Out of all the amazing stories that came out of this year’s APB World Tour race, there were none more interesting that that of young Brazilian Socrates Santana.
Overcoming a life of adversity in the notorious favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Santana, along with good friends Matheus Bastos and David Barbosa, became known as the Favela Storm and proceeded to wreak havoc on both the Pro Junior World Tour and Men’s World Tour race.
And while many eyes were on Hawaiian supergrom Tanner McDaniel to run away with the Pro Junior World Tour title in 2015, he faced a tough challenge from the Brazilian trio.
In the end, it was Santana who took out the PJWT title after making it through to the final of the Encanto Pro Cultura.
We caught up with the 16-year-old after his historic win.
RT: Firstly, congratulations on winning the inaugural Pro Junior World Tour! How does it feel?
SS: It feels amazing, it’s hard to find words to describe what I’m feeling. Everything happened so fast. It scares me to think that two years ago I was competing on the sub-16 amateur Rio state tour and now I’m the 2015 Pro Junior champion.
RT: When you first entered on to the PJWT at the beginning of the year, did you ever think you would be the world champion?
SS: I’m not going to lie to you; when I enter a competition. I aim for the first place. I started competing at a very young age (10 years) with kids three to four years older than me. I had many losses in the beginning but learned from them. Competing with kids four years older than you gives you a lot of experience. I think that the fact that I started competing so young helped me to be more competition experienced. After my victory in Antofagasta against Tanner (McDaniel) I thought, I can fight for this world title. That moment was the turning point on the tour for me.
“After my victory in Antofagasta against Tanner (McDaniel) I thought, I can fight for this world title. That moment was the turning point on the tour for me.”
RT: At the start of the year, a lot of people thought the PJWT was Tanner McDaniel’s for the taking, but you, along with your compatriots Matheus Bastos and David Barbosa, became the story of the season with the “Favela Storm”. What was the experience of competing on the world tour with your friends like? And what have you learned this year?
SS: Tanner was an obvious bet for everyone. He is one of the best bodyboarders; he lives in an amazing place with excellent surfing conditions, has the support from Mike Stewart and has travelled throughout the world to surf different waves.
Honestly, since the beginning Tanner was the name to beat. But, since the PJWT is something recent, besides Tanner, we didn’t know who the other competitors were.
Frequently I compete against Matheus and David on the local and national tour so facing them on the APB Tour is not something completely new. I think it’s harder to compete against them because they really know your surf and strategies. Having the opportunity to travel, meet new people, languages and cultures is amazing. Every time I travel I get excited because I know that I’m going to have an amazing time and make new friends.
RT: Tell us about your childhood. You are from the notorious Favela Pavao-Pavaozinho. How did you get in to bodyboarding? How old were you at the time?
SS: Well, it all started when I was eight or nine years old. My cousin that is older than me is also a bodyboarder and he influenced me to start at the sport.
My family has a business at the beach were we rent beach chairs, beach umbrellas, sell coconut water, soft drinks etc. The name of this business is Dr. Socrates, named after my father who was also called Socrates and passed away when I was 10 years old. After school, I was constantly there, helping them out on the beach. When there were waves in posto 5 my brother allowed me to go and surf.
When I was 10 years old, Francirley Ferreira, the first professional bodyboarder from our favela, invited me to a bodyboarding social project that was funded by the state of Rio (the project started in 2008 and ended in 2012). At the school, I met Diego Roberto, Alexandre Oliva and Flavio Brito who gave me total support, equipment and assistance on competitions. Without them, I wouldn’t be here.
I started travelling with them for local and state competitions on the Sub 14 and Sub 16 amateur divisions. My first competition was in 2010 in a city North of Rio de Janeiro. I remember that I travelled over three hours and lost in my first heat! I was 11 at the time and competed against guys three years older than me. This was my official start in bodyboarding.
RT: When did you first meet Guilherme Tamega? How has he helped you in your bodyboarding progression?
SS: Flavio Brito introduced me to GT right after the Itacoatiara Pro 2014. I was riding for Void Rider but the company was about to close and I desperately needed a new board. GT said that he already had heard of me and was very happy to support someone from his local surfing spot the Posto 5.
Before accepting to represent GT Boards, he told me the values and mission that he hopes to accomplish with his team riders. It’s an honor and a big responsibility to be part of his selective team and being able to be part of his family. When he is in Brazil, I try to spend the most time possible with him to absorb his knowledge and experience.
RT: Have you spoken to GT since your win? And if so, what did he say?
SS: It’s has been crazy since my win. I’m receiving lot’s of messages on facebook, Whats App, Instagram etc. People from all around the world congratulating about the title. GT sent me a very emotive voice message, saying how happy he was and how much this title represented for him, and for Brazil. He told me that that last time he was so emotive was in 1994 on his first world title! This means a lot to me!
RT: Your good friend and rival Matheus Bastos was unable to compete in Puerto Rico due to visa issues. Did that motivate you more to win the title in his absence?
SS: Totally! I was surfing for myself and for Matheus. I made him a promise that I would bring this title for both of us. We are friends since kindergarten, raised together in the favela and started on the sport at the same time. He is like a brother to me, we get along very well and the least I could do was to bring back home the world title. It’s very frustrating what happened to him, but this strengthened him for next year. He will come back hungry for that title!
“I was surfing for myself and for Matheus. I made him a promise that I would bring this title for both of us.”
RT: Do you hope your win will help promote the sport in Brazil and inspire kids from the favelas?
SS: Yes, I do. Surfing last year exploded with the Brazilian storm. They reached mainstream media and everyone just spoke about Gabriel Medina and surfing. Brazil has over 30 world titles but because the sport is not strong, we don’t get that media coverage. I really wish that I can influence other kids from the favela to go and have fun and try bodyboarding. I started this way, just for the fun of it. There so much talent on the favelas but there isn’t any support. Matheus and I were blessed to have an entire support team (air tickets, accommodations, Visa, etc) to help us but everyone used their own personal investment to help.
This won’t last forever so what we really need is someone (a company) to embrace our project and give us aid to travel the tour decently. I hope that with my title, and the media attention that I’m getting, I can help bring investment to social school projects so more kids can start bodyboarding. I currently don’t have any sponsors, GT boards helps me with board and leashes and with GT’s support and wet dreams with accessories, that’s it. I’m looking for a wetsuit sponsor and someone to help pay for the travel expenses.
RT: What do you plan to do for the remainder of the year? Any surf trips?
SS: I’m going to Iquique, Chile for the ISA World Bodyboarding Games. Last year I won the bronze medal on the Sub 18 and this year I’m going to fight for the gold medal.
GT and Flavio made me a proposal that if I pass with good grades in school I’m going to Hawaii and stay in GT’s home for the winter season. It’s a dream coming true to surf in Hawaii with GT. As soon as I get back to Brazil I need to catch up with my studies ASAP. Since the beginning of the year, Steve Jackson helps me with English classes, he is a very good friend!
RT: What are your future goals in the sport of bodyboarding? Do you plan to one day win a Men’s World Tour title?
SS: I want to compete another year on the Pro Junior Tour and try to participate on the Pro events to get more experience. I feel that that there is still a huge gap between my surf and the Pro Surf. I hope that competing on both events will shorten the gap and maybe one will day I’ll be ready to fight for a world title. After finishing school I would love to live overseas to have the contact with another culture and learn English. Australia and Hawaii are two places that I would adore to visit, study and surf is something that I’m looking forward to doing.
RT: Lastly, Any shout outs? Who would you like to thank?
SS: First, I need to thank god for putting in my life so many special people that helped me throughout this hard journey. Thank’s to my mother, Ivonete Sansão, my brothers, Felipe and Igor Santana, Flavio Brito, Diego Roberto, Alexandre Oliva, Steve Jackson, Key, João Ricardo, Jonathan Cardoso, Guilherme Tâmega, Guido Nascimento, Pura Vida Hostel, Japa.com, Carla Lambert from Wet Dreams the Posto 5 community, and everyone that contributed on the crowd funding campaign.