When two of your closest friends are World Tour rookies Gabriel Medina and Miguel Pupo, it would be easy to end up in their shadow. However, 19-year-old Jesse Mendes from Guaruja, Brazil has every intention of claiming his own spot among the world’s elite. Last year at the Nike Lowers Pro, Mendes added his name to the list of potential World Tour candidates when he finished 3rd, defeating Medina, Kolohe Andino, and Taylor Knox in the process. Later in the season, Mendes netted a perfect 10 at the Mr. Price Pro for a long right-hand barrel—one of the best of the event. He finished 38th on the One World Rankings in 2011, but with the overwhelming support from his country and close friends, Medina and Pupo, don’t be surprised if Mendes’ World Tour aspirations become a reality in 2012.
Having almost qualified during your first full year chasing it, did that give you more confidence heading into this year?
Definitely, but there’s more pressure too. Like last year, I just wanted to build my seed. But then somehow I got a third at Lowers and I was like, “Okay I can do this.” And that event is a hard contest to do well in—might be the hardest contest of the year.
Do you ever feel pressure to win from Brazilian fans?
We have so much support from Brazil. We always see so many people on the beach cheering for us that you kind of feel a little pressure. People are constantly saying to you, “You’re going to win a world title—I’m sure of it!” But it’s a good feeling to know that they believe you can do it.
How close do you think we are to seeing the first Brazilian world champ?
I think it will happen soon. I don’t know who it’s going to be, but it will happen soon. Adriano’s pretty close. He’s been in the title race for about four years now. He gets really close and with a little more work he could it get one. But yeah, I think he’ll be the first to win a world title. Or Gabriel. I don know [laughs], it’s hard to say.
Does the passion and support you mentioned from Brazilian fans push you in competition?
I love competing. It’s something I grew up doing, and I want to do it for as long as I can. You push yourself so much more when you’re competing, because you always want to do better than the people in your heat. People are always pushing each other and that’s what makes it so much fun. And competition makes you work harder and want to do bigger airs and better turns.
Who are some of those people pushing you?
Last year, it was Gabriel. Since we were tiny, we’ve had so many heats together. We always went against each other for every major title growing up, because we’re the same age. We’re very competitive. It’s not something we ever bring out of the water, but in the water it’s always really intense. Like last year, we had two heats against each other. He beat me in one and I beat him in one. If there’s someone I don’t want to lose to, it’s him.
Would you say you know how to beat him?
Well, we know how the other one works, because we’ve been competing against each other for so long. Like last year at Lowers, after we hadn’t had a heat together for so long, we had a great one that was really tough. I won, but he beat me later on in Europe. It’s always so close, but we can leave that competiveness in the water and not have it affect our relationship. We’re good friends who always want to see each other do well. We never get jealous of the other. I’m so stoked for what he’s done on the World Tour, and it only makes me want to work harder and get better.
What are you learning from Gabriel and your other Brazilian counterpart, Miguel Pupo?
They’re very similar at what they do best—both are really good on their backhands and at doing airs—but as competitors, they’re very different. Miguel is slow in his heats, and he’ll sit for a while. But you don’t see him nervous very often. He’s always really focused and you can tell he knows what he’s doing.
Gabriel just goes out there, and because he’s so talented, whatever wave he catches is going to be a good one. There’s no plan for him other than to just go out there and get waves, where as Miguel always has much more of a strategy. And I like Miguel’s approach better, because I think it’s pretty cool how he works.
Last year at the Mr. Price Pro, as well as on the North Shore this past winter, you gained a lot of notoriety for your barrel-riding skills? How did you develop that aspect of your surfing?
Traveling, because all I want to do is get barreled. Turns I can do at home. I mean, we get barrels at home too, but it’s not something we get everyday. It’s like here in California: you get barrels, but it’s not often. And you’ve got to love getting barreled. You’re not going to become good at something if you don’t love doing it.