Making it as a pro surfer in El Salvador is tough. QS events are few and far between, cash is tight, and the whole infrastructure to propel local talent has its own share of complexities.
And the country too has had its own share of troubles. It fell from favour when drug and gang wars were rife in the past few decades, claiming El Salvador as a dangerous place to visit. But the grips of that culture are slowly lifting. To be clear, it's safe and inviting if you stick to well-known tourist areas and the surf destinations, of course, remain as some of the best waves you're going to luck into. And while the international surfing spotlight was trained elsewhere, El Salvador's been busy honing some incredible talent, who just haven't had the platform to express themselves. That includes 18-year-old up-and-coming shredder Bryan Perez, a phenom who has already been compared to the likes of Filipe Toledo, and with good reason too.
Mr Perez only started surfing 8-years-ago, and has already been crowned El Salvador's national champion, twice. Over the past few years, Bryan's been living at Puro Surf Academy, a safe home for surfers right in front of El Zonte – training and surfing every day. And Puro Surf is helping craft that next generation of dominant rippers, giving them the correct tools to craft their trade amongst El Salvador's idyllic points. It's also recently housed the like of Billabong – Josh Kerr, too, has spent some time there along with Tyler Warren.
That's not to say growing up in El Salvador is easy. Bryan lived with his mother in a small town on the outskirts of La Libertad. A few years back, a random gun-swinging individual tore through town, shooting into the air wildly and ended up killing his young sister. Events like this are a rarity and it's something that rumbled a little community, shocked and saddened at the loss of someone so young. There's a pain in Bryan's voice when he talks about it, the pain of loss, the pain of how this reflects on his community - a community that, despite its issues, he is intensely proud of; a community of love and support.
Right here, we check in with Bryan, talking El Salvador, his dreams to make it to the CT, living at Puro Surf and more. This kid's as humble as they come and got one hell of a punt on him. Dig in.
Tell us a bit about yourself and growing up in El Salvador, when did you start surfing?
I'm from a little town in El Salvador. Started surfing when I was 10-years-old and all my family surf, my dad got me into it. I remember catching my first wave and started crying, I was terrified and said, 'no more surfing', but then just got into it every day and fell in love with it. Always felt better and better.
Then four-years-later I started surfing competitively, making a little bit of money for my family and my school. My family were always so supportive of me surfing. Then I became El Salvador's national champion, which was a dream come true. [Bryan was back to back El Salvador world champion in 2014-15, aged 14 and 15] Then came the QS and it's going ok. I'm super happy to be here and stoked with how it's going.
How did it feel to be national champion? Was that your game plan to get to that level at such a young age?
I wasn't sure. I worked with my friend Marcelo Castellanos [co-founder of Puro Surf] to help train me at Punta Roca and it just helped hugely. It's good. But I feel the pressure sometimes. I didn't expect it but my surfing's coming on and getting better and better.
And you're on the QS, is qualifying for the CT the ultimate goal?
Right now, I'm training, doing some QS – but only a couple per year because there's not very many in El Salvador. It costs a lot of money to travel [laughs], maybe do a few events, get some money then in a few years, world tour, maybe. It's the dream.
You're living at Puro Surf, right? How has that helped your surfing?
I moved here about five-years-ago and they've helped me so much. It's right in front of the beach and we're surfing every day, training, training, I learn more about surfing all the time.
I've seen your Insty page Bryan – there's some Filipe Toledo-style manoeuvrers going on there...
[laughs] yeah, when Josh Kerr was here, he saw the video and said you're there on the aerial side, which was insane. To be compared to Filipe, [laughs], it feels good. I surfed with Filipe and Gabriel Medina in El Salvador...they're insane.
What's your favourite types of waves to surf? Are you more of a slab guy, points?
I like everything, in El Salvador, there's a lot of points. But I feel good in bigger waves too. Anything I can do airs on.
You mentioned finances earlier and I just wanted to touch on that. Obviously the QS events are few and far between, what do you think needs to change in El Salvador to better equip young surfers with the tools to compete at CT level? To give those unsung heroes a platform?
Yeah, there's a lot of support in the community but we need more competitions for younger people. We're surfing for fun at the moment but we need more things for youngsters. Quiksilver and Reef were sponsoring an event here but that's not on at the moment. There's no brands down here. Puro Surf is the only brand that's kind of supporting everything.
Historically, there's been a lot of problems in El Salvador but it's getting better. There's so much talent down here and we're hoping the spotlight is given to them too. I mean, El Salvador was on the map in the 70s and known as a place for being one of the best in the world. But then there were problems and everyone kind of thinks the country is still like that. But it's getting better.
Yeah, I hear you. Just wanted to touch on growing up as well Bryan, were some of those troubles still present?
Yeah, well, a couple of years ago my sister was killed in my home town. My little brother, he's called Kevin, ran into the house and started shouting about a guy coming with guns. My mum, shut up the whole house and we heard bullets and screaming. He was shooting in the air, not at anybody but shooting around. My dad was shouting, 'don't come here, I have a daughter'.
The community here is very loving and supportive. Everyone lives close quarters so if there's someone running through there and shooting bullets, it's going to hit some one
I wasn't there but I could feel something bad had happened. My dad said he kept telling the guy to stop shooting. The police came....you know, I wasn't there, and had a lot of people were coming up to me soon afterwards and saying how sorry they were about my sister and I didn't even know then. My sister was 1-and-a-half-years-old. It was completely random, this guy shooting around, it was so strange.
Sorry to hear that Bryan – you know we're not trying to demonise El Salvador and it sounds like a completely out of the blue scenario.
It's ok. El Salvador is a great place but these things, they happen, you know? The community here is very loving and supportive. Everyone lives close quarters so if there's someone running through there and shooting bullets, it's going to hit some one.
I know we've spoken about the QS and CT but what about the Olympics? Have you thought about it?
Yeah, I want to qualify for the Olympics, it's in Japan and I want to go there. It would be amazing. Everything is on my radar to be honest, I don't have a big QS ranking yet, so just trying to take all the events I can and hopefully make good of them.