Brazilians Are Riding The Wave To Surfing Domination

This year, seven of the 36 surfers competing in the World Surfing League are flying the green and gold flag of Brazil

Filipe Toledo of Brazil - — REUTERS
Aug 28, 2015 at 6:08 PM ET

Fans of the Hurley Pro at Trestles — the only World Surfing League event in the continental U.S. — might notice something different about this year’s competition.

Seven of the 36 surfers will be flying the green and gold flag of Brazil.  Those gains comes at the expense of the Aussies, whose representation fell by 29 percent – from 21 in 2005 to 15 this year. The Americans, too, are down 40 percent. Six Americans were ranked in 2015, down from 10 in 2005.

Brazilians now account for one in every five surfers on the World Tour and 24 of the Top 100 on the World Qualifying Series. The first Brazilian world champ, Adrian de Souza, was crowned in 2014.

Despite its Polynesian roots, surfing has typically been a sport dominated by white athletes from countries like the U.S. and Australia. The sport appears to be getting more diverse with this wave of athletes from Brazil, a country that is comprised of people with European, African and Indigenous origins.  

The Brazil influx has been a long time coming, though. Brazilians began competing internationally in the late 1970s. Two Brazilian events were added to the tour in the late 1980s. In 1990, Fabio Gouveia and Flavio Padaratz were the first Brazilians to qualify for the World Tour. Only one other Brazilian surfer qualified in the next 23 years and that was De Souza.

The ancient Hawaiians were the first to ride waves for enjoyment, but once the sport was adapted on the beaches of California, modern surfing became overwhelmingly Caucasian – a fact explored in Ted Woods’ 2011 film, White Wash, which looked at how race shaped beach culture and waveriding in American history. As surfers prepare for the Hurley Pro in September, he’s leading a small fleet of his countrymen into the spotlight.