Never write off a WQS slop warrior too soon. When the springy, light-footed Brazilian Adriano De Souza first began his World Tour campaign in 2005, all the skeptics loved to prop him up as a reason why the WQS system didn't work. "He's one of the best in 2-foot surf," they'd say. "But what's going to happen at Teahupo'o or even J-Bay?" All except SURFING's Nick Carroll, who assured us that the kid known as "Mineirinho" (Little Boy) would be a quick study and adapt his game to the big stage. And now, looking at De Souza's seventh-place finish in 2008 and finals berth to kick of the year at the Quik Pro, it's clear that Carroll's prediction has come to pass. For the first time in a while, Brazil has a legitimate contender — and he has no intention of letting his country down. We caught up with Adriano yesterday on the Gold Coast, where he waited for his trainer, Rodrigo, to put him through another grueling "core" workout. (Yup. Him, too.)
SURFING MAGAZINE: Do you consider yourself a good student?
ADRIANO DE SOUZA: Definitely. It's my fourth year on tour now, and I've learned so much watching Kelly, Andy, all the big names, you know. I've competed so much against them and lost so many times that I've picked up some things along the way. Every time you lose, you learn something. And now it's starting to pay off.
Tell us about your dramatic turnaround last year. 28th in 2007 to 7th in 2008.
Last year I improved a lot because I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. It was an incredible year for me, because 2007 was so tough. Last year was when all these guys were coming up – Jeremy was improving a lot, Jordy and Dane were on tour, you had all these guys. I had to step it up, keep it going, or just forget about it.
And what's the secret to keep it rolling in 2009?
This year, it's just in my mind to keep improving, keep improving. To be competing at the top level against guys like Joel and Taj is just incredible, you know? But I'm ready for it. I prepared a lot during the off-season. I went to the Caroline Islands before the contest started. Got so many waves, 10 days before the contest started. It was amazing. Then I went to Australia in the beginning of February and worked a lot with Darren Handley getting my boards dialed. I felt very prepared.
What's the situation with you living in San Clemente?
Oh yeah. I moved there. I live with Timmy Patterson in San Clemente. It's just where everything's happening. The Red Bull crew helps me train there, and I got to spend about a month in January during that "big" winter. [laughs] Man, it's so cold over there in the winter.
Where'd you surf?
It was great because all I know is, like, San Clemente and Huntington because of the contests. But this time, I just got in the car and drove. I went to Rincon, Jalama, some other spots. I drove a lot of the coast. It was amazing, man. Such a good place. January is a great time to be there.
Who did you surf with here?
Yup. It was fun just checking it all out on my own.
OK. So, are you feeling like you're in the best shape of your life?
Yes. Right now, I have a personal trainer here in Australia named Rodrigo Bertonho. He gives me so much confidence and it makes a big difference in the contests. But this didn't happen the last couple of years. My whole training plan, diet, all that started five years ago with my doctor in Brazil. It's tough sticking to his program on the road, but I try my best.
You have a whole country behind you.
Oh, I can feel it. [laughs] Everybody expect me to be world champ, but the pressure is coming from me – not them. It's not something to think about right now – I can only focus on improving, improving, every contest.
You getting lots of support from the successful Brazilian pros of the past?
Definitely. These guys opened the door for me, and I have so much respect for them. Guys like Peterson [Rosa], Neco [Padaratz]…I just want to fly my flag on the top like these guys did and build on what they've started.
Does the generation below you have a lot of potential?
In every world juniors event, the Brazilians are always up there. Guys like Pablo Paulino, Jadson Andre. Right now, those guys are next. That's the difference. These guys are looking to do well on the World Tour not just looking to make it through the QS. They're setting their goals much higher.
Tell us about making your first World Tour final.
That was just the best day of my life. Just really, really stoked. Joel surfed amazing. I didn't catch any waves in that final, but I don't think it would have mattered. A perfect Parko is very tough to beat.
You had some good support on the beach, too.
Everywhere around the world, Brazilans come out to show their support. It means a lot.
How are you prepping for the Rip Curl Pro at Bells?
Well, I'm going to Margaret River in a few days. Just going over there to surf and get used to wetsuits and cold water and thick waves. Bells is a difficult wave to surf, so it's time to go find that rhythm again.