Alessandro Ponzanelli is an Italian surfer whom we recently discovered via Facebook. When we asked his fellow countryman who was the best surfer in the region was, he exclaimed “Ponzanelli!” A visit to YouTube confirmed that he was indeed an amazing surfer. Allessandro spent some time with to tell us about the Italian surf scene and his inspired life.
What was your life like growing up?
I was born in Pietrasanta, the youngest of three brothers. I grew up in Versilia, a seaside area known more for its discos and nightclubs rather than for its waves. My family used to spend its summers at seaside resort “Wanda”. It was run by Ario Bertacca, one of the pioneers of the Italian surfing. Together with some friends of mine and with my elder brother Luca, I approached surfing when I was only 12, but in spite of this my mother let me go with them even during summer wind swells. At first, I used to stop surfing during winter. But when I was about 15 and surf had already become something important and real in my life, I bought a wetsuit and started surfing at every swell. With my friends, I used to hang out at Nimbus Surfing Club, and when it was flat we used to go sailing and windsurfing.
When did you get your first surfboard?
It was my brother who gave me my first board—an old shortboard Costa Ovest, a local brand. It was sprayed and had a curious slogan on the tail: No alla mafia nello sport (“No mafia in sport”). I went on for some seasons to borrow longboards so as to be able to go surfing as often as possible. In the end, I bought one.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood up on a surfboard?
That moment is still impressed in my mind. “Freedom” is probably the right word to describe the sensation.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young man?
When I was a little child, my models were my elder brothers, Michele and Luca. I often went out with them and their friends, and I know to them I was a real pain in the ass!! I preferred staying with older guys because people of my age did nothing else but playing football and I had other interests. As a surfer, I’ve always admired Joel Tudor and I grew up watching (and studying) old Herbie Fletcher videos.
What should we know about the surfing scene in Italy?
Despite what they say, it is possible to go surfing in Italy, but you need a lot of free time since you usually have to drive a lot to find the right place and in winter you’ve to face freezing conditions. Many pro surfers have visited our peninsula—some were lucky and surfed waves they would have never imagined to find in the Mediterranean. Others were not as lucky. The problem is that swells are sporadic, especially in summer when you can face long flat spells.
Who/what inspires you?
Many surfers, be they famous or not, have inspired me over the years. Among them, Oliver Parker (whom I surfed with while in California). He’s probably one of the best longboarders at Rincon; he’s got a great style and can surf regular or goofy without you realizing which is his stance.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
That you should never cease to believe in your dreams.
What are you most proud of?
I’m doing what I love doing and I’m proud of it, proud of the goals I’ve reached in surfing, proud to work with Sundek, which supports me and allows me to travel.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out and why?
The poor conditions of the Italian surf pushed me to travel a lot, over the years, in the endless search for the place where I could find the perfect waves and settle down. A safe place, but also an uncontaminated one. I think Australia can be this place. Another place I love to go to, and which is quite near from where I live, is Sardinia, a happy island in the middle of the Mediterranean. To Italian surfers, this island is like Hawaii, a wonderful place with some of the most beautiful spots in the Mediterranean. It’s there that I found some of the best waves I’ve ever surfed and the water is really clear.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
I’m a reserved person and I’m at ease when I’m out with my board—my mind free of thoughts. I gave up studying, and I know this could be penalizing in the future, but I’ve learned a lot from traveling and meeting several persons who positively influenced me and my way to look at things. Everybody should have his own dream and this is mine.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Go surfing on uncrowded waves with my best friends.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
Joel Tudor, Tom Curren, Kelly Slater, Rastovich
What is your favorite board? Your favorite surf spot?
I got several boards that I love, but maybe the one I enjoyed the most and that reminds me about a lot of adventures and great moments is my 9’4″ Tudor noserider, which I literally destroyed while competing in national contest and bringing it with me while travelling all around the world. As for my favourite surf spots, I could mention Noosa, Hollister Ranch, Malibu.
What’s your favorite meal?
Tordelli with ragù.
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
Talking Heads, Neil Young, Led Zeppelin, Rosco P. Coltrane
What are you most grateful for?
For my family. And to be happy.
What’s next for Alessandro Ponzanelli?
I’m working very close with Michele Puliti, a local shaper, and I’m learning how to build a board. I don’t know if this could turn out as a future job, but it’s okay for now. I’m now leaving for another surf trip to some remote area in Indonesia.
A video clip of Alessandro Ponzanelli can be found here. Photography credits: 1. Cristian Corradin 2. Tommy Lopez 3. Cristian Corradin 4. Giuseppe Repetto 5. Luca Ponzanelli