With Gabriel Medina’s dominant World Title campaign last year, and the strong performances of his countrymen in the opening event of the World Surf League earlier this month at Snapper Rocks, it’s clear that the Brazilian Storm has arrived, and boy is it strong. In the past, Brazilians have gotten a bad rap, but every one I’ve come to know personally have been solid cats. The perfect example is my good friend Andre Giorenelli. Andre moved to Santa Cruz a number of years ago and earned respect and friendships with his positivity and kindness. Not only is he a great surfer, he’s an excellent representative of his Nation and exemplifies this in his role as Portuguese webcast announcer for the WSL. I recently chatted with Andre about his life and work, and about how he’s adjusted to being an outsider in a very localized town. Listen well, this man has a great deal of wisdom…
Where were you born?
Rio De Janeiro Brasil
At what age did you start surfing and at what beach?
At 9 years old at Postinho, Barra Da Tijuca
How were the waves in your local area?
Sand bar with fast barreling waves and two slabs on the outside. When it’s over 5ft the waves connects to the inside where the is a big barrel, and on the south swell the rights are very fast and on the east swell the lefts are pretty sick, shallow, fast and hollow.
I know you did some surfing professionally in Brasil. Describe to me the atmosphere around surfing competitively in Brasil. I’ve heard that it’s very hard to make a name for yourself over there?
Yes, I competed for many years and I was top 30 in Brasil and runner up in 2004. I also did some WQS events and my best result was a second place in Panama. Competing in Brasil is very different. You have to constantly fight in and outside the water– there was no priority in my day and no man on man heats. It was literally a war. Here in America is a little different most of the time. I did have some very heated heats– at one occasion a guy splashed water right in my face while I was trying to catch a wave. I understand this is part of the game, we’re not competing to lose, and sometimes the blood boils in the water. It’s nothing personal. After this incident we even apologized to one another and everything was fine. Another fact the is very different is that that in Brasil you need contest results to get a sponsorship and here you can get a sponsorship based on photos and videos. There is a lot of talent in Brasil that are unsponsored for that reason. Not everyone can win a contest but that doesn’t mean they are not good surfers.
What made you decide to move to the United States?
I lost my sponsorships and I was 30 years olden I knew it was going to be very hard from that moment on to get a new one. At the same time my wife Daniella got pregnant with my first son Zack. I have already visited Santa Cruz and I really liked the waves and the town, so in 2006 I decided to move.
Were you surprised at the difference in the lineup compared to Brasil? Or were things very similar?
Of course. In Brasil it could get really ugly if you don’t respect the rules in the water. I have seen many fights in and out of the water. And in most of the spots are full of Jiu-Jitsu fighters, but for my luck I have always trained Jiu-Jitsu and knew most of them. In Santa Cruz there are spots that the locals are more protective of, and some other spots not so much– just like everywhere else in the world.
Santa Cruz surfers are very protective of their spots and territorial. Was this a difficult thing for you to navigate as you began surfing here? How did you break through to earn the respect of the locals?
I think Santa Cruz for being a small town there are people with a protective attitude of their spot, but at the same time there are a lot of surfers that if you respect them they will respect you back regardless of you being a local or not. I think I earned the respect little by little and also knowing how to surf helped me out. But just knowing how to surf is not enough you also need to be respectful. In the beginning it was really hard because I was competing against the best surfers in town and the reputation of Brazilian surfers are not the best. But I think with respect and dignity I conquered my space. I don’t consider myself a local but I think people respect me enough so I can surf in peace.
So now you are working as a Portuguese web caster for the WSL. How did you get this job, and how has it been so far?
Yes! This will be my 6th year, I’ve always had a good relationship with all the people involved in the surf industry in Brasil. When I used to compete I always used to go to the web cast booth to talk about the surfers and the contest and with that I got the opportunity to work at the Hurley Pro 2010.
Is it pretty unreal to get to interview some of the best surfers in the world?
Of course! It’s a pleasure and an honor.
Any memorable interviews and/or free surfs with WSL competitors?
It was cool to have Kelly Slater a couple times with us and the free surfs are insane!
Now Brasil finally has a world champ. How well do you know Gabby?
Finally! Yes I know Gabriel and his family. They are great people.
His surfing last year was flawless. Some accuse him of having too much focus, and not connecting with his fellow world tour surfers on a personal level. Do you pick up that vibe from him, or if that just he he feels he needs to do to win, in other words, he’s not there to make friends?
I think if you want to be #1 you have to be a little bit egocentric. It’s easy to judge but he had to sacrifice a lot of things to get to be the world champion. If he wasn’t focused I don’t think he would support so much pressure for a 20 year old. Let’s be honest, it’s not that he doesn’t like his fellow competitors, it’s because he’s there to win. Kelly, Andy and Mick did the same. Gabriel has a great relationship with all the competitors.
You must be very proud of the rising Brazilian contingent coming up as of late. With their performance and styles matching there other counterparts, Why do you feel like the internet message boards are full of anti Brasil sentiment, which a lot of the times boarders on out right xenophobia and racism?
To be honest, we’ve already had plenty of good surfers in the past, but this new generation is the best one so far I’d say, without disrespecting any other generation. But the fact is the majority of surfers from generations past didn’t speak english and that created a big cultural barrier and this new generation most of them speak english so they can express themselves more politely in and out of the water. About xenophobia and racism unfortunately this happens in every culture, in surfing was dominated by Americans and Australians for a long time. So there is some prejudice against Brazilian surfers because there are many of them coming up at the same time. But I think with time this will change independently of your nationality.
Did you know Ricardo Dos Santos? How has his death affected the Brazilian surfing community?
Yes I knew him since he was a kid. He was a great guy and a really good friend. I think it had a very negative impact but unfortunately this happens daily in Brasil.
Besides your web casting job how do you speak your time when you are not surfing?
My life is not only surf… I love to be in contact with nature, hanging out with my friends and family. For me friends and family are the most important things!