Category Archives: Mira’s surf adventures

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

My new digs in Rio: Rocinha!!!

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The view across Rocinha, walking down from my house.

The view across Rocinha, walking down from my house.

I recently moved my accommodations from my friend Andrew’s floor to Rocinha, the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro, nestled on the steep mountain sides around the great rain forest-covered monolith, Dos Irmãos. I came here because I had contacts with the Rocinha Surf School, which doubles as a mini community center for local kids.  Since the moment I arrived, I have LOVED IT.  It is one of the most vibrant and exciting places I have ever lived.  I don’t remember feeling this way about a neighborhood since living in Fort Green, Brooklyn.  Every time I step out of the door, I am surrounded by life- music, card games, business transactions, budding romances, arguments.  Because Brazilian people tend to be really friendly, I have many serendipitous conversations each day.

The whole neighborhood winds its way on twisting roads, and staircases, up a very steep mountain.  There ar

Walking down the mountain with my board

Walking down the mountain with my board

e very few official streets, just endless labyrinths of sidelanes, and walking paths.  You can’t feel hemmed in or too claustrophobic though, because every 20 meters or so, you are afforded a sweeping view of the valley and the majestic Dos Irmãos mountain.

The houses are so close that all our lives seem communally joined.  My bedroom window is about 6 feet away from my neighbor’s living room window, and their 9 year old son often leans out and chats with me from across the lane.  Another nextdoor neighbor plays samba music at extraordinary volumes at just about all hours of the day, and sings along in a beautiful husky voice.  At around

The Rocinha Surf School

The Rocinha Surf School

2:30 am on many nights, I am privy to a loud love conversation/argument conducted by an older man who comes and shouts at the window of his ex-girlfriend, who appears to be spurning him.   Ancient old rainforest remnant trees stand in the middle of impossibly small lanes, and every evening the sky fills with kites, flown by just about every little kid from every rooftop, corner, and balcony window.

One of my favorite people in Rocinha is Bocão, who founded the Rocinha Surf School.  He is the ultimate soul surfer, who has translated all the kindness, openness, patience, dedication, and high-spiritedness of his surfing soul into maintaining a beautiful community space for the neighborhood kids for the last 24 years.   He’s fixed up dozens of old beat up surf boards that people have donated, and basically keeps a free surfboard locker for all the kids of Rocinha who want to come by.  He also

At São Conrado beach

At São Conrado beach

organizes English classes, music classes, and other enrichment activities for the kids nearly every evening of the week and has regular surf lessons during the school year.

My favorite thing to do in Rocinha is head down to the beach with a gaggle of kids from the surf school.  The beach is only a 10 minute walk down the street, and on sunny days IT IS JUMPING!!  Other beaches in Rio are dominated by beautifully adorned and reclining women of leisure, or whole family’s sipping fresh coconut and playing beach tennis, or perfectly tanned volleyball teams.  Rocinha’s beach, São Conrado, is ruled entirely by kids.  They are everywhere – from 5 year olds to 19 year olds – boogie boarding, building sand castles, flinging themselves around in the breakers, body surfing, falling off long

Heading back from the beach, with Rocinha in the background

Heading back from the beach, with Rocinha in the background

boards, shredding on short boards.  The teenagers make out under beach umbrellas while the little kids bury each other in the sand.  I am impressed by how self-sufficient they are, in often very rough water, with little to no adult super vision.

I have been catching small waves in really crowded waters,  occasionally colliding with little kids flying out of nowhere on boogie boards.  My first day at the surf school, I rapped for the kids while one of them played a beat on a drum that was just lying around.  Afterwards, they took turns making their own verses about surfing at São Conrado, with two girls leading the charge.  Life in Rocinha is definitely off to a good start!

Girls’ day at the beach!

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Less Corrupcao

The graffiti on the wall says, “Less corruption, More education.” And more surfing!
My favorite picture from my travels thus far!

One of my favorite days in Salvador was towards the end, when I went to the beach with two amazing women, Jazz and Adriana.

After one month surfing in Salvador, I still hadn’t met any other girl surfers.  This made me rather sad — I was told that this was partially due to the fact that the waves weren’t very good, and most of the girl surfers were down in Itacare where the waves are much better.  But still…

Jazz, who arrived from Oakland, CA the night before, and Adriana who lives down the road,

Heading to the beach with Jazz

Heading to the beach with Jazz

were willing to be my surfing companions on my last day in Salvador.  Jazz who is already a body surfer in California, braved the wild conditions and the steep shore break to try surfing on a stand up board.  As lu

With Adriana and Jazz.

With Adriana and Jazz.

ck would have it, we also met another Bahian surfer girl that day, Lorena, who was totally stoked to make our acquaintances.  Thanks to Adriana for taking some stellar pictures and video…

Heading towards our possibly ill-advised surf lesson. Jazz deserves a medal of honor.

Heading towards our possibly ill-advised surf lesson. Jazz deserves a medal of honor.

With Lorena, by Bahian surf sistah!

With Lorena, by Bahian surf sistah!

The beaches of Salvador

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Farol da Barra beach - Tiny waves, awesome people, beautiful lighthouse at the very end.

Farol da Barra beach – Tiny waves, awesome people, beautiful lighthouse at the very end.

In every new place I go, I have to figure out how to get to the beach.  My first day surfing in Salvador I hauled my board unto the very bouncy and rackety bus to end up at Farol da Barra, a gorgeous beach at the tip of the city, with a historic lighthouse at one end.

This was an urban beach, very different than the beaches of Floripa, which are often surrounded by mountains and sand dunes.   I also realized how spoilt I’d gotten in Floripa.  The beaches of Salvador, while beautiful, do not boast the best or biggest waves on your average day.  But I am learning about Brazilian beach culture, which is how the rest of non-surfing Brazilians enjoy their coastline — lounging by their umbrellas, eating fried fish and any of the assorted delicacies brought over by the passing vendors, and drinking fresh coconut water while working on their tans.  I’ve been trying it out and its not bad at all.

Jardim da Alah beach at sunset

Jardim da Alah beach, from the water, in late afternoon

Later I found what would be my favorite surfing beach, Jardim da Alah.  I met an awesome vendor of coconut water named Fabinho, who works on the sidewalk by the beach and kindly watched my stuff (a major issue when on a solo surf adventure).  After my session, I learned that he was a friend of many local surfers who all left their stuff with him and hung out afterwards drinking coconut water.  He taught me how to use a PVC pipe to pump out water, guerilla style, from a municipal source on the edge of the beach, so I could get a freshwater shower before I got back on the bus.  Thanks Fabinho!

Ela Era Assim!

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Screen Shot 2012-12-07 at 7.37.21 PMCheck out our very first Surfer Grrrls Brazil original music video, Ela Era Assim – with lyrics in both Portuguese and English, by super skater philosopher poet teacher Dani Antunes (Portuguese), and yours truly, me (English), with Ca’roll on drums and Alice on poesia!  Starring many of my new surfer grrrl friends in Brazil from Florianopolis, Parana, and Sao Sebastão.  Special thanks especially to Aloha Maciel, Marina Rezende, Manuella Brasil, Janaina Rezende, Luanna Ribeiro, and Maria Liza Monteleone — who have made many of my first surfing adventures in Brazil much more fun!  Big thanks also to Mike Deni, Zazo Alves, and Alice Besnard – without whom I would have no video documentation of my own surfing/skating/musical adventures.

http://youtu.be/3Jg_Lv7qv4M

In the water with a world champion!

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Another amazing moment.  So today I decided to head to Praia Mole, because it is just so pretty in the late afternoon.  I am on a 2 week program of “taking it easy” after an episode of doing too many pull-ups.  I probably should have kept walking to the next beach over, which had smaller waves, more appropriate for taking it easy.  But the waves on Mole looked so fun!  I made a promise to myself and my tired shoulders that I would take it slow, even if it meant not catching much (which is exactly what it meant!).  Sometimes, just being out there is a gift in itself, and today was one of those days.

But I had an extra treat in store.  As I was floating around amidst the other surfers, another woman paddled up to join the line-up.  And it was none other than Jacqueline Silva — who, for those who don’t know, is a super amazing pro surfer who is on the ASP WORLD TOUR!!  (you have to be one of the best 18 surfers IN THE WORLD to be on this tour).  That’s a picture of her on the left!  You can also check out her website here.

She paddled right next to me, and was so nice and friendly when I nervously and excitedly introduced myself.  Then she proceeded to SHRED like crazy just about every wave that came her way.  It was completely amazing and inspiring to see her in action, and also really cool to encounter someone who is SO damn good at what she does and still totally open and kind, and willing to talk to a random American stuttering in Portuguese in the water next to her.  Maybe I can get her to be in one of my music videos?!

Midnight Skate Session with Dani – super Skater, Poet, Teacher, Mom, Philosopher

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Elis, age 4, surfer in training

Yesterday I hung out with my friend Dani, who is a super radical and inspirational skater, surfer, high school teacher, mom, poet, and rapper. (You can check out her poetry blog by clicking here.) Dani is getting her masters degree in philosophy, studying the relationships between human knowledge and the natural world. She also regularly blows open the minds of her high school students at the “demonstration” public school where she teaches philosophy (how cool that Brazilian high school students are learning philosophy as part of their curriculum!).   I met her at a potluck dinner where, after some fun conversations about my project and Dani’s previous life adventures rapping in Sao Paulo, we decided to write some raps.   When we finally met up to do some writing one afternoon on the shady lawn of the University, I felt that wonderful feeling you get when you know you’ve found a kindred spirit.

Yesterday I went to her lovely house in a small town in the southern part of the island.  Her husband, Zazo (also a surfer), grew up on the street where they currently live, although he told me that when he was little there was no street and the whole thing was a forest.  They have two kids, Caio and Elis, who are wondrous.  Elis (age 4) likes to spend her time scaling the wall of the living room, standing atop the window sill, and launching herself onto a mattress below.  She already calls herself a surfer and when the family goes on walks, she rides a skateboard, pulled along with the help of her dad.  Caio, (age 10) has got the 100 mile an hour brain of a video game designer and/or backyard inventor, likes to talk like darth vader, generously shares everything he has (including chocolate, which to me is extraordinary for a 10 year old), and cares for his little sister like a second dad.

Enjoying the view with Caio

After a yummy spaghetti lunch, we hiked to the top of a forested mountain from which we could see much of the southern island, including the vast sand dune ecosystem of Joaquina.  And after the kids went to sleep, Dani, Zazo, and I took out skateboards and went “street surfing” down one of the best skating streets on the island Rua Pau de Canela, perfectly smooth, very long, and downhill all the way.

Dani who is an ex-competitive skater had some sick moves.  I was just stoked to be on a board after many years of not being on a board.  I scared and thrilled the bejeezus out of myself just by  shooting the not so steep hill.  Here’s some very dark footage of us having much fun, taken by Zazo.  Thanks Dani, Zazo, Caio, and Elis for a perfect day!

Launching off boulders into white water!!

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One of the Floripa’s claims to fame is that the waves are always breaking nicely SOMEWHERE on the island.  It’s got 42 beaches with different exposures, land features, and bathymetry (that means underwater topography), which make for different wave outcomes depending on the swell and wind direction.  The locals have a great sense of this.  I’ve heard tidbits: Joaqina works with most everything and that’s where the waves are biggest.  Barra da Lagoa has small but perfectly shaped waves and is the place to go when the southern wind messes up the swell elsewhere.   Praia Mole works really nicely with a Northwestern wind.  And so on…

I am still piecing it all together – but the other day, while I was waiting for the bus to Joaquina, my friend (and former body-boarding champ) Clara happened to walk by on her way to the supermarket and told me that the waves at Praia Mole were particularly good that day.  So instead of jumping on the bus for Joaca, I took a quick jaunt over a different hillside road to land at Praia Mole.

Praia Mole seems a bit more wild than Joaquina, or maybe that’s just because I don’t know too many people there, or because the line up is far from all the seaside cafes, along the rocky headland at the North end.  But Clara’s tip was right on, Praia Mole was serving up some sweet waves that day.

I huffed and puffed as I made my way through the deep soft sand towards the

Looking out from the life guard station towards the break at Praia Mole

northern end of the beach (Mole means soft in Portuguese), marveling at the dudes in wetsuits who chose to run through this pudding-like medium.  They streamed by me, in an impatient swarm towards the paddle-in spot.  I was watching them very carefully at this point, because it seemed that the ONLY place from which people were paddling in today was off the rocky headland at the North.  They ran across a big  jungle-gym style pile of rocks, out to a point where, as far as I could tell, waves were breaking rather roughly.  Then they waited for just the right moment, and took a leap off the rocks into the water onto their surfboards, steering past the lone boulder ahead before the next big wave broke.

Call me boring, but in my life thus far I have generally tried to avoid jumping into water off rocky headlands where waves are crashing.  I prefer launching my watercrafts off flat sand beaches, where, if the waves are going to sweep you backwards, you will not be smashed against a big, hard, barnacle-covered object like a boulder.  So I was hoping that MAYBE there was another place to paddle in.   I was taking my cues from the locals here.  If I saw just a few people paddle in from the beach, I would have gone for it.  But no one did.  The waves were coming in one after the other, and there was a strong southward current which meant that by the time you got far enough out from the beach, you would have been swept away from the  break at the North end.  It seemed that today, there was only one way in to the waves at Praia Mole, and that was by launching yourself off the headlands.

So after I suited up, I followed the procession onto, up, and across the boulders to the slippery patch of rocks at the end which was the designated take off point.  I lurked right next to that spot a long time, inviting many surfers to go before me so I could get a sense of how the waves were breaking here, and so I could observe exactly how they did it.  A couple guys gave me some advice in Portuguese, which I fear I only half gathered –something about watching out for the slippery portions of the rock and gripping on the mussel shells – but that was useful.  It was all in the timing, making sure that a big set was not coming in to cheese-grate you across the barnacles.  Then you just hopped off and paddled quickly to clear the other boulders that surrounded you.   “If all these people can do it, I can do it,” I told myself.  And when I felt ready, I hopped in.  I’m not gonna lie, I paddled like hell to clear those boulders, and judging by the amused smiles that greeted me when I reached the line-up, I may have had a look of terror on my face.  The southward current quickly helped me get out of the way of the hardcore shredders, and I caught some pretty glorious waves that Mole that day.  And when I rode a really nice left, all the way into the beach, I did what I saw everyone else do, and I got out and ran through the sand back to the headlands.  A great introductory day into the world of launching off rocky headlands on my board.  Many firsts here in Brazil!