Category Archives: Mira’s surf adventures

My own adventures in the water (and getting to it!)

Post Brazil – Surfing adventures continue in INDIA!

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Screen Shot 2013-05-04 at 3.29.45 AMHi all!   I must apologize for the radio silence.  How does one keep up a blog about adventures in Brazil when one is no longer in Brazil??  I have been thinking on this myself, and don’t have all the answers.  But, it occurred to me that even though I am no longer in Brazil, I AM still having adventures.  So I figured I’ll share them!

When I left Brazil, I had an exciting opportunity to visit a place that has been a big part of my life in the past – Thailand. I worked and lived in Thailand for much of the last decade, before moving to California and becoming a teacher and surfer.  I wrote a book about my experiences in the far South of Thailand, an area which has been suffering from a violent conflict for the past 9 years.  This book was just published about a month ago, and I went to Thailand to promote the book and visit old friends who helped me write it.  (You can learn more about the book here: www.facebook.com/justenoughbook.)

On my way back from Thailand, I stopped in India, where my Dad grew up, and I have been visiting family here for the past few days.  While I did have some AMAZING outdoor adventures rock climbing in Thailand, I’ve been missing surfing like crazy.  A big part of my family lives in Chennai India, right on the coast, and I figured I’d try to seek out some waves and some fellow surfers.  It didn’t turn out exactly as I planned, but it was a great adventure none the less.  Here’s a little video journal of my surf day in India.

How to cope with leaving Brazil

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One of the hardest things I did before I left was selling my Brazilian surfboard.  We had so many great adventures together it was hard to say goodbye!  But I found a worthy new owner, Tiago, who is taking advantage of his year studying in Floripa to learn how to surf.  I am hoping he will have many more great surf adventures with the Pirate Captain surfboard.  Boas Ondas Tiago!

One of the hardest things I did before I left was selling my Brazilian surfboard. We had so many great adventures together it was hard to say goodbye! But I found a worthy new owner, Tiago, who is taking advantage of his year studying in Floripa to learn how to surf. I am hoping he will have many more great surf adventures with the Pirate Captain surfboard. Boas Ondas Tiago!

A few days ago I got on an airplane, with sand still on my feet and salt still in my hair, and left the sunkissed wide open coast of Bahia.

I landed in Florianopolis, where I had 2 hectic days to reunite with my host family, have lunches and dinners and samba dances with my beloved friends there who I hadn’t seen in over 4 months, and organize all my belongings for my flight back to the United States.   After that, I sprinted to the airport, got on a plane, and left behind the green mountains and crystal beaches of a Brazilian summer in full bloom, and landed in cold, wet, snowy New York City.  The transition has been jolting to say the least.

My mom and dad have been hosting me the past few days, and I’ve had lots of quality time to share my adventures with them and snuggle down in a warm cozy couch and reflect on my 6 month journey in Brazil.  I am overwhelmed with gratitude for all that I have been allowed to experience, and the incredibly kindness of the people who I met and who took me in.   To write it all down here might overwhelm my readers, the list in my journal stretches across 9 pages.

Instead I will share something else.  While I have been struggling with the fact that I miss Brazil like crazy, I have also made a list of things I can do to keep Brazil with me.  Here are a few:

Ways to Keep Brazil Close, even when you are far away.

Live in your body like they do so well in Rio, where grown ups and kids ride skateboards to the beach, because skateboards are really fun!  Where kids are always practicing carthwheels.  Where half the city surfs.  Where my friend Bocão always thought to throw a slackline in the backpack, just because its fun to challenge your body and do tricks with it.  Where I saw one of the runway traffic controllers at the airport in Rio, who looked a bit bored sitting on the edge of the runway, do a backflip just to pass the time as my airplane took off.

Be helpful and friendly to strangers, like all the people on the buses of Salvador who helped me get my surfboard over the turnstile or helped me carry my luggage down the stairwell.  It diminishes the distance between you and others, and makes the world a much gentler and kinder place.

Keep an open hearth and home – like Susana and Hugo and Daniel who took me in sight unseen in 222029_10100448777208788_1162110616_nFloripa, like Maily who housed and fed me for a week when I showed up on her doorstep and said I was a friend of her friends, like Andrew who let me sleep on his floor in Rio for 4 nights, like Colin who wove me into the life of my Bahian host family as soon as I showed up at the airport, like Bocão who made me feel a part of the Rocinha surf school community, like the staff at the gym in Floripa who shared many Ninja tricks with me, like just about everyone in Brazil.

Love, listen to, research, sing along to, and dance to Brazilian music.  It is the best in the world and will always conjure memories of the places from which it came.

Surf like a girl!  Thanks to all the girl shredders of Brazil, and especially Floripa, who brought me along with them and inspired me.

Act a little bit more like my friends in Pe de Serra, where life was less cluttered and more humane, where there was no internet, and where everyone knew everyone else, and focused their energy on caring for each other.    Where my 13 and 14 year old surf buddies Icaro and Nininho always gave their motherly next door neighbor a kiss on the cheek when they came home from school, helped her clean her yard, did their homework, kindly waited for their new friend the gringa (that’s me!) to go surf, and wooped for every wave that any of us caught.

Try thinking of money a little more like Ronaldo, who rented me the most beautiful house I had ever seen on the coast of Itacare and had the most non-capitalist outlook of any person I’d ever met.  He could have rented that house for five times the price, but he wasn’t interested in raking in dough.  He stopped by to check on me and bring me fruit, lived pretty much day to day on the rent I paid him, had no cell phone, went swimming every morning in the ocean, and was one of the happiest people I’d ever met.

Don’t put music on a special stage, keep it part of daily life.   Don’t be worried if you are good at your photo 4instrument or not, just keep playing it and take it with you whenever you go to the beach.  Have regular jam sessions at the kitchen table.  If you don’t have an instrument, be like the kids in Candeal, Salvador, and start a band with water jugs and oil drums, then practice every day for 4 hours in the middle of the playground.

Be laid back enough to welcome the unexpected, even when you are in the middle of something you prepared very carefully.   In Salvador, I went to a concert of Carlinhos Brown, who is pretty much like the Stevie Wonder of Brazil – a musical genius whose songs are beloved by just about everyone.  During his concert, he welcomed all sorts of unexpected events – a woman in the audience who wanted to sing her own song onstage with his band, a 5 year old child whose parents lifted him onto the stage, the impromptu confessionals of love from his fans in the front row.  For each of these, he quieted the band and rolled with the flow.  It was amazing.

Free your skin (when the weather’s warm!).  In Brazil I got the best tan of my adult life.  I feel like my tan is a metaphor – a way of living in my body, of being outdoors everyday, of being close to nature in my daily experience of the sun, the waves, the sand– of the freedom and lightness of wearing little clothing and of living in communities with little formalities and where all bodies were welcome.  It’s hard to keep up in the land of 4 seasons, but relish it when you can.

When you meet people for the first time, remember their names, and say, “It’s a pleasure to meet you __(fill in name here)_____.”   Now that I am not in Brazil anymore, I miss this way of greeting.

 

The list could go on, but I’ll cut it off here.  While I continue to miss Brazil, I will edit my videos from Rio and Bahia.  So keep an eye on the blog to catch their release!

In love with the coast of Bahia

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Better than television... check out the view of the surf break I had from my hammock!

Better than television… check out the view of the surf break I had from my hammock!

For the last couple weeks I have had the joy of living and surfing in a place that the internet has not yet infiltrated.  The coast of Bahia, south of Salvador to Ilheus is a world apart.  I have never met people more open, more kind, and more generous than the folks who live there.  It’s as if the memo about capitalist striving never made it there, and as a result, it is a much more humane and friendly place, where the guy selling soda at the beach will rent you his seaside cliffhouse for peanuts, just because he thinks you’re a nice person, and where people with very little share all they have.

I spent nearly 2 weeks in the perfect little beach hamlet of Itacare, camping with my friends

Erica, my new surfer grrrl friend from Itacarea, enjoying her home break.

Erica, my new surfer grrrl friend from Itacarea, enjoying her home break.

on a windy hillside overlooking a gorgeous beach and surfing 4 hours a day on nice clean waves.  The water was filled with mohawked, loudmouthed, 10 to 14 year old local boys, who could surf like nobody’s business and had no trouble dominating the whole break.  I had to fight for every wave, but I loved it, and it made me a better surfer.  I’ve never surfed as much as I did there, and I could feel myself improving everyday, just from having so much time standing up on waves.  Other surfer grrrls were hard to find, but I

Fernanda shows us how its done

Fernanda shows us how its done

met a couple awesome ladies, Erica, and Fernanda who kept it real and kept me inspired on the break.
After Itacare, I headed down to Pe de Serra –  a tiny little hamlet of about 15 houses on a vast beautiful, nearly empty beach south of Itacaré.  A good friend of mine from university, Jeff, had lived here for several years while conducting research in a nearby forest reserve, and told me that I HAD to check it out.  My instructions from him were to take a bus from Itacare, get off at the bottom of a hill, and ask around for the house of a woman named Maily.  When I found her house, I was to

Pe de Serra.  I was staying in one of those little houses with the red roofs

Pe de Serra. I was staying in one of those little houses with the red roofs

tell her that I was his friend.  Armed with only this information, I lugged myself and all my belongings on a steamy bus heading down the coast of Bahia, hoping that my good luck would keep up.

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With beloved members of my adopted family in Pe de Serra

I got off at the bottom of the hill, and the first ladies I met on the beach pointed me towards Maily’s house.  I arrived there unannounced in the middle of a little barbecue that she was hosting, and nervously announced that my name was Mira and I was a good friend of Jeff.  Immediately her face lit up, she welcomed me, sat me down at a table, and fed me a delicious plate of food.   I would spend the next week with her, constantly touched by her kindness and generosity, given without reservation on a moment’s notice.   In Pe de Serra,  The local 13 and 14 year old surfer boys waited for me every day after school to go surfing, and took me on excursions to far off beaches where we had the whole ocean to ourselves.  Every night we sat around Maily’s TV, eating dinner, looking at photos, and discussing the nightly novellas.  To make this leg of the journey even more special, I was joined by my dear friend Jack, who was spending only a week in Brazil, and found his way to Pe de Serra to meet me.

I felt like I was soaked in a rich marinade of love for the time I was there.  It was tempting to stay forever.  But alas, I had to keep moving on.  Saudades de Bahia!!!

Finally some cool surfing pics of me!

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If I was a little better at surfing I would have gotten tubed.  I'll probably have to surf another 3 years before I figure out how to make that happen

If I was a little better at surfing I would have gotten tubed. I’ll probably have to surf another 3 years before I figure out how to make that happen

I have been travelling through Brazil for nearly 6 months, surfing A LOT.  But somehow, I have very few good images of me surfing.  Whenever I am lucky enough to have a friend nearby who is kind enough to film me, the waves have been small or badly formed.  I have been spending the last precious moments of my trip on the coast of Bahia, surfing my heart out in this warm tropical water, and I finally got some cool images of me catching some nice waves, from my awesome new friend, Itamar, the surf photographer of Itacare.  Check it out!DSCF7861

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Best last day in Rocinha ever!

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With Andrea Lopes, surf champion and coach extraordinaire!

With Andrea Lopes, surf champion and coach extraordinaire!

My last day in Rocinha was my best yet.  To start out the day with a bang, I had a  surf lesson with the former world tour surfer and Brazilian women’s champion, Andrea Lopes.  You can imagine how excited I was for this!

To make it even better, one of the older girls from the surf school Bia had asked to come with me to meet Andrea and surf with her.  I was really excited that not just me, but also Bia too, was going to meet a great role model.

Andrea was super cool and fun and friendly, and I learned so much from her in one lesson that I wish I could have stayed and had 5 more.  She filmed me a lot, and also surfed with me for a little while.  She showed me just a couple times how to get into a better position for waves coming up, and somehow, whatever she did really clicked, and I felt like I finally understood a positioning concept that I had been trying to get for a long time.   She pushed me hard and I was exhausted, and I thought our lesson was done when she called me out of the water to do a summary of the things I needed to work on, and then she said, ok 20 more minutes of

With Bia, before the lesson

With Bia, before the lesson

going hard.  And I though, oh gosh, this is going to be tough.  And then she said, you shouldn’t give 100 %, and I thought, oh phew, that’s good, I am really tired.  And then she said, you should give 110%.  Ha!!  So I sucked it up, and went out, and surfed real hard for 20 minutes, and totally put my new positioning skills to work and caught a couple waves just perfect and a bunchmore less perfectly.   Yay!!

After my surf lesson, I had a party on the beach with the kids from the surf school.  We skimboarded and surfed and played in the white water and polished off many bags of candy and cookies. The surf was too big for the younger kids to surf, but I went in with Bocão.  The waves looked exactly like they did on the Gabriel Medina day, and in an awesome marker of my progress, I did not feel afraid at all, and got myself into perfect position to catch 3 really nice

With the Rocinha surf school crew at the beach

With the Rocinha surf school crew at the beach

big rights.  On the last one, which was the biggest and longest, the peanut gallery of local surf guys standing at the sea wall drinking beers cheered for me.    I thought that Andrea Lopes would be proud.

That night was music class at the surf school, and Delão helped the kids write their own rap verses.  The kids at the school really like this one hook of one of my surfing raps, which starts “Put your hands up.”  For the past few weeks, when I see the kids on the streets in Rocinha or walking to the beach, they will start rapping “Put your hands up!”  The only problem is that since the rest of the hook is in English, they have a hard time saying it.  So tonight, Delão helped the kids write their own verses in Portuguese about their surfing life in Rocinha and we recorded it as a group. So fun!  I rewrote my own verses to be about Rocinha, and I can’t wait to put it all together for

With Danielo, a very special little friend who gave me these flowers while we were walking back from the beach

With Danielo, a very special little friend who gave me these flowers while we were walking back from the beach

a music video!

After music class was my last samba rehearsal with the Rocinha Samba School.  My friends came down to the beach and danced with me, and afterwards we had drinks and slacklined by my favorite beach kiosk in front of the surfing break.

Thank you Rocinha for an amazing stay.  It hurts to leave, but this neighborhood will always hold a little piece of my heart, and I know I will come back here someday. Thanks especially to Bocão and the Rocinha Surf School for making me feel so welcome.

My day wrestling down fear, with a little help from some celebrity friends

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Gabriel Medina with the surf crew at São Conrado

Gabriel Medina with the surf crew at São Conrado

Perhaps the only thing worse for me than no waves, are waves that are too big for me to surf, because I just want so bad to be able to catch them, and sometimes – though I may ill-advisedly try – I just can’t.

This is what’s been happening for the last couple days.  Two evenings ago, I got washed out on my evening surf at 2 different beaches.  The white water was too churny, and once I finally got through, the waves were too scarey to try.  Yesterday I tried again, once in the morning – big scarey closed out waves, terribly churny ocean, one or two courageous attempts ending in the washing machine – and again in the evening – supposedly easier break, but a failed paddle out through 200 meters of stormy surf.   This is confidence dimming stuff

I really needed to catch a wave today.

I woke up early, the surf report declared decent conditions – tubes even, on the local beach.   And it was sunny too!  Somehow I have reached Rio during the summer monsoon, and this was literally the ONLY day of my stay that did not start out rainy and cloudy.  The sun had never looked so good to me, and when I got down to the sea, it was sparkling blue.  This is actually a big deal for Rocinha, since the beach also receives all the sewage from the favela, which washes into it during the storms.  This being the first day without rain also meant that it was the first day of a blue (not gray) ocean that did not smell like sewage!

My friend Bocão,  a surf pioneer whose Rocinha surf school is a community institution, joined me to enjoy the prime conditions.  Only one problem.  The waves are still huge.  I am still nervous.  It’s all the best surfers out in the water today.  The 11 to 13 year old set who are my usual surf buddies are sitting out and admiring the show.  I have not fared well in the washing machine-conditions in the white water the past few days and I am not looking forward to the paddle out in front of the crowd of onlookers.  As Bocão runs in without a care, I stretch (i.e. stall) and suss out the best way to get through the breakers and avoid getting in the way of the many good surfers catching super fast long lefts across the water.  One of the local regulars sees me – a jolly locuatious fellow, who like many surfers here seems to live only for the waves  – and asks if I intend to go out.  Yes, I say, with a look of fear, but I am a little worried that the waves are  big for me.  He assures me that I’ll be fine, and pats me on the back happily, clearly pleased that I am heading out.  “You can set an example for all the girls,” he says.

OK. I think.  This is good.  Now I’ve got something to aim for.  I am dreading my time in the

Side by side with the champion!

Side by side with the champion!

spin cycle, but I have to get out there just to show the girls.  There are no female surfers out there today, and I’ve actually never seen any other women surfers at the beach besides a couple young girls who are learning how to stand on longboards at the surf school.  If I am gonna be any sort of role model to them, I’ve got to try like hell today.

So I head back.  I am duck diving, and making it through, but the surf is still a bit stormy, with a lot of waves refracting off the nearby rocks and causing lots of churning and really close intervals on the waves and pretty soon I am just getting pounded and gasping for air.   But I think of the girls, and persist and make it out to the break.  And of course it looks 3 times bigger than it did from shore, and no different than the scarey waves that have flummoxed me the last few days.  What was I thinking??  Somehow the sunshine made it seem more inviting than the past few days (where the fast breaking/plunging half closed out, half tube waves were accompanied by cold winds, ominous skies, and downpours. )  But it’s the same stuff, just in the sun, and I am scared.

Bocão keeps calling me over to where he is.  I don’t want to be there, because when the 8 foot sets come through I will get pounded, and I am mad at myself for being scared of 8 foot sets right now, but for some reason I am.  And this is the weird thing about fear.  Sometimes you are scared of things that weren’t scarey before.  In my mind I have never been in surf this big, but then again, I think of other days where I was in surf almost this big, and doing really well.  And while this makes me feel frustrated, it doesn’t make me less afraid.

Bocão is catching a zillion waves, and I feel like I am no less scared and only more frustrated.  Every now and then Bocão will say, this one, this one Mira.  And I look up and see an enormous collasal peak coming towards me, and instead of turning to paddle into it like a good brave fearless surfer, I make like a scaredy cat and hussle over it before it breaks.  Then Bocão tells me the waves are not that big, which makes me feel even worse.  This is getting me nowhere.

But here’s the thing, if you bob around like a bouey long enough – and I bobbed around for a very long time­–  eventually boredom sets in.  And boredom, amazingly, can trump fear.  You start to be willing to take risks just to break the monotony of sitting on your board.  So finally – after Bocão has already gone in — I try going for it a couple times – I paddle hard and pull out of a couple closeouts, and finally make 2 solid attempts on good fast breaking waves, which end in 2 solid wipe outs.  I am working hard though, and making the most out of my time, but inevitably I end up on the inside of a big set, and get washed through the tumbler onto the beach.  I am out of breath, and frustrated, and tired, so I stumble out of the water panting, and rest on shore – trying to just be satisfied with trying, but I am watching all these guys on the water catching these waves like its nothing, and doing crazy spins off the lip,  and I feel like and idiot.

The frustrating thing is that right now, it’s not really my goal as a surfer to be catching ever larger waves, but rather to be working on turning and trimming ON the wave.  I decide to take it easy on myself and head to another beach where the waves should be very small (according to the report) and I can just get some wave time under my belt and raise my confidence.  I start packing up my board getting ready to catch the bus, thinking I probably shouldn’t have even come to this beach at all today in the first place.    But then something happens which proves me wrong.

Gabriel Medina mingles with his admirers

Gabriel Medina mingles with his admirers

On the beach a crowd is gathering.  I can’t really see what’s going on, but Bocao catches my eye and calls me over.  And Oh. My. God.  Who should be at the center of the crowd but Gabriel Medina – who is, only, the 2nd ranked surfer IN THE WORLD!  This is the young phenom who recently out-ranked Kelly Slater (probably the greatest surfer who ever lived), and took the world by storm when he was just 17 in the world tour.  – He’s been surfing in the water this whole time (I wonder if everyone else knew but me) and has just gotten out, and there are about 20 giggling kids and another 20 giggling adult men gathered round him shaking his hand and taking pictures.   He is a super good sport and gives lots of attention to everyone (he even gives his board strap to one of my young friends from the surf school).  He takes a group shot with the entire surfing population of Rocinha who shout “Medina” instead of “cheese”, and I get a chance to tell him that I was there in San Francisco when he won that section of the World Tour in November 2011.  Wow!!!  Gabriel Medina.

It turns out he’s been there with his whole crew of surfing buddies who are now getting out of the water to join him as he prepares to go.  There are a lot of them!!.  So now I realize that half the guys who were in the water this whole time were Gabriel Medina’s super high level surfing friends, and one of them was the number 2 surfer in the world!  And suddenly I am a little less hard on myself for not being a better surfer today.

But I still have to catch some waves!  I NEED to catch some waves. So I eat a hamburger and take the bus down to another beach, that I’ve heard has a protected break and gentle waves that I hope will be good for practicing my turns.  When I get there, I realize that I may have overcompensated – the waves here are infrequent, closed out, and teeny, and the water is crowded, shoulder to shoulder, with the veritable army of small children on body boards.  I spend an hour fighting 8 year olds for 1 foot waves,, and finally throw in the towel on my intended surfing goals.   Instead I channel my inner Buddha, and sip a fresh  coconut while enjoying the vibe of a crowded Brazilian beach with 1000 child body-boarders.  But when I leave, I am still feeling that deep-seeded need to catch waves with an accompanying frustration that I haven’t been able to catch any good ones for several days.

I think I may have failed at some aspect of self-care/hydration, because by the time I get back to Rocinha, I am tired, dehydrated, and a bit nauseous.  I eat a big meal which only seems to wipe me out more and stumble back to my house for a long nap.  I wake up at 5:20pm, and the sun is still shining beautifully – still no rain!  I am still feeling frustrated that on this day of perfect sun and good surf conditions, I have not caught a single wave worth mentioning.  I decide that I must try one more time.  With my nausea only half gone – I head slowly down to the beach one last time.  Am I nuts? What am I actually trying to accomplish here?  I ask myself as I walk down the long shady boulevard that connects the favela to the beach.    I am not sure, but I think it has something to do with beating my fear. I pass a huge group of kids heading back from the beach to the neighborhood.  I think they are part of an afterschool program as they are being led by an older guy who seems to be a teacher, and in the back of the long file is another young woman who seems to be some sort of supervisor.  As I walk past them, I look at the little girls, and also think that maybe it has something to do with the thing that guy said to me this morning, that I can be an example to the girls.  I really want to be able to show them that a girl can surf these waves too.  As I reach the end of the line of kids, the young woman who is supervising them looks at my surfboard, gives me big smile of encouragement, and a thumbs up.  Yup.  That was all I needed.  No need to question myself, I am doing the right thing.

So I get to the beach, and the waves are a little smaller than the morning as I had hoped but still have some force.  There’s something out there I can catch.  I know it.   So I paddle out through the breakers – it still sucks, but I panic less and trust myself more this time even though I am way more tired.  The water is stormier and less predictable due to the later afternoon wind.  The local shredders have found a place where they can take some big late forming lefts coming in. Those lefts out there are pretty big, but there are some other peaks that show up a little more inside that I think I can do.  There’s a couple guys gathering around them and I am having a hard time getting into the right spot to get preference on these waves.  But finally, after quite a while trying, I get my chance, I see it coming, it’s breaking fast and breaking to the right, but I am ready, and I paddle like hell, stand up quick, and get a nice hefty drop down the shoulder, and manage to steer onto another swell that’s intersecting my wave to keep on my ride.

Not the best wave of my life, but it was a plenty good one, and oooooooh how sweet it felt.  I paddled in after that.  The sun was going down, and I was still dehydrated, and I realized that one wave was all I needed, just one good wave, just to know I could do it.  Just to know that I could stick with something till I got it.  And yeah, to set an example for the girls.  There were still a lot of them on the beach, and I hope some of them were watching.