Italian surfer Leo Fioravanti counts Kelly Slater as a close friend, scored two major sponsors with Quiksilver and Red Bull by the age of 10 and now boasts the title of ambassador for Italian luxury fashion house Gucci.
Fioravanti's sandy blond hair and Roman nose caught the attention of Gucci CEO Marco Bizzari via his son who also surfs. It didn't take long for the two to connect, a meeting with creative director Alessandro Michele took place soon after and a front row seat in Milan was secured at last September's Gucci fashion show hanging with American rapper A$AP Rocky.
"For me it's a privilege to be a part of the Gucci family," says Fioravanti.
"I didn't go looking for the deal it just happened. Seeing what Alessandro has done and how he has brought it to the new generation is amazing. For me to be riding that wave is a big deal," he says.
A break in tradition
With a name that sounds like it belongs to an artist whose work hangs in a palazzo, Fioravanti says he loves nothing more than escaping to the Mediterranean coastline. As a child he would cram surfboards and towels in the back of his mother's mini.
"Nobody at school really understood my obsession with surfing. I followed in the steps of my older brother Matteo who loved to surf and every summer we would go to the coast and chase waves instead of staying in the city," he explains.
"I grew up playing soccer at school, it's what you do as an Italian and sort of expected as well," says Fioravanti, who prefers golf these days.
Paving the way for the future
His fate in surfing was further sealed when his mother Serena Martini met Stephen 'Belly' Bell in France. A long time protégé and friend of Kelly Slater plus Quiksilver global team manager, Bell moved to France from Melbourne more than 30 years ago.
"My mum made the choice to travel [to France] when she could see my passion was surfing and once I got the sponsorship deal," he says.
"My father remained in Italy. He runs a restaurant now but didn't really have the same desires to move, he preferred to stay in Rome.
"Stephen is now officially my stepdad as from last year as he and mum got married. So that's been a huge influence on my life and as far as inspiring to be the best surfer I can be," he adds.
Food for thought
While most might associate Italians more with pasta more than surf culture, Rome-native Fioravanti is determined to change people's perception, leading the scene as the only professional competitor of Italian heritage.
The first Italian to take out gold medal at the under 18s ISA World Junior Surfing Championships a few years ago, Fioravanti – currently ranked 26 on the World Surf League – will also compete at Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach at the end of the month in pursuit of the surfing industry's most treasured trophy.
"Perfection is in our blood as Italians. Whether it's fashion and grooming or surfing and competing – we always want to look our best and do our best," he says.
"I would love to win in the world league. It was a big dream to win at 16 taking first place at the Rip Curl GromSearch International. I grew up watching Kelly Slater videos and now he's in our circle of family. It's all amazingly surreal and I take nothing for granted."