Stab Magazine | From Brazil, with love (and the biggest beach crowd ever!)
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From Brazil, with love (and the biggest beach crowd ever!)

Words by Jake Howard The holy grail of surf contest promotion is butts in the sand, and with a sea of green and yellow stretching really, really far at Barra da Tijuca on Sunday, the Rio Pro packed more Brazilian derrières on the beach than the WSL could have ever hoped. Ballpark estimates put the […]

news // Mar 8, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Words by Jake Howard

The holy grail of surf contest promotion is butts in the sand, and with a sea of green and yellow stretching really, really far at Barra da Tijuca on Sunday, the Rio Pro packed more Brazilian derrières on the beach than the WSL could have ever hoped.

Ballpark estimates put the finals day crowd at well over 20,000 people. Looking at the photos it seems that number should be staggeringly higher. A routine sponsor signing with John John was mobbed by screaming teen girls as if he were Justin Bieber. Gabby Medina hired a security detail of five private patrol cars to supplement the official police vehicle parked out the front of his house all day and night during the entire waiting period. WSL officials put athletes on notice that they were not to throw any leashes, broken boards or jerseys out to the crowd for fear of people getting trampled.

This guy, amirite? Photo: WSL

This guy, amirite? Photo: WSL

It has been called “one of the biggest days of professional surfing so far this year” by the WSL. While it’s not overly definitive, it’s still an understatement. Sunday brought into perspective exactly what the “Brazilian storm” looks like at the source. It’s much more than Filipe throwing impossible rotations, or Adriano’s passion, or Gabby’s world title. It’s emblematic of a country on the move.

“The first thing I did was cry,” Filipe told commentator Rosy Hodge from the back of the ski following his near-perfect performance in the final. “Because… look at the crowd.”

By the time said final kicked off the crowd was frenzied to the point of being downright scary. It took a team of more than a dozen security guards just to escort Filipe to the waterline. The only place he was safe was in the lineup. It was chaos… and it was glorious.

Last month’s show at The Box was great for online viewership, but having actual flesh-and-blood humans attend an event is huge. It was the injection of energy that the tour desperately needed to shake off the malaise.

It could also prove to be a fiscal boon. Case in point, there’s a reason Nike sponsored the US Open a few years back. Much like Barra da Tijuca, the quality of the waves mattered little. At the time it was the most attended surf contest in the world and the sportswear behemoth had targeted the Open as the perfect vehicle to “grow the sport” (i.e. make a pile of cash). As is usually the case in Surf City, a riot eventually broke out and the comp has since been rejigged. It’s easy to see the Rio Pro taking on this role. Brazil may be the spiritual home of soccer, but the country loves the beach.

Post-final vibes. Take your pick, Filipe. Photo: WSL/ Alexandre Salem

Filipe tries to comprehend the burden of choice he’ll later be faced with. Photo: WSL/ Alexandre Salem

Financial support is helping fuel this Brazilian storm, too. WSL prize money and most of the surfers’ sponsorship contracts are doled out in US Dollars. Currently the value of the Dollar is about 3:1 compared to the Brazilian Real, meaning surfers like Filipe, Gabby, Miguel Pupo and more wield a greatly enhanced earning power at home. Surfing has become a viable way to elevate one’s self from hardscrabble circumstances, much like the pursuit of an NBA career in US inner cities. Most recently it vaulted 20-year-old Filipe to bonafide celebrity status.

And, it’s all on the up. In recent weeks the WSL announced that Samsung is back as the tour’s blanket sponsor. They’ve signed a multi-year deal for an undisclosed amount. The WSL has also partnered with New York-based online video technology company NeuLion, which will assist with distribution and monetisation of live and on-demand content. Jeep has signed on as the title sponsor of the men’s and women’s leaderboard, as well as the first place gold jersey. Tag Heuer is now the official timekeeper of the Big Wave World Tour. And the broadcast deal the WSL made with Brazilian telecom giant Oi proved to be hugely successful. Based on the crowds we saw in Rio, it seems likely that more mainstream attention is likely.

“The crowning of their maiden world champion in Gabriel Medina, the current frontrunner of Adriano de Souza, the electric surfing of Silvana Lima and the rest of the Brazilian surfers on tour,” said WSL CEO Paul Speaker in a press statement. “There’s never before been a more exciting time for Brazilian surfing.”

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