“Indescribable joy”: The pleasure of re-qualifying, with Miguel Pupo
By Steven Allain Miguel Pupo was in dire straits a couple of months ago. One of the most stylish Brazzos on Tour had a string of bad results since his third place finish at Snapper and desperately needed a strong result on the Q to qualify for 2016’s elite. And that’s exactly what he did, […]
By Steven Allain
Miguel Pupo was in dire straits a couple of months ago. One of the most stylish Brazzos on Tour had a string of bad results since his third place finish at Snapper and desperately needed a strong result on the Q to qualify for 2016’s elite. And that’s exactly what he did, at the Prime event in his backyard, which went down in Maresias, Brazil, at the beginning of November. With his entire family in his corner, Miguel dominated on São Paulo’s north coast and locked his spot on 2016’s CT with a deserved win. Here’s how it feels to walk the tightrope for a year…
Stab: You’re, uh, blonde now.
Miguel: (Laughs) Yeah, I told some friends that if I won the event in Maresias I would die my hair blonde. In the end, they all did it with me – there’s a whole bunch of blonde guys running around Maresias right now (laughs).
How did you feel winning an event at your homebreak and securing your spot in the WT, all at once? To be honest, earlier in 2015 I had a completely different goal for myself. I started well with a third at Snapper, and arrived in Brazil in the Top 10. My goal has always been to attack the WT and keep myself amongst the top guys. Everything was going according to plan. But, at some point, I just got kinda lost, really. I had a terrible European leg, where I usually do well. Then I lost in the first rounds of both Chopes and Fiji, where I expected to do well. In the end, I found myself in that terrible situation: needing results, both in the WT and the QS. So the event in Maresias was crucial for me. It was a tough contest and a very emotionally draining week. I took each heat as a battle, each wave was a conquest. I wasn’t even thinking about winning the event, I just wanted to make more rounds to get the points I needed to requalify. My heart was racing in every heat. All my family was on the beach, as well as friends who hadn’t seen me compete for years, so it was very exciting. When I won and they announced I was guaranteed in the WT, it was an indescribable joy. I even cried (laughs). My best victory and the best week of my life, no doubt.
How to win a QS:
Why did you have such an inconsistent year? Honestly, my plan was to fight for the title last year. And I started well, I was exactly where I wanted to be, in the Top 3. But that’s when I put a lot of pressure on myself, I started thinking way ahead, in all the things I had to do all year to stay at the top. What I should’ve done was to take things slowly and enjoy it all a little more. After all, I already had a good result. But the good performance at Snapper had the opposite effect on me. It all just went downhill from there. I should’ve taken it step by step, from event to event, working on building a solid campaign – but that’s not what happened. I can honestly tell you that the main thing I learnt in 2015 is to take things step by step.
Did you think at any point you might not qualify? I did, sure. It was heavy, man. After the Pacific leg – where in theory I should get good results – I felt really lost. I didn’t understand what was happening. I began to question everything. Was it my boards? My tactics? Friends? Girlfriend? It was weird because I was surfing well. I surfed well in 2015, for the first time in years I was feeling 100 percent, physically. For this very reason I was so confused by the lack of results. Adriano and Filipe were winning right and left – and there I was, at the bottom of the rankings. It was tough.
Backdoor, with Kelly as audience. Photo: WSL/Laurent-Masurel
How did you turn things around? After Tahiti I went back to Brazil, I talked a lot with my father and I started to get my head straight. I realised I was approaching it all wrong. I surf because it’s the thing I love to do the most in life. I had to keep that in mind, maintain perspective. After all, I was where I wanted to be all my life, on the WT. And for some reason I wasn’t having fun, I wasn’t stoked. And this realisation, these talks with my dad, were the turning point in my year. After that things started happening my way. I had two good results in Primes, got a 10 in Azores – and it all culminated in Maresias.
Gabriel, who’s your childhood friend, also had a difficult year, at least in the beginning. Then he came back to fight for yet another world title. Did you guys talk about the bad results? Did he give you any advice? We talked about it a bit before J-Bay. He told me to relax, that everything has its time and that things would get back on track for me. He knows how to handle pressure very well, he’s been there before.
Miguel’s lines are a pleasure to watch. This one, at J-Bay. Photo: WSL/Kirstin
How does having a father who’s a former competitor (and your shaper) help? Dude, it helps a lot, but it’s also a complicated relationship. We fight a lot, but always end up making peace. Those conversations we had in the middle of the year, after Tahiti, were very good because we talked about technique, boards, approach. I improved my boards, changed my surfing to what the judges want to see and the results came.
Changed your surfing? You really think you had to change your style to please the judges? When I say change my surfing, I mean show more attitude – not change my surfing style. I always surfed in a very relaxed way, not in a hurry. I believe this conveyed to the judges that I didn’t want it that bad. I wasn’t transmitting my energy to the judges, you know? I didn’t change my style, I just tried to surf with more desire, trying to show the judges more energy. Style is something natural, it’s the way we express ourselves. With or without will or desire, your style will be the same. It wasn’t about changing my style or my lines, but rather the energy, the attitude.
Outta the gates hard on the Gold Coast. Photo: WSL
Do you ride other shapers’ boards? Do you have the freedom to try other designs? I do, but it was difficult at first. I qualified riding only my father’s boards. But then at some point they weren’t giving me what I needed so I tried other shapers. I rode boards from JS, DHD and Mayhem. But it can get confusing, having boards from so many shapers. So I decided to use only JS’s, because Jason (Stevenson) was the guy who really opened his door for me, and treated me, honestly, in a way I never expected – he gave me all the support imaginable. The guy gave me tremendous freedom to talk and develop the best possible board and that was very good for me. At first my father rejected this, he was a little upset that I sought other shapers. But then he understood me and we both evolved a lot from it – because my father used a lot of characteristics that pleased me on the JS’s in my next boards. Today we developed a board that has all the features I like. It’s a board with very pronounced concaves and lots of rocker. It’s a board that almost no one on Tour uses, but it works for me. My father doesn’t like the way they look (laughs), he just says, “it’s too much rocker!” The board looks like a banana (laughs) – but it works for me.
It must have been a good feeling going to Hawaii with your spot in the 2016 WT secure. Oh man, it was the best! I hated the thought of having to battle for qualification over there. Everyone knows how hard it is to get a good result in any Hawaiian event, and if you have added pressure, it’s really difficult. But I went to Hawaii happy, without pressure. All I wanted to do was get some big barrels at Pipe.
Singing in the rain at Backdoor. Photo: WSL/Cestari
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