De Souza, who came into the event ranked No. 2, clinched the title by winning the semifinal over Hawaiian wildcard Mason Ho, dashing Australian Mick Fanning’s chances of a fourth world title.
De Souza has been on Tour for nine years. Though a few Brazilian surfers have made the World Tour in the past, de Souza is credited with knocking down the door of modern pro surfing and paving the way for the eight Brazilians who are currently dominating surfing’s elite Top 32.
De Souza has admitted that he doesn’t offer the excitement of many of his contemporaries, but his effort this year has been inspiring in hard work and sheer determination.
“The day of my life has arrived,” said de Souza, via live webcast, coming in from the water as the new world champ. “I have to dedicate this to my brother. He bought me my first surfboard for $7. I thought that was too much money. But here I am at the top of the world on $7.”
De Souza’s clinching of the title marks an end to a historic 2015. In professional surfing’s first year since making the transition from the Association of Surfing Professionals to the World Surf League, it garnered an unusual amount of attention from outside the surf world for epic waves, Kelly Slater’s controversial score at the Hurley Lowers Pro and, of course, Mick Fanning fending off an attack from a great white shark during the live webcast of the Jeffrey’s Bay Pro final.
Adding another wrinkle of emotion, Fanning learned on Wednesday morning that his older brother Peter had passed away in his sleep.
During a full day of epic 15-foot Pipeline on Wednesday, the hard-fighting Brazilian defeated Aussies Josh Kerr and Adam Melling in Round 4. The finals rounds, held on Thursday, were smaller with less barrels and were more challenging for all competitors. But de Souza was able to beat Kerr again in the quarters and then Ho in the semis.“I think Mick [Fanning] deserved [the title] more than me,” said de Souza. “He’s such a strong man, and the three-time world champ. I wished so much to give his mother a hug on the beach [for the loss of her son Peter].”
This is the second year in a row that a Brazilian has claimed the world title. Last year, it was Gabriel Medina. Fittingly, the two met in the Pipe final, and de Souza took the win, 14.07–8.50.
De Souza thanked Medina afterward for showing him how to win a world title. (Medina, for his part, won this year’s Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, of which the Pipe Masters was the final event.)
“It’s an extra bonus to be a Pipeline Masters champ like Jamie O’Brien, Kelly Slater and Bede Durbidge,” de Souza continued. “There is so much going on in my brain right now. I wish the waves were 10- to 15-foot Pipe for me and Gabriel Medina. The ocean didn’t cooperate like that today, but it’s still Pipe and Backdoor.”
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