Avocados and super glue: a day in the life of Kalani Lattanzi

June 11, 2019 | Surfing
Kalani Lattanzi: surfing the big waves of Nazaré | Photo: Estrelinha/Praia do Norte

Ralph Waldo Emerson believed that "To be great is to be misunderstood." Meet Kalani Lattanzi, a 25-year-old with Brazilian blood.

He swims with fins into 30-40-foot waves. Then he bodysurfs, bodyboards or uses a bodysurf handplane to save his own life. Or he surfs them.

It's the combo that makes him a waterman. He bridges sports and cultures and countries and languages because he is one of everyone.

I read the titles of the few articles about him and the words "crazy" or "nuts" were in every single one.

Actual journalists and writers call him that. Even the wife of a professional big wave surfer called him crazy.

That said, "to be great is to be misunderstood."

The worst thing you can call someone is crazy. It's dismissive and born of ignorance.

Kalani doesn't care about it. At all. "No importa."

He's a lovely lad, just turned twenty-five, born of Brazilian parents that met in Hawaii. His home break is Itacoatiara, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Why isn't he crazy?

Yoga For Life

He's a lump of muscle that has nothing to do with a gym. Even his toes have muscles.

A lot of people practice yoga, for years, classes, sitting on a mat or at the beach. It's good. And some people live yoga. In the way they move and rest.

Kalani's one of those. No less like a tiger stretching every so often with a lengthy exhale.

He sat up in the chair next to me, arched his back, raised his arms above his head, and took in a deep breath, stretching his neck.

Palm fronds fluttered eight feet away. He took three more of those and then he went for a big one.

As Kalani's lungs began to fill, he pulled his shoulders up, and his lateral width kept growing, and his back arched full.

It's the natural position of a surfacing free diver. Chest pulled up as high as it will go. It looked like you could fit enough air for three small families in his lungs.

Bigger than a dive buoy, smaller than a quarter keg. And he wasn't showing off. He was just breathing - living yoga.

We sat in the street, outside a local surf shop. Kalani was watching the shop while the owner was on an errand. I sat down next to him.

"What's up?" I ask, just like in any other conversation.

"Brother, all my boards are broken... another board and another board." He rubs his head. He's not riding skinny bastards either. Instead, big thick ones, done in a day.

Kalani Lattanzi: posing with his favorite Kpaloa fins | Photo: Kpaloa

Glue for the Flip Flops

Kalani had just won a bodyboard competition in Huatulco, Mexico.

He points a toe at a used rental boogie, all banged up. A real piece of crap but it floats. Good enough.

"You won on this?" I ask.

He doesn't say a word. Nothing. Just smiles. People pass, slap hands, take a minute, and then move on.

He says the words for "crazy glue" in Portuguese. And I fail to make the connection.

He pulls up a blown-out flip flop and points to broken plastic. "Just needs a little crazy glue," he repeats.

I ask him about his sponsor, Taylor's Mistake Handplanes. Why does he like that one?

Kalani isn't much for words. So he painted me a picture with his body.

In an instant, his face changed, and he sat up with both hands clutching a handplane that wasn't there.

Suddenly we were both dropping-in on a wave now, a big one, a killer wave, at least that's what his face tells me.

So I hold my breath.

We're in the tube now and barely holding on. Looks like he is using all his force to drive the rail of the imaginary handplane into the side of an imaginary barrel.

And then we exit the tube, and he is moving the handplane like a steering wheel of a car. And he's making noises like a barrel blowing wind and water sucking up the face and the wave crashing behind us.

Kalani Lattanzi: he loves his Taylor's Mistake handski | Photo: Taylor's Mistake

We made it. We sit back in our chairs. I take a breath.

"I like it because it's the best," says Kalani.

Good enough.

"Your Kpaloa fins. What makes them the best?"

"They're comfortable," he says.

"I read you were in the water for four hours at Nazaré. Did you have these fins on?"

"Yeah."

And you didn't cramp up or feel your Achilles tighten?

"No brother. They're the best because they're comfortable and they have power."

Kpaloa fins, big wave tested.

The owner of the shop returns. Kalani asks him if he has any superglue for his flips flops. Don Miguel, with great affection, says something about "pinche Kalani."

Kalani has bodysurfed the biggest wave in the world. He surfs big stuff, he bodyboards Nazaré, and yet he's out of boards and looking for super glue.

Food Is "Poder"

Since I've yet to see anything crazy about him, I talk about diet.

What most people don't realize is that to maintain the physical ability to surf big waves, you have to eat. A lot. All the time. All day.

You surf, eat, rest, nap, wake up, and eat. Every three hours, you have to pump something into your body. It gets to be too much. It's a hassle.

Here is one a great word in Spanish - "Poder." It means power.

And when eating, you only put power foods into the body - coconut water, yogurt, bananas, nuts, eggs. Protein. Carbs just burn off in an hour. There's no power in carbs.

Kalani nods. Stretches and says: "Avocados." Lightweight power.

He has two restaurants in Rio that sponsor him, which is a beautiful idea. Some funding to offset the enormous costs of maintaining the body.

Itacoatiara is a municipality of Brazil's Rio de Janeiro.

If you look at a picture of Puerto Escondido and Itacoatiara, the waves appear similar. Both are killers.

"How do you compare Ita and Puerto?"

"'Son igual de' heavy, brother," and he turns around to take a look at Playa Zicatela to remind himself. After a long pause, he says, "Puerto's a little better formed."

Kalani Lattanzi: in 2015, at Puerto Escondido, he rode one of the biggest waves ever on a bodyboard | Photo: Yana Vaz

The Future Is Now

And although I already know the answer, I ask the question, "Where do you see yourself in ten years?"

Kalani exhales and shakes his head. I rephrase, "Do you have a vision of yourself in ten years?"

He shakes his head and stretches. "No." And he says it as if that answer has already disappointed so many people. Or maybe he was disappointed with the question.

I break into English, look him in the eye and say, "Dude, that's a good answer." And I nod my head.

And then I say, "So right now, you're right here, in the street with me, talking. And that's it. You're good."

"Exacto."

Apart from Sun Block, what other sponsors are you looking for?

He thinks about it a while, and replies: "Chancletas." Flip flops.

Kalani Lattanzi, pro bodyboarder. One of the best bodysurfers in the world. A surfer and waterman, now accepting corporate sponsorship.

Although he doesn't know where he'll be, I do.

He will be sitting outside a surf shop... in 10 years, in 20 years, until he dies really. And that has nothing to do with financial success, not even a little. It's a lifestyle.

He's a waterman - you can be a rich one a poor one, it doesn't matter. You'll find them both barefoot on the beach at sundown.


Words by John P. Murphy

The Summer Surf Gear Guide 2019