Brazilian Surfer Wipes Out as Rio Customs Seizes Boards

Brazil’s most famous surfer lost his first heat at Rio de Janeiro’s biggest contest after his boards were seized at the airport in the latest example of an athlete running afoul of the country’s customs rules.

Adriano de Souza, who is ranked sixth in the world and has Oakley, Red Bull GmbH and Skullcandy Inc. among his sponsors, left Rio’s airport empty-handed yesterday after refusing to pay taxes on the seven boards he uses in competition. De Souza, surfing on backup boards, lost to Portugal’s Tiago Pires and needs to win in the second round or be eliminated from the contest.

Brazil limits imports to $500 as part of an effort to prevent people from selling items on the black market and protect domestic retailers in a country with steep tariffs and the most expensive iPhones on Earth. The nation has regulations that allow foreign athletes to bring equipment into the country for 30 days, and special rules are in place for this year’s soccer World Cup.

“I’ve lost my boards,” de Souza said in a text message yesterday. He didn’t reply to a request for comment today.

The tax office said de Souza’s boards were brought into the country by an associate and were withheld to establish a value for the goods. It claimed an unspecified amount of fees that de Souza refused to pay, it said in a statement.

“He would have to pay taxes, but he didn’t pay taxes and left,” Roberto Limeira, a customs official at the airport, said yesterday in a phone interview.

De Souza also had a battle with Brazilian tax authorities in 2012, when it took four months to reclaim a trophy seized after he returned home from winning a contest in South Africa.

Italy’s soccer squad tripped over Brazilian import regulations last year before soccer’s Confederations Cup. The team required the intervention of the agriculture ministry to release 807 pounds (366 kilograms) of food products, including cheese, salami and Parma ham, that were seized by authorities in Rio because details were not provided in advance.

Business Climate

Brazil ranks 124th out of 189 nations in ease of trading across borders, the 2014 version of the Washington-based World Bank’s “Doing Business” survey shows.

Importing a container to Brazil costs $2,275, 36 percent more than the average for Latin America, according to the study. Limeira said it’s common for travelers to invoke the names of celebrities, including soccer players and singers, to dodge taxes.

“Every day people come here saying they are bringing merchandise for Pele, that they’re bringing merchandise for Roberto Carlos, we can’t believe everyone, we have to see proof,” he said.

One of de Souza’s sponsors expressed frustration at the difficulties that the longest-tenured Brazilian on the pro surf tour faced ahead of a contest sponsored by Rio’s municipal government. Fans lined the beach last year when he finished second to South African Jordy Smith.

“I have a very hard time figuring out why the Brazilian customs would hold one of their local heroes’ boards hostage right before an event,” Brandon Lillard, surf marketing manager at Skullcandy, said in an e-mail yesterday. “I’m sure Adriano will be able to get boards, but it’s really sad if the bureaucracy of the government is not going to allow him to compete on the best equipment possible.”

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