Seven years a surfer and lots of hype circulates Yago Dora. A beautiful combination of Brazilian hustle and inspired style.
Surfing's Odd Future: Yago Dora
Words by Jake Howard | Photos by Tom Carey
“I was born in Curitiba where there is no ocean,” says 18-year-old Brazilian Yago Dora. “When I was four we moved to Florianopolis. I’ve lived there ever since. Surfing started for me when I was 11. I always used to want to be a professional soccer player, but now I’m 18 and surfing is all I want to do. My father was my teacher when I started surfing, now he is my coach.”
Three things about that statement: First, Yago was born without a drop of salt water near him. He’s only been surfing for seven years. Kolohe Andino had been winning heats for seven years by the time he was 11. Second, in soccer’s spiritual home every kid aspires to be Pele. It’s a nearly impossible dream. Competition from every corner of the country’s three million square miles is fierce. In turns, surfing has become an alternate route to sporting success and financial stability. And third, Yago, like world champ Gabriel Medina, is banking on family to take him to the top. While Americans and Australians employ the help of agents, handlers and coaches, the South American contingent keeps it blood.
How perfectly Brazilian young Yago is, and how prodigious. But what it means to be Brazilian in 2015 is a far cry from the 30-year-old racist caricatures that still plague lineups from Lowers to Snapper to Pipe. Thankfully, and rightfully so, they’ve been forsaken for explosive aerials, understated style and humility.
“Dane, John John, Julian – I really enjoy watching a lot of surfers, but those guys, they’re my favourites. It’s just really enjoyable to watch them, and to learn from their different approaches,” says Yago, revealing the awestruck grom in him. He’s seemingly unaware that sooner rather than later he’s probably going to be standing toe to toe against John, Jules and Gabby. And, he’s fast becoming a favourite of said gents and others. “They’re all very interesting surfers. They’re all very good in every kind of conditions and they’re always putting on a good show.”
In the obliviousness of youth, Yago may be too naive to know what he’s a part of; a consortium of talent who now know nothing of the impossible anymore. Or maybe he understands this better than anyone.
“I really want to get onto the world tour, but my main goal is to surf the best I can,” he says. “If I can keep improving and progressing I’m going to be happy.”
Don’t be fooled. There’s fire in this thin frame. There’s fire in the belly of every Brazilian surfer! Passion isn’t in short supply in their camp. And the floodgates have blown. Medina’s title is the touchstone, the shot heard around the world. He’ll always be the first Brazilian world champ, but he won’t be the last.
“I think it’ll open the doors for the next generation of Brazilians,” surmises Yago. “I’m really curious to see what happens in 2015. There is a lot of talent in Brazil right now, and a lot of momentum. It’s a really exciting time for us.”
But more than just what happens in the water, on their way to stardom, kids like Yago endure hardships unimaginable to their average classmen from Orange County or the Gold Coast. Even the well-off and well-insulated aren’t immune to the scourge of criminality and corruption in Brazil, where just going to the beach can be dangerous. The violent and senseless death of Ricardo dos Santos reverberated around the world, bringing attention to the razor’s edge most Brazilian’s walk. Three bullets took Ricardo too early. He was standing up for a better world when he was carelessly gunned down. It could have easily been Gabriel, Yago, Alejo Muniz, Filipe Toledo or any number of up-and-comers.
Breaking down the stereotype of Brazilian ineptitude in waves of consequence, Ricardo received the Andy Irons Award for his performance at the 2012 Billabong Pro, Tahiti. Now he will be canonised the same as Andy, Eddie, Sion, Chesser and all of the others whose end came too soon. But more than this, Ricardo will galvanise his countrymen. They will rally around his memory, and they will emerge as the role models that stand up against the violence that surrounds them everyday. Courtesy of a first-ever WSL title, surfing is enjoying unprecedented popularity in Brazil, and if sport is a vehicle for change, the combined impact of Gabriel’s accomplishment and Ricardo’s tragedy will serve as a potent amalgamation of motivation. It’s kids like Yago that will carry the torch.
Perhaps it’s bold to say, and maybe time will prove otherwise, but for the foreseeable future, Brazilians holding positions in the upper ranks of professional surfing seems a foregone conclusion. They could own the next decade. Could. Many say Kolohe Andino or Julian Wilson want titles, but what do they really have to prove? They’ve got the money and lifestyles that suit them. What’s the motivation beside just winning for winning’s sake? Victory without adversity is hollow. It could easily sway in the favour of Brazil. There’s numbers, undeniable talent and motivation. It’s not show of friends; it’s show of business.
As footballer Neymar Jr. outpaces LeBron James for followers on Instagram and becomes one of the most recognisable athletes in the world, Brazil rises with him. Last summer during the World Cup Neymar partnered with Waves For Water, the same non-profit organization the WSL recognises as its official charity. The goal was to bring access to clean water to every city that hosted a soccer game. In less than a month the project raised more than a quarter million dollars and quality of life for tens of thousands of people improved as a result. That’s the power of celebrity when directed the right way. Surfers took note. Alejo and Filipe got actively involved in a clean water implementation when the tour came through Rio. They both called the experience life-changing.
A kid like Yago soaks all of this in. He will weave it into the fabric of his young life. In the last year he’s seen Gabriel become his country’s first world champion. He’s seen a brilliant tube rider gunned down in cold blood. He’s seen Brazil’s biggest soccer player give back in the exact same way his friends Alejo and Filipe did. Singularly one of those would be enough to shape a man’s life, but combined, that’s some character defining stuff.
But Yago’s only 18. He’s only been riding waves for seven years. Seven years. Before he becomes an agent of change he just wants to go surfing. And, so he should.
“I’m looking forward to competing and getting into the Prime events for the second half of the year,” he says, “but the most important thing I want to do is to keep improving my surfing, to travel, find perfect waves, and try to surf my best.”
Surf your best and good things will follow.