Surfing’s Odd Future: Filipe Toledo
Interview by Steve Allain This is an interview with Filipe Toledo, conversed in Portuguese, written here in English. Now, Filipe is the most eloquent Brazilian on tour and a lot of that has to do with his move to California. He’s banking enough clams with Hurley to be solely supporting his family and you’ve gotta […]
Interview by Steve Allain
This is an interview with Filipe Toledo, conversed in Portuguese, written here in English. Now, Filipe is the most eloquent Brazilian on tour and a lot of that has to do with his move to California. He’s banking enough clams with Hurley to be solely supporting his family and you’ve gotta give him credit, because 19 year olds of such quality (and responsibility) are rare. Unheard of, perhaps. And it means he’s surfing for a lot more than just points each time he paddles out. Filipe would happily sit down with us and talk post-interview style but broad appeal is what Mr. Speaker wants, not us. We wanted Filipe on his terms, and removing a second language barrier limbers up any man’s articulation.
As a reader with contemporary values you’re long removed from the stigma of South American origins. That a young Brazilian man is the most perplexing in the air right now is not a surprise to you. The fact that it’s rarely celebrated, perhaps is. And with such a perspective comes the realisation that tomorrow is now. Four of the top eight on the QS last year were Brazilian. One of their brothers is King. Another brother recently fell, and spurred an outpouring of respect from all; Pipeline to Bells to Lowers to Embaú Guard. It’s this future we love. And with it, one of its finest gents, who you’ll meet here: Filipe Toledo.
Stab: Few would remember that you actually qualified at 17. Too young, do you think?
Filipe: To be honest, I didn’t think I’d ever make the cut in my very first year on the QS. A lot of people told me I should wait another year, to get more experience, to bulk up, but to me it was quite the contrary. It was good to get into the WCT early. My surfing changed a lot and I had to grow up fast. I just wanted to get amongst it and do my thing.
You’d barely finished school. Was that important? Well I managed to finish but yeah, it’s hard for surfers to go to school. There’s so much travelling, competitions, it’s easy for groms to give up on it. I know I wanted to, I never liked school. But my parents were always on my case, ‘cause our careers are so short, everyone knows that. And one day you might need an education to get a job or to get into college – I hope I’ll never have to, but you have to be ready. What’s not acceptable are dumb surfers. You have to at least finish high school.
Your English is perhaps the best of the Brazilians on tour. Do you take classes? I did a few classes, but not too much. I guess travelling is the best school. I’m learning it as I go. In these last three months that I’ve been living in California I’ve noticed my English improve a lot.
Is living in California better than Brazil? Yeah, there are more opportunities. California is the epicentre of the industry, all the big brands are here. I also “must” speak English, so I’ll get fluent one way or the other. Plus, I can be closer to my sponsors and the international media. But I think the most important part is to be able to provide a better life for my family. My brothers are going to school here and will soon go to college. It’s an opportunity I couldn’t pass.
This is Filipe’s bread and butter. But it’s the height of his frontside air, the degree of his tail’s direction and his to-flats landings which make him a Cuban amongst Marlboros above the lip on tour. Photo by Jason Kenworthy
Why “must” you speak English? I meant that if I’m immersed in an English-speaking culture, I’m forced to speak English and therefore I’ll learn eventually.
What exactly do you miss about living in Brazil? I miss my extended family and my friends, mostly. I miss my town, Ubatuba. It’s where I was born, grew up and where I learned to surf. So the place is part of me and I miss it, for sure.
You say there are more opportunities in California – what’s the most restrictive thing about Brazil? The problem in Brazil is that the brands and the industry don’t give athletes proper support. We have a bunch of top surfers and a World Champ yet in general, surfers are very poorly paid there, sometimes only with clothing. A lot of guys, really good surfers, have no sponsors. Everything’s more difficult for a surfer in Brazil. You’re always worried you’ll get dropped from a label or that you won’t be able to pay the bills, instead of being relaxed and comfortable and concentrating just on your surfing.
How do you feel being able to provide for your entire family like that? I feel like the happiest guy in the world, being able to use my abilities to help my family have a better life. We were never poor, we always had food on the plate and a roof over our heads. But we’ve always been just OK. And it’s great to have such an opportunity, living in the States with my family, getting to know new cultures and travelling with my dad everywhere.
You just re-signed with Hurley for five years. Secure for half a decade! It’s great, I don’t have to worry about renewing a contract every year. It’s amazing, really. My move to California happened in great part because everyone at Hurley helped out and were super stoked on me coming over. I mean, they helped us with everything, finding a house, furniture, enrolling my little brothers in school. I can’t thank them enough. They do such an awesome job, looking after such a big team. No wonder they have the biggest and best team in ‘CT history. I signed for five years, but I’ll stay as long as they want me to.
The gents on tour, from Brazil particularly, have very close ties to their parents still. For you, it’s with your Dad (a former two-time national champ). Tell us about your relationship. I think out of the four kids he had with my mum, I’m the most competitive. At home everything is a competition, we even race each other to answer the phone. But in surfing I was the one who liked putting on a jersey and competing. I got that from him, for sure. He’s always been a warrior, someone very determined who never gives up – and all I wanted to do was follow in his steps from a very young age. Today he travels with me everywhere, which is great ‘cause I get to pick his brain and use his experiences to my benefit. And in return I’m taking him to places he’s never been before, like Hawaii. Can you believe he’d never been to Hawaii before? Last year was his first time there, after some 40 years of surfing, so you can imagine how stoked he was. The best thing really is what I learn from him. He’s always giving me pointers, what fins to use, where the waves are better with what tide, small things, you know, but that helps a lot along the way.
A slob, thrown with height enough that the grab’s name is, in the truest sense, heavily contradicted. Photo by Jason Kenworthy
Explain the theory behind your Dad’s whistling during your heats. I can’t give my secrets away (laughs). Nah, seriously, it’s all part of our tactics. There’s different whistles for different situations. So there’s a certain whistle to let me know a set’s coming, and then there’s one that means I have to look to the beach to see his instructions. Another one is when I’m paddling back out and he’s giving me support. It’s always been like that, since I was a kid. We have it so dialled now that I know what he means the second I hear it.
When you first made tour we loved that you never held back, trying all sorts of airs in unorthodox sections. Is your spontaneity a conscious decision? Dude, I’ve always been like that. I’ve always been – I don’t know how to put it, a little cheeky? I like to risk it and try difficult airs. My dad always told me that I had to go out there, have fun and try whatever I felt like trying. “If you fall,” he’d say, “get back out there and try it again.” And I always carried that with me, that I can always try again and eventually pull it off. Knowing that makes me calm, makes me confident in my surfing.
Where do you see the future of airs going? What would you like to do next? Aerials today are at an amazing level. I mean, what some guys do today is very, very impressive but most CT guys are not doing it. I mean, Kelly pulled off that 720, Medina and John John are incredible. But besides those guys, I think the most inspiring stuff is being done by the air guys, not the competitors. In Brazil we have a lot of really good air guys. A lot. I saw Rodrigo Generik do a full flip the other day, I think he was the first Brazzo to pull it off. This kid from Guarujá, Ícaro Rodrigues, he’s bizarre. He’s really at the forefront of aerial surfing. I hope some day I can do what he’s doing, or make that 720 Slater did in Portugal.
What’s your relationship like with Medina since he won the world title? It’s good, hasn’t changed a bit. We talk and message each other all the time.
Who do you consider your biggest rivals on Tour? Everyone just loves beating Kelly (laughs). Can you imagine coming up to your boys at home and telling them you just beat the 11-time World Champ? That’s priceless, bro! But in all seriousness, everyone is a threat. And once in the water, they become your enemy. But yeah, if I had to point one guy out, Kelly is the one I like to beat the most.
Last year your best result was a fifth. What’s lacking in your surfing? There’s definitely lots of room for improvement in my surfing. If I’m not winning every event, then there’s something lacking indeed, right? I need more experience in places like Fiji, Teahupoo and Pipe. I need more power in my surfing. I need to bulk up and become a more solid surfer. Perhaps a better rail game. A lot of times the judges expect to see good rail-to-rail surfing, and I think I’m still quite weak at that. I’m working on it though. I want to keep evolving and getting better. My equipment is great, my boards are very good right now – the Sharp Eyes are flying! I have all the support one could ask for. I guess I need more experience really. I’ve got to keep trying. Eventually I’ll get it right.
Further proof of Filipe’s air time hustle. There’s few things he likes better than hucking a backside rote to the flats. Ankle game: Strong. Photo by Ryan Miller
Are you very critical of your own surfing? Yes, I am. I leave the water and straightaway I want to see the footage from the session. I think about how I could improve an air, do a rotation differently. And I’ll try that later on. Sometimes I paddle back out to try it right then, as not to forget what I want to change. Turns too, I look at what I’m doing, where I could get a better entry point and a more laid out turn, all the way to the flats. It’s very important to see yourself surfing on video, it helps with the evolution.
You mentioned the San Diego-based Sharp Eye Surfboards. You were previously with Firewire. Why the change? What’s your relationship with your shaper, Marcio Zouvi? My Firewires were going really good. I qualified for the WCT and had the best results of my life on them over the last couple of years. But I changed ‘cause I felt that in some conditions, a normal PU board felt better. In windy and choppy conditions, I felt that the Firewires were a little too feisty, too skippy. So last year I tested a couple of Marcio’s boards and they went really well. So this year he shaped me another two for the US Open and they were magic. I took them to Europe and they went really well. Another factor was that I was moving to California and wanted a closer relationship with my shaper, so at the end of the year I signed with Sharp Eye. We are pretty close, I surf with him all the time and we talk about the boards constantly. We’re about to launch my model too, the Holy Toledo.
Are you getting paid royalties for your model? There’s some sort of deal, but honestly I don’t know the details. My dad deals with the biz. But yeah, I have a salary and I get royalties from my model. My relationship with Marcio is much better than the ones I’ve had with other shapers. I believe that’s fundamental in a pro surfer’s career, to have a strong bond with your shaper. He’s really good too, when we go surfing together he brings new boards for me and wants me to try them all, even if I don’t ask him to. He’s great.
Word is Filipe, you’re the happiest guy on tour. Well, you have to remember where you’re from and be humble enough to know you’re a lucky bastard. I mean, we do what we love, travel the world to these picturesque places, surf the best waves, get paid for it. What else would anyone want? There’s no job better than ours, and we have to always remember that. I’m loving every minute of it!
Who’s your favourite surfer? I can’t deny it, I’m a huge Mick Fanning fan. The guy’s an inspiration, as a human and as an athlete. He trains so hard, he’s so focused. And I love to watch him surf. I love talking to him. I have no shame, I’ll come up to him and start asking all kinds of stuff, and he always chats with me. I love the air guys, but I also admire Mick’s surfing. The guy’s a champ in my book, and he’s the most supportive on tour.
Who are your boys on tour? Mostly the Brazilians, you know, they are the guys I travel with. Alejo and Miguel also ride for Hurley, so we travel together and share houses together a lot. But I have no preference, I’m friends with all the Brazzos, really. Besides them I guess Mick, he’s super cool. Also Michel (Bourez) and Brett (Simpson). They’re both really cool, humble and down to earth guys.
Who is the next talent coming from the mother country? In my humble opinion, it’s Yago Dora. The kid is blowing up in every surf movie, session, surf trip, whatever. He can ride the barrel, do airs, turns, has a sick style. From all the groms, he’s the best in my eyes.
Jetski step-offs are like getting paid in cash. It’s not entirely cheating, but it’s a little sketchy (unlike Filly’s in-air control). Photo by Jason Kenworthy
You said you like beating Kelly. But who’s hardest to beat? For me the four hardest guys to beat on Tour are: Mick, Kelly, Joel and Gabriel. Those guys are gnarly, they are always favourites in any condition.
For a single gent on tour at your age, there’s plenty of distractions, no? If I told you there were no distractions, I’d be lying (laughs). But I know how to separate the time to compete and the moment to rage. I know really well when and where I can let loose. And I always got my father, who doesn’t let me slip up (laughs).
Ricardo’s passing. How’s it affected the Brazilians on tour, do you think? What will change? It’s kind of hard to talk about that. But I think what became clear was the respect that the entire surfing tribe had for Ricardo. I mean, Pipe was perfect the day he died and all the Hawaiian locals, the hardest and toughest ones, made a point of asking everyone in the lineup to form a circle in his honour. They knew how much his death affected us Brazilian surfers and they felt it and supported us. It showed that we’re all brothers. It was beautiful. I think a lot of people were shocked to see that this kind of thing is a reality in Brazil and they felt really saddened by it. But I don’t think much will change. It was just great to see all the respect that poured from everyone in surfing.
Aside from the obvious shock of it happening to Ricardo, does it surprise you that something like this happened? From the outside, it appears this can be a common thing in Brazil. No surprises, at all. Unfortunately it’s the reality of our country.
Have you lost friends or acquaintances in similar ways before? Yes and no. I know people who got shot and killed, but never for no reason. They were mixed up with something dodgy. I never knew anyone who was killed in such a cowardly way, for absolutely nothing – like it happened to Ricardo.
Are you religious? Yes, I’m Christian.
Do you go to Church and pray? I go to Church every now and then, when I can. And I pray. I grew up that way, my parents always took me to Church and I believe it’s important to maintain a connection with God. To me that brings peace and in this hectic life we lead it’s very important to have at least a little bit of it.
Dane’s told us you’re one of the best aerialists in the world. Up there with JJF. No way! Really?
Yeah, really. That’s awesome! What an honour. I mean, the guy’s a legend. He’s an inspiration for everyone, even the ‘CT guys. We all stop what we’re doing to watch him surf, in the rare opportunities that we get to see him in a comp jersey. So yeah, I can only thank him for that – and thank God for everything good that’s being happening in my life.
If you’re writing a SWOT analysis on this kid’s surfing you’re putting barrel riding (particularly backside) under Opportunity. Filipe’s sure working out the style side of things, though. Photo by Jason Kenworthy
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