Watch: João Chianca Had A Remarkable Hawaii Season Before His Injury - Stab Mag

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"This wasn't what I was planning or wishing for in 2024. But if I step back out of the chaos I've been going through and analyze the situation carefully, I know that I'm going to have a big opportunity to work on myself this year and come back stronger"-João Chianca, seen here at last year's Finals. Photo: Pat Nolan/WSL

Watch: João Chianca Had A Remarkable Hawaii Season Before His Injury

Plus an update on his condition.

Words by Brendan Buckley
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Note: This story was originally published on Stab Premium last week.

Two years ago, João Chianca became the poster child for the anti-mid-year cut camp by showing up on tour as a 21-year-old rookie, contributing to one of the best heats of the season, and swiftly feeling the mildly painful (but mostly just annoying) impact of Erik Logan’s vegan leather boot.  

He breezed through the CS, finishing 8th and re-booking a spot on the 2023 CT. 

By September, he was in the Finals at Lowers, where he beat Jack Robinson and fell to Ethan Ewing, finishing 4th in the world. 

By November, João was already training in Hawaii. On December 3, he was knocked unconscious at Backdoor. He was pulled out of the water by local surfers and rushed to the hospital, where he spent two weeks.

Last week, I caught up with João for his first interview since the incident. He was at home in Saquarema, Brazil, rehabbing, training and starting to surf again. 

Read our conversation below, and do yourself a solid and click the triangle on this edit from João and Marcelo Dada to see what he got up to in Hawaii before the injury.

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STAB: Hey João, thanks for speaking with me. Can you talk about what happened on December 3? 

João Chianca: Yeah, I can talk about what I remember — but I don’t remember everything. The forecast looked really promising, but it was a slow morning. I slept at my girlfriend’s house the night before, then showed up at the Volcom house around 7 AM. I ate breakfast and paddled out around at 8 AM. I remember having a good session, especially with how challenging it can be to compete with the crowd out there. I got a few waves at Pipe and Backdoor, but then my leash broke. 

So I went back to the Volcom house. I had already surfed for a few hours, so I ate some more food while I was there. I remember grabbing a new leash, but I don’t remember anything after that. But, based on the clips and what my team has told me, I was getting waves and having fun. I had two Backdoor waves, then fell on one. The accident actually happened after the wipeout. I got my board and tried to paddle straight back out at Backdoor, but not all the way around at Pipe. I got caught by a set. I bailed my board on the first wave, but the second wave was really bad. 

And you made contact with the bottom? 

I believe so. I had a pretty big cut in the back of my head that required 14 stitches. But my board was completely intact, so I don’t think it was that. 

What were your injuries? 

There was a lot of brain bleeding. And not just on the back of my head, near where the cut was, but around my whole head. And there was a fracture on the right side — which was made by my brain from the shock of hitting the bottom. That’s what the doctors told me. I also had a pretty severe concussion. 

The morning of the accident. Photo: @yuneskhader

When do you remember regaining consciousness? 

On my fourth or fifth day, I was getting back on my feet and talking to my family and everyone. All of that is super blurry, though. I remember it as flashes of memories. It doesn’t come in really clean. I can’t say exactly how my fourth day went — I just remember a few flashes. 

I spent two weeks in the hospital. The second week was in a rehab station. By the time I got to there, I was talking a bunch and doing much better. When I became conscious again, the first thing I remember is that I couldn’t feel my left foot even though it had no cuts or fractures. I told the doctors that right away. 

Hectic. How is the recovery process going? 

I think I had the best scenario for brain damage and trauma. I feel like I’m doing well for how serious it was. Since I got back to Brazil on December 20, I haven’t had a headache, felt dizzy, or had a hard time walking or talking. 

The left foot is the only major symptom that appeared. For the first month, I focused on getting my strength back and developing the quickness to be equal with my right foot. By January 20, I started to work with my physical trainer again and try to get back to my normal program. For the first ten days, it was pretty hard for me to get back into the routine — waking up early, hitting the gym, doing the physiotherapy for the injury — but it’s getting better. The sports side of it is still delicate. It’s still a process. 

Surfing’s 2024 Olympic event will be a 4-day affair in the 9-day window of July 27 – August 4. João — who earned his spot via the WSL last year — hopes to be there. Photo: Domenic Mosqueira/Red Bull Content Pool

How does it feel back in the water? 

I feel grateful. It shows me that the work I’ve been putting in is paying off. But as a competitor, it kind of upsets me because I always want more. In the beginning, I was happy to just be in the water, on a surfboard again. I’m lucky to be safe and healthy enough to do what I love the most again.

I just need to keep working hard to get to the level I was at last season — and even go past that level.

I don’t just want to be the same surfer that I was. I don’t even feel like the same person anymore. Injury teaches us so much. It teaches us to be patient and to face things that are hard to understand — things that we don’t have any control over, but that are meant to happen. I want to go past the level I was surfing at before the accident. I have a long way to go, but it’s an exciting journey for me. I feel so motivated to keep working and try to be the best person I can be in and out of the water. I know I’ll have a lot of time to work on myself this year, as I won’t be doing the tour as a full-time competitor. This wasn’t what I was planning or wishing for in 2024. But if I step back out of the chaos I’ve been going through and analyze the situation carefully, I know that I’m going to have a big opportunity to work on myself this year and come back stronger. 

Do you have a target timeline for returning to competition? 

I want to be 100% by the Olympics. But this injury has taught me that I can’t put dates on anything. The process is still delicate. Every day is a victory, but there are also defeats. You can go five steps forward, and the next day you might do two backward. I’m learning to be patient with myself and not push it too hard. I will need to be patient and understanding with myself through this process. I don’t know exactly when it will be, but sometime soon I will be ready to be a full-time competitor. Hopefully in another month or two, I’ll be ready for everything. 

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