De Souza's World Title started with $7
Along the way de Souza ended the brave campaign of three-time world champion Mick Fanning, who was looking to add an Australian record-equalling fourth title to his collection, on the back of the most difficult year of his life. Sadly for fans Down Under, Fanning's run came to a halt at the hands of reigning world champ Gabriel Medina in the quarter-finals. De Souza then needed to beat Hawaiian wildcard Mason Ho to seal the crown, and did so in ruthless fashion. Proudly telling the world he learned to surf on a seven-dollar board that his brother bought for him, and that his whole aim in life was to buy his mum a house, de Souza can rightfully be very proud of all that he has achieved both in and out of the water over the course of his 28 years.
I'm over the moon right now! So much hard work, I'm kinda happy right now... what have you got for me?
Do you think people understand how much you've dedicated yourself to this dream?
It's definitely not easy to win on this tour. When you have people in the way like three-time world champ Mick Fanning and reigning world champ Gabriel Medina, or someone like Filipe Toledo who has won three events this year, I say to myself, 'I have to run faster than those guys, I have to wake up earlier than those guys, I have to do everything better than those guys.' A championship is made up of tiny details.
I was lucky with the draw at Pipe, I'll admit, and I thank God for that. I didn't have to beat Jamie O'Brien, or Kelly Slater, or John John Florence, which of course would have made this all even harder. I respect every single guy I compete against, no doubt, but because of the way the draw played out Jamie was telling me, 'You're the man, take it over brah, you got this!'
Was winning the Pipe Masters an afterthought? Surely all your plans were based around the world title?
I was only focusing on the title, which could have been over by round four or the quarters. Every time Mick won a heat I had to win mine too. I had to get in rhythm, I had to get in his rhythm. It's an honour to share a title race with a guy you've always looked up to, who you've always said you want to be like. It's an incredible feeling to survive a year like this, and then come out on top. To put my name on the trophy alongside my idols; Mick, Kelly, Andy Irons, Gabriel ... man ... it's an unbelievable feeling.
Teahupo'o, Fiji, these are all tough waves. You can actually die in those places, and especially here in Hawaii. There was Owen Wright's injury, and Evan Geiselman's accident before the contest started, so I knew I had to work. When the waves were 15-foot I was surfing all day long, and it's dangerous. People were saying to me, 'Hey! You're doing too much you need to relax,' but I couldn't, my mind wouldn't let me! Finishing the year with the trophy I know that my hard work has all finally paid off.
Can you relax now?
No! Tomorrow everything resets to zero and I need to get back on track to do well at Snapper. I think I'm going to stay here in Hawaii until January. I want to practise. There are things I need to improve at Pipe. It will be hard breaking it to my wife, but at least now I have a world title I think I can have more of a say!
You won the world title, then a short time later become a Pipe Master and you've just been given a car. Was that the best hour of your life?
Oh yeah! I was given the cake, then it kept on getting iced. More importantly, I have a beautiful wife and family behind me who are so, so happy, and I just can't describe how incredible it all feels.
Tell us about Jamie O'Brien?
Jamie told me a funny story recently. In 2003, I won the World Juniors in Australia, and he competed in the same contest. I had a heat with Kekoa Bacalso and surfed well and got two nines and the win. Jamie came up to me after and said, 'Well surfed man, good heat!' Apparently I just said, 'I know,' because I didn't really speak any English at all. He was like, 'OK,' but in his head was thinking, 'F**k you!' because I sounded so cocky. All these years later, he told me this, and I had to admit that back then I didn't know any English, but now I do and so I'm sorry!
Jamie has always been good to me. I came to him in 2013 when I lost my sponsor and didn't have a way of living on the beach here in Hawaii. I knew the champion was always crowned at Pipeline, and I had to stay here and train if I was to have a chance. So I asked if I could stay with him, and he looked at me like a stranger had just knocked on his door and asked for a bed! A week later I was out at Pipeline and Jamie paddled over and said, 'You know what, I've got a bed for you, just respect the house and don't bring any sand inside!' I felt like I'd won the lottery, all I could say was, 'Thank you.' It meant so much to me, and still does. I give so much credit to Jamie for opening up his house to me, I couldn't have done this without him.
How much did Gabriel winning the title last year have an effect on you?
A lot! He showed me how to be a champion, and that it is possible for the champion to come from Brazil. He's so young, too, I'm 28 and he's only 22. Before the final today we were talking and I was saying, 'You're the legend, you're going to win 10 of these.' But I've always watched the champions. I want to learn from as many of the best people as possible. Two years ago, when Mick needed to make the semis to win the title, I watched everything he did so closely, and this year I actually had to make the final. I look and I learn, and I'm so happy to finally put it all into practice.
Have you spoken to Mick yet?
No, but I really want to have a chat. With his mum too. I have so much respect for Mick and everything he's achieved, but I'm probably closer to his mum and I feel so sorry for all that they have been through over the last couple of days. Mick has been so impressive dealing with everything that's happened. I really feel like he deserved to win this title after everything he's been through, the shark attack, winning two events, and now his brother passing. Unfortunately there can only be one winner, and if it couldn't be Mick I'm happy that it's me.