LEMOORE, Calif. (AP) — Italo Ferreira grew up without much in a small town with nothing to do.
His life began to change course when he discovered surfing — improvising with a cooler lid from his father, who sold fish in their native Baía Formosa in northeast Brazil.
And now, the 27-year-old surfing aerial master is on his way to the Tokyo Olympics as a world champion to watch.
“I started surfing with a Styrofoam cover from a box that my dad used to freeze fish,” Ferreira said in Portuguese. “I took it to surf because it was the only thing that could float and could hold me for a few seconds at a wave. That was what made me happy while my dad was working.”
This year, Ferreira and fellow Brazilian Gabriel Medina, 27, are expected to rule the men’s competition at surfing’s long-awaited debut as an Olympic sport in Tokyo.
The legitimizing Olympic platform and the duo’s unexpected rise to the top of the game — they’ve been dubbed the “Brazilian Storm” — in the past decade highlight how tough it may be for the exclusive sport to try to attract a mainstream audience.
While the surfing community has long pledged that the ocean is for everyone, the elite professional ranks show a sport that remains homogeneous, expensive and inaccessible. A series of recent industry efforts to help groom the next generation outside of the usual hot spots of Hawaii, California and Australia are a tacit acknowledgement of the existing disparities among its talent bench.