“I know how to lose! But fuck you.
Three minutes from the end of the last quarter-final on Saturday, 2019 world champion Italo Ferreira held a lead and a priority on Jack Robinson.
Robinson needed a high six, an achievable but solid score for a day with waves of questionable quality.
Jack asked for space, but Italo gave none. The men were so close that their arms clashed with each stroke.
“That’s how you control your opponent,” Rabbit said. “He’s within the turning radius of his surfboard.”
The sets scroll.
Out of position, they dodge first.
There is less than a minute and a half left. Italo is forced to use his priority and catch a wave.
It cuts on takeoff but it makes it float gently. He curls under the lip, puts the stocking out, comes back and kicks it. As the wave gets bigger, it wraps twice more before hitting the final section with power.
It’s as good as any in the heat so far, and looks certain to at least match the 7.10 it currently holds as its best score.
He rides in the lime, upright and triumphant. An arm with the index finger extended is in the air, pointing to the beach and the judges.
He hits his chest with his fist.
Job done, wrapped in warmth.
But not quite.
Twenty seconds from the end, Robinson sets off on a mediocre wave. It carves under the lip with some speed, comes back, hits the lip again, before healing the flatter section. He does the final section unspectacularly, applauding himself on the beach.
The wave is good, but it seems unlikely to disrupt the result, especially given the last bigger wave from Italo.
The partisan crowd is audible, as it has been throughout Jack’s last wave, but the cheers seem out of proportion to the race.
We wait for the scores to drop.
Robinson is likely to have his second-best scoring wave, but unlikely to be enough. It’s unclear what he knows of Italo’s last race.
The camera stays with Jack. He stops on the stairs and closes his eyes. He utters something we can’t hear, a silent incantation to the judges, wanting them to give him the score.
He gave a straight seven, Italo a 6.70.
It was almost as if the scores had been mixed up.
Cameras follow the two men in a split screen, once again highlighting the clear and eerie improvements in production quality at this event.
Jack is congratulated by friends and supporters, Italo smashes his board against the locker room walls and howls in the wind. Someone close to him quickly puts a cap on the camera lens.
As Jack heads for the lockers, a camera crew rushes in, clearly chasing a furious Ferreira on his way to confront the judges. If it’s the Make or Break team, which I can only assume, they definitely get the drama they’re looking for.
Then, in an unusually smooth production move, we see a drone angle of a shirtless Italo in the judges’ tower demanding answers.
It was really engaging and for once the WSL didn’t shy away from the negative side of professional sport.
For every winner, there has to be a loser, and that’s often more compelling.
And what about winning?
Have you tasted success? Did you like?
More importantly, what did it do to you?
Whatever your understanding of success, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to suggest that any of you have come as far in such a short time as Italo Ferreira.
But at what cost ?
Remember who Italo was when he came on tour.
He was unknown to all of us, but an undeniable talent with an electrifying backhand. Out of the water, he was characterized by a radiant smile and endearing English.
Looks like someone else now, right?
Who could have predicted this character arc. It’s barely four years since he won his first event, three since his world title. Earn an Olympic gold medal, national hero status and millions of followers.
Who else in the history of surfing has become so detached from who they once were because of competitive success?
The impact is evident in his demeanor, physique and style.
His body seems carved out of granite. It is adorned with elaborate piercings and jewelry, risque fashion choices and tattoos. He travels with influencer girlfriends and an entourage. He sprays aggressive slogans on his boards. And he wears an almost permanent scowl.
All of this is fine. His choices are his choices, but that’s a far, far cry from a boy whose first surfboard was the lid of a cooler where his father kept the fish he sold on the beach.
Within a few years, Italo Ferreira might as well have been torn from his old life and transported to another planet, and all because of surfing.
Realistically, it’s hard for any of us to really sympathize with Italo or understand his psychology.
But winning is addictive.
No matter the setting, once you’ve had it, you never want to let it go.
What would you do to keep that feeling?
Would you clamp your jaws around him like a terrier with a rat, shake him until his spine breaks, until his belly tears from anus to throat, and blood and entrails dripping from your chin?
This is Italo’s approach to surfing. It changed his life and he is not about to let go.
During the heat, there was a phone call from Tom Carroll. He revealed that he and Italo shared an affinity.
They “just clicked,” Tom said.
“It makes perfect sense,” agreed Joe.
But the thoughtful, measured, intelligent Tom Carroll of today is different from the Tom Carroll of yesteryear.
I wonder which side of the man Italo identifies with?
And what does Carroll see of himself in Ferreira?
I have no doubt that Italo will figure things out, but it might not be this year. It may take time and perspective, and maybe some help.
We can’t blame his hunger or motivation, nor should we deny him that. Without consequence and without passion, sport is nothing, and that’s what Italo gives us.
“Eu sei lose!” Mas vai tomar no C…”, he tweeted once the dust settled. Complete with middle finger emoji.
Translation: “I know how to lose! But fuck you.