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Is America Still The Land of Opportunity For Surfers?

The Land of Opportunity.

That’s what they call it, right? What they call the USA? Because that’s usually what most people move here for. It’s what some people crawl through cactus and barbed wire or wade across a river for. What some people sneak inside of Matson containers for weeks at a time over entire oceans for.

For that one, desperate break.

In the surf world, while most guys’ stories aren’t that dramatic nor compelling, they too, make the move for more opportunity. And Southern California is pretty much surfing’s Ellis Island. What is this enigmatic “opportunity,” though? ‘Cause minus this season (thanks El Niño!) it surely ain’t the waves.

“I fell in love with my wife and found it easier to base out of California instead of West Oz,” says Aussie transplant Yadin Nicol. “WA is so far from everything — that’s one of the reasons it makes it so special, but also why it makes it kinda shitty. I never thought I’d live in California full-time; the waves are horrendous here in comparison to WA. I probably took it for granted growing up there, the waves are so good and consistent. Honestly, it can hard to be a surfer here in Cali. Sure, you can surf pretty much everyday, but the wave quality here just isn’t like home…”

OK, we get it Yades, wasn’t for the waves. But, his opportunity? Love.

So there’s one.

The common reason, or opportunity for this migration, however, is for the age-old adage: To be closer to my sponsors. And indeed, most said-sponsors are in Southern California.

Oddly enough, a gent that made this move for that exact same reason — and then was like, Nah, I’m good — was reigning world champ Adriano de Souza. Adriano actually moved over to Dana Point in 2012, stayed for a total of a year, figured out that all So Cal got him was a Brazilian sponsor with a name uncomfortably close to the word penis (remember Pena?), and moved back to Brazil. A base from which he’d go onto win the world title a couple years later.

Go figure, Opportunity.

Believe it or not, Adriano’s reverse-migration back to Brazil doesn’t surprise me. I’m actually in Brazil right now and I can tell you from firsthand experience — that while surfing could use a little kick in the tuchis at home — surf culture here in Brazil is ROBUST. Brazilian pro surfers are commonly on major network talk shows, Medina hangs with global soccer celebs, Adriano’s a national household name and there’s a popular channel (Canal OFF) on television here that airs surf-related programs 24-hours a day.

And this surf-obsession isn’t reserved only for Brazilians. There’s an entire show on that channel dedicated to John John called John John Florence that’s 25-minute-long episodes of edited b-sides of JJF from the comps, free surfing and shit that didn’t make it into ‘Blue Moon.

Know who doesn’t have a show solely about John John? America.

One could posit that, due-to-and-besides having back-to-back world champs, Brazil’s current massive surfing popularity has to do with (minus Filipe half-the year) its heroes staying home. Brazil has proven surfing icons now, and they’ve chosen not to leave the homeland in order to be closer to their sponsors.

Might this be the new path? Will would-be surf immigrants just stay at home to bolster their culture to avoid a surfing “Brain Drain.” To avoid the plight of doctors and lawyers from India or Pakistan who left their homelands for “opportunity,” just to drive a taxi in the Bronx? Or whatever the surfing metaphor for that is.


But alas, it ain’t like there’s no more gold in these hills. The waves of grain are still amber, folks. Take a trip somewhere and you’d plainly see the dollar is stronger than ever. And all those Brazilian’s main sponsors are still groovin’ and based out of Orange County, USA.

‘Cause you know what companies are the alternative in Brazil? Brands like Redley. Free Surf. Hang Loose. Mormaii…[Cringe] I’ll just stop there.

Anyway, whether the huddled masses keep coming or not, here’s four welcomed immigrants that have made the leap and most likely fallen in love with Chick-fil-a.

Jordy Smith: From Durban, South Africa to San Clemente, CA

-Costs a whole lot less to fly anywhere from LAX than it does from South Africa.
-The security situation on the mean streets of San Clemente at night is a lot safer than afterhours in Durban or Cape Town.

-With that weak Rand, living back home in SA would be quite a bit more affordable on an American salary.
-No J-Bay.
-A strike–mish to Baja Malibu just ain’t a strike mish to Mozambique.

Filipe Toledo: From Ubatuba, Brazil to San Clemente, CA

-Believe it or not, the waves just might be better in Southern California than Brazil. –Lower Trestles is barely 10 minutes from his house.
-His shaper (Sharp Eye Surfboards) is less than an hour from his home.

-Babe-situation in Orange County just ain’t what it was in Brazil.
-I feel like Filipe and the gang get stopped and profiled at that immigration checkpoint in San Onofre more often than they’d like.

Yadin Nicol: From Cowaramup, Western Australia to (now) Dana Point, CA

-Ummm, less sharks?
-Closer to his shaper (Channel Islands).
-They say Salt Creek is the new Boodjidup.(Not.)

-No Box
-No North Point
-Let’s just say the waves (usually) don’t compare

Josh Kerr: From Tweed Heads, NSW, Australia to Carlsbad, CA

-Raising a family/owning a home in the States is actually more affordable than in Australia right now.
-His two kids get dual-citizenship.

-No Super Bank
-No Vegemite
-No meat pies

Regardless of whether these four gents stay in the States forever — for the time being, at least — they’re making it work. Reaping the bennies of this American life. Taking the 5 South and exiting Cristianitos.

But surely, America’s not the only Land of Opportunity. What of those souls who seek it abroad? Surfing’s seen its share of American expats. From Curren in France to Conely in Mex. The dozens of surf camp and charter boat captains and photographers out there in the jungles sweating it out and building custom motorcycle-cum-barber shops with a killer Wednesday Ladies Night over the ashes of a once-fertile rice paddy, because f–k rice, amiright? That paddy could use a mini-ramp. Or a vegan leather sandal shop. Or an American dream.

But who am I kidding, most American ex-pat surfers left in the first place ‘cause the waves were just better there — wherever there might be. Eventually, they make it back home because, well, it’s really hard to make a living outside of America. That, and the punishment for getting caught with an eighth in Indo is getting terrifying.

So, yes, America. If not still the Land of Opportunity, then one hell of a fallback-plan. Especially if the Tavi boat driver job fell through. Or if you fell in love with an American chick. Either or…still got it.