When I got a message saying that my good friend Ricardo dos Santos had been shot, my heart sank. How could it be? Who would shoot one of the friendliest guys around? And why? I was instantly overwhelmed by an empty feeling of powerlessness. My buddy was fighting for his life in a hospital and there was nothing I could do for him.
At that stage, all that was known was that Ricardo had been shot twice, right in front of his grandfather’s house while helping the family with renovations. The shooter fled the scene.
I immediately got on the phone, talking to people, cross-checking info and trying to find out what really went down — perhaps as a way of detaching myself emotionally from the unfolding tragedy. Because this one hit very close to home.
As a surf mag editor, I learned early on that it’s wiser to maintain a healthy distance from the guys you write about, and therefore I never really sought to be friends with pro surfers. I consider most of them acquaintances — only a handful became true friends over the years. Ricardo, as it turns out, was one of them.
That night I went to bed gutted, but confident he’d pull through. After all, he was strong as a bull and had more heart than most people I know.
I first met “Ricardinho” at the 2006 ISA Games, held in Maresias, Brazil. I published his very first photo and interview in a surf mag as part of a “Grommets To Look Out For” piece. But it wasn’t until a year later, during a long stint at a friend’s surf camp in the Hinako Islands, off Sumatra, that we became good friends.
I’m 12 years older than “The Kid,” as I called him, so naturally our first interactions involved some grom abuse. Nobody cared that he was the best surfer in the camp at only 16 years of age. All that mattered was that he was the youngest and therefore it was our duty to toughen him up. The thing is, he would take the abuse and do all the chores we threw at him with a big smile — a cheeky grin that said, “No matter what you guys throw at me, I still surf better than you.”
Even as a teenager, Ricardo was confident and streetwise, yet very humble. It was hard not to like him. And when he hit the water, everyone would sit back in awe and whisper to each other, “This kid’s gonna go far.”
Ricardo and I hit it off straight away. He was constantly bombarding me with questions about surfing, girls, parties, surf trips and life in general, and he’d listen attentively to my stories for hours. I was surprised that this kid who surfed so much better than me was actually interested in my life experiences and advice. I loved seeing his eyes light up when the stories got juicy.
In the next few years, we went on countless surf trips together and I had some of the best sessions of my life next to him. In fact, if it wasn’t for Ricardo yelling “Go, you wuss!” I might never have taken off on some of the best waves of my life when I was scared shitless at places like Fiji, Chopes and Indo.
Moreover, I was really proud to see The Kid turn into a loyal, respectful and honorable man. He overcame some tough family issues and injuries and became stronger for it. Tired of witnessing his beautiful town of Guarda do Embaú deteriorate into a dirty, chaotic and drug-filled place, Ricardo reached out to authorities and the media to draw attention to the growing problems. Inadvertently, he became a leader of the community, the voice for change in Guarda.
In the surf, he charged as hard as anyone. It was with an “older brother” pride that I saw him win Surfline’s Wave Of The Winter Award, the trials at Teahupo’o and the AI Award for Most Committed Performance. It was hard to believe that only a few years earlier I was ordering him to sweep the floor and do the dishes.
Above all, Ricardo dos Santos had found happiness and meaning in life. At 24, he was right where he wanted to be: becoming one of the most respected freesurfers in world, helping to clean up his community, taking care of his mother and brother and planning a family with long-time girlfriend Karoline.
The next morning the details of what happened began to surface. As evidence and witnesses point out, after a long night of partying and drinking, off-duty policeman Luis Mota Brentano, 25, parked his car in front of Ricardo’s grandfather’s house, blocking a few pipes that were going to be used in the renovations. Ricardo asked Brentano to move the car, but he refused. An argument ensued. After the discussion ended and Ricardo walked away, Brentano cowardly shot him in the back twice and fled. Ricardo was airlifted to a hospital, where he underwent a series of emergency procedures to try to stop the massive internal bleeding. After 24 hours in ICU and four surgeries, Ricardo died in the hospital.
When I heard he was dead, I, like so many of us in the surf community, was overwhelmed by a deep sense of sadness, anger and indignation. It’s sickening to think that such a solid guy could lose his life because of the pettiest of arguments.
The last time I saw Ricardo was in Hawaii, a month before his death. He was nursing a broken collarbone after hitting the bottom hard at Pipe. The injury prevented him from surfing in the Pipe trials and I was giving him a hard time about it.
“Dude, I would surf with a broken back if I had to,” I told him. “It’s the Pipe Masters!”
He told me it would be wrong to take the much-coveted spot if he knew he could barely paddle. “I’ll let someone who’s a 100 percent have the chance. Don’t worry,” he said flashing that unmistakable grin. “I’ll be back next year.”
And that’s how I’ll remember him – confident, happy and righteous.
R.I.P. little brother, you’ll be missed. —Steven Allain