The Main Event
By Tom Ekman
Kalani Lattanzi scores 1st place in the handplane division again this year.
Everyone loves a good upset, and the finals at Itacoa Legends 2017 did not disappoint. 15 year-old Leonardo Moura, from a town to the east of Rio, took the bodysurfing (no handplanes) category by storm, snatching first place from the established favorites and seasoned pros. In the words of veteran competitor Thiago Maciel, Leonardo’s performance in the comp was “a revelation.”
15-year-old prodigy Leonard Moura in the Bodysurf Finals. Photo: Fernando Amorim ( zeriodoiszoom )
The main event was called for a Saturday, which dawned with small surf and cool, cloudy skies. The waves were breaking close to shore, and the judges and crowd of over 100 lined the edge of the water (much like the crowd at Pipe). Out on the ocean, the wind was white-capping from the East, but the 400-foot granite dome looming over Itacoatiara Beach provided a windshadow which yielded a bizarre mix of slack wind, squirly downdrafts, and intermittent offshore blasts.
The main event as viewed from atop the dome (note the event shelters/gazebos and the line of spectators on the shore).
In the quarter-finals, 22-year-old Itacoatiara local and big wave waterman Kalani Lattanzi scored mega-points with a front flip. As he pulled the trick, Kalani’s fins slapped down on the water with a resounding, “SLAP!” sound, and the crowd went wild. Kalani sports a Road Warrior-style fauxhauk and is stacked with thick muscle from head-to-toe. He is 100% Rockstar material -- even his custom Mormai wetsuit has his name on it. I watched in the quarters as Kalani methodically logged his 10-wave limit, and then came in, grinning and high-fiving everyone. He knew he’d already won before the other competitors even got a chance to finish their heat.
Kalani Lattanzi making bodysurfing history at Nazare, Portugal.
Kalani Lattanzi locking in 1st place in “handsurf” (no plane). Photo: Fernando Amorim ( zeroisdoom )
While Kalani is adept at spins, what’s more impressive is his impeccable wave choice and ability to always find optimal speed. In the quarters, semis and finals, Kalani demonstrated an uncanny ability to find a line to the sand on most of his waves. I noticed that Kalani would consistently speed up on the inside, where most other competitors would get shut down, allowing him to connect the last, impossible sections right to the sand. Thiago Maciel thinks this speed on the inside comes from in-wave kicking, but I think it might also just be some kind of Kalani magic. The end result was always the same: Kalani would triumphantly ride up onto the sand with an ear-to-ear smile, and the crowd would burst into applause. Then, like a rubber gorilla with fins, Kalani would get up and stomp back into the water.
The judges table.
In the “Bodysurf” (no plane) semis, Leonardo Moura surfed a perfect heat, with one wild-cheering-from-the-crowd ride after another. Surf industry veteran Ben Lonsdale, seeing his first bodysurfing event, commented “Wow! Now that guy is really good!” Leonardo had that effect: it wasn’t like he was doing any new moves, but he was beating the old guard at their own tricks. His spins in both directions (i.e., standard/outward and inward/contra-wave) were flawless, and he consistently got deeper and longer on every wave. Finesse, rather than brute force, was Leonardo’s edge. What took the other riders decades to develop, Leonardo was already doing at age 15. And in the case of the handboard finals, we was doing it better.
Moura brought his own cheering section of family and Brazilian teenagers, and they erupted in joy and surrounded him with a flash mob-style hug at the end of the heat. (He probably appreciated the warmth: this skinny teenager had no wetsuit, and was shaking like a leaf when he came out of the water.) “Who is this kid?” was the thought on every one’s mind. And perhaps more importantly: “how will he be riding in a few years?”
Leonardo Moura wins the handplane division.
Moura talking with Thiago Maciel.
This is the stuff that makes contests so exciting: it’s like a snapshot of the state-of-the-art of the sport at any given moment. Not only did Legends showcase the crème-de-la-crème of bodysurfing talent, it also gave us a glimpse of the future with Leonardo the 15-year-old water genius. We got to see some of the best talent in the sport, as well as a glimpse of the next generation.
But this ain’t the WSL Top 34, and these guys don’t have lucrative sponsorships or groupies (though I certainly looked hard for them). The pure soul that underlies our collective love for bodysurfing has a democratizing effect: while we greatly admire the best athletes, they do not take on the deity-like status of a Mick Fanning. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Legends 2017 was the quality of the people, and the top talent in the sport were just as friendly as everyone else. The Brazilian crew is all about the love of bodysurfing, and their huge surf de peito family really rolled out the red carpet for us again this year.
The handsurfing awards ceremony. (Ironic that the award for the no-plane division is…a handplane). Photo: Fernando Amorim.
Muito obrigado to real-life legends JC Rodriguez, Vinicius Dobbs, Rodrigo Bruno, Marcelo Zampieri, Marcio Cuoto, and of course contest organizer Lucas Castro, for making us feel so welcome and throwing bodysurfing’s most-soulful surf contest. See you all next year!
Photo: Fernando Amorim ( zerioisdoom )
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