It's the final day of the Oakley Lowers Pro and I'm standing on the upper deck of the VIP scaffolding, mingling with industry folk and athletes, including skateboard legend Bob Burnquist. As the final unfolds -- with Filipe Toledo dominating -- Bob, a fellow Brazilian, applauds Filipe's every tight wrap and tweaked air, of which there are many. I look around. The beach below us erupts every time Filipe so much as paddles for a wave.
When the final ends, I introduce myself to Bob and ask him for a quick word. Not about Filipe, but about a lofty frontside cork 540 Matt Meola had landed the day prior at home on Maui. You've probably seen it by now, but at the time the move hadn't been devoured by the Internet and I wanted to get Bob's perspective on it. He is, after all, one of the best skateboarders ever.
I whip out my iPhone and show him the clip. He asks me to replay it a few times so he can study the rotation.
"Don't get me wrong, that move is crazy. I think it's the best air I've ever seen. The height and rotation reminds me of the way we do it on a skateboard. But, the stuff Filipe is doing right now, it's even bigger than that air. I think it's the biggest thing to happen to surfing in a long time...maybe even ever."
"How so?" I ask.
"Filipe makes everything look easy. He's got that old-school/new-school thing where he mixes power with all of the tricks. And he's not making his success all about Brazil, you know? Brazil has always supported its athletes and Filipe supports his country, but it's not just about Brazil. It's bigger than that. I think people from all over the world are beginning to relate to Filipe and are inspired by his energy. He's changing a lot of the perceptions about Brazilian surfers."
On the slippery cobblestones out front, Filipe is being chaired up the beach, surrounded hundreds deep by family, friends and eager Southern California kids. On his way to the podium, where he'll receive a check for $40,000, Filipe high-fives them all.
I thank Bob for his time and walk down the stairs and onto the beach. I ask the first kid I see (about 10 years old, wearing an oversized event T and a backwards A.I. Forever baseball cap): Who is your favorite surfer?
"I have two," he squeaks. "John John Florence and Filipe Toledo."
Five years ago you wouldn't hear a grom outside of Brazil claim a Brazilian as one of his favorite surfers. But five years ago is an eternity. Five years ago Filipe was 15.
We saw this change coming. Which is why, six months back, we approached Filipe to be the centerpiece of a SURFING Magazine film, which we'll be releasing in October. Not long ago it'd be out of the question for an American media house to make a movie about a Brazilian. But times change. Just check the cover, this spread, and the feature from Indonesia starting on Pg. 64 for further validation. And in October, check for the movie.
We didn't choose Filipe because he's Brazilian. But we didn't not choose Filipe because he's Brazilian, either. We chose Filipe because he's one of the most exciting surfers in the world right now. He surfs with an energy and enthusiasm our sport has rarely, if ever, seen before. And it's why the majority of the people on the beach at Lowers were cheering for him -- and not just the ones that bleed green and gold. --Zander Morton