Is Surfing Ready for a Brazilian World Champ? Is That Question Racist?
Words by Tom Freed Back in 2008, on the cusp of the American presidential elections, my little old Jewish grandma (who pretty much lives up to any and every stereotype you could conjure) told me something quite matter-of-factly: “America isn’t ready for a Black President.” Not even an “I personally think…” prefacing that assertion, just a […]
Words by Tom Freed
Back in 2008, on the cusp of the American presidential elections, my little old Jewish grandma (who pretty much lives up to any and every stereotype you could conjure) told me something quite matter-of-factly: “America isn’t ready for a Black President.” Not even an “I personally think…” prefacing that assertion, just a simple statement of fact. Indeed this declaration inferred that not only were we as a country not ready to accept a minority taking charge, but furthermore, of said-minority’s inability to lead our country properly. Now, certainly grandma is from a different time (ironically, a persecuted minority herself) but don’t get it twisted; grandma’s kind of a racist.
Now, the question, “Is surfing ready for a Brazilian world champ?” is the same thing. It infers, beyond the mere fact that Brazilians haven’t accomplished this feat yet, that the world is not ready because Brazilians are somehow incapable of doing it. Questions and statements like this in surfing, however, are nothing new. Brazilians, nearly every event, deal with subtle and patronizing comments masked as ‘compliments.’
Gabs didn’t have an ideal game at last year’s Rip Curl event. He could, possibly, maybe, win the world title at this year’s event. Be certain that he’s been studying tapes from last year and prepping like you wouldn’t believe. Photo: Rip Curl
Granted, being a commentator is no easy task when most times in a surf comp, the two or three guys in a 35 minute heat are actually performing for a collective total of two minutes, while the other 33 are spent waiting in the ocean for waves to come. Thus, we forgive our commentators for overused buzzwords. But usually, the buzzword you hear most often to describe Brazilians is “passionate.” And passion is a funny, loaded word. Meant as a compliment, and derived from the Latin for “pain” and “suffering,” the label involves an element of unreasonable emotion. Save Kai Otton, “passionate” is an overused blanket term employed to describe Brazilians in the act of: getting worked up, claiming, crying, profuse patriotism and more. It’s a double-edged sword. It’s annoying because it seems like it’s the greatest compliment they can come up with and it’s racist because it infers a lack of collectivity and cool-headedness that they apparently don’t display as much as another ethnicity.
Style is another funny word when attached to Brazilians. Remember when the commentators used to generously compliment Miguel Pupo on his style? The clear subtext was that Miguel had great style…for a Brazilian. Much like the subtle racism back in ’07 when constituents were praising Obama for being “well-spoken and articulate.” As if this compliment were at all necessary for a Harvard Law scholar.
But back to the question. Is the world ready for a Brazilian world champ? I dunno, was Australia ready for Julia Gillard? Was Strider ready for the mic? Am I ready when Starbucks goes all Christmas-red after Thanksgiving for the Holidays? Is the world really ever ready for anything? Shit just happens and we adapt and we deal with it and suddenly, it’s not the end of the world anymore. That, or we try and do something about it if we’re not happy, but if Americans aren’t ready to see a Brazilian win a world title, we sure ain’t producing anyone remotely close to stopping him (Kelly can’t hold that flag forever, baby.) And just look at the WQS ratings: Crickets from America, blaring Bossa Nova from Brazil.
Another thing to consider is that no matter how much people bicker, comment and complain about the results along the way — there sure ain’t no Affirmative Action on the WCT. As Slater-philic as the judges and commentators seem, Gabs is wrecking everyone on Tour fair and square. Nobody in that group of near-middle-aged white men with the scorecards are juicing a Brazilian, that’s for sure.
“The world had better be ready ‘cause there’s one in the driver’s seat,” Kelly Slater told Stab in reference to the question, and expanded on Instagram: “He’s (Gabriel) the most dangerous guy in the world of surfing. Why? He can and does win in waves and conditions where he doesn’t even have a lot of experience at yet and people don’t know what to expect. He’s more determined and hungry for the win than any other surfer. He’s complete, combining airs, barrel riding, and carving. He can shoot whole video parts in single sessions. He has passed every test thrown his way. Even though I’m gonna do everything in my power to stop this guy this year, I’m a big fan of his surfing and he’s a really good guy.”
So Kelly can deal with it. Can you? Anyways. Here we stand, Fall of 2008 again, wondering if the world will explode because the foreign, sweet scent of change is in the air. But it’s the year 2014, motherfuckers, and grandma, you racist sonofabitch, we’re still here! The world hasn’t ended! Love you, bubby…
Flips were just another element of surfing that Gabriel set his mind to learning. And before long, he was stomping the biggest in the biz.
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