities we have now to really show our talent,” said Toledo. “I think that's why we’ve been dominating the Championship Tour and the Qualifying Series recently. People finally started focusing on Brazil after Gabriel won the world title in 2014.”
The Gabriel he is referring to is Gabriel Medina, a compatriot and fellow member of the “Brazilian Storm” — a group of young Brazilian surfers currently ruling the world of competitive surfing. In 2015, four of the top seven surfers in the world (including the world champion) were from Brazil, and only one of those surfers was over the age of 22.
But opinions on the Brazilian Storm from fans inside the surf world seem to be split.
Many longtime surf fans say the young Brazilians employ a style of surfing that eschews traditional aspects of the sport in favor of large amounts of aerial maneuvers specifically tailored to surfing in smaller waves. Critics of the Brazilian Storm will vehemently argue that the only reason Brazilians have been doing so well is due to changes in how contests are judged.
To Toledo, that criticism rings hollow.
“People are critical of how we surf big waves, but I don’t really pay attention to that,” Toledo said. “Adriano [de Souza] just won Pipeline last year, the year before Gabriel won Tahiti when it was 12-15 feet. So, really we just focus on what we need to do to win. If someone criticizes us and its valid we keep it in mind, if not we keep going.”
Instead of seeing a difference in how events are judged, Toledo has a simpler explanation for why Brazilian surfers have been so dominant of late: They simply want it more.
“Yeah, I think Brazilian surfers are more hungry,” said Toledo, noting that he doesn’t expect the Brazilian Storm to end any time soon. “A lot of the Brazilian surfers, we came from humble families and humble cities. So the opportunities to surf, or to have a board or a sponsor, were really hard to come by. So once we get the chance we feel that's the only chance we will ever have to show the world we’re the best.”
Toledo says that he feels that passion will continue to guide the future of surfing. A future which, if you invest a lot of belief in recent interviews, may or may not include Kelly Slater for much longer.
“I don't know how I would feel if I showed up to a competition and Kelly wasn’t there,” Toledo said referencing a recent interview where Slater mentioned he was considering retirement. “It’s hard — it's something that we don't imagine — he’s the best surfer ever, so it would be super tough not seeing him.”
“I just always think every time I see him that he’s never going to quit surfing,” Toledo continued. “He’ll always be there at the contests, trying to win, trying to jump someone’s score in the water. So if it does happen, it will be hard for me to see him not competing.”
But, for now, Toledo is keeping his focus internal, and just hoping to get back to doing what he does best: surfing.
“My dream has always been to become a world champion,” Toledo says. “I want to give the new generation of surfers hope, and hopefully just keep the Brazilian Storm going.”
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