General observations first. The good news is that Brazil has hundreds and hundreds of beautiful beaches from which to choose to surf. The bad news is that if you travel through Brazil in the summer time you’re going to encounter more flat days than good days. Think of flat days as a chance to spend some quality time people watching
The beaches along the coast within driving distance of major cities get really busy during the weekend and summer in particular. Whole cities arrive at the beaches between São Paulo and Rio on Friday nights. If you want uncrowded waves get there midweek.
By arriving early you get to meet the local surfers and hopefully make a few friends before the city crowds arrive. Thus when faced with a crowded weekend line up you know who is local and deserves a little more respect and who is just a Sunday surfer.
Saying you’re a surfer seems to give the person a little street credibility at the moment. It seems to be in fashion. On the beaches of the São Paulo coastline, there were always plenty of people with boards that never seemed to get near the water and a few in the water that never got waves or even tried paddling for them.
The negative was that in the water these surfers increased the chances of getting a board to the head but a break crowded with beginners meant it was easier for experienced surfers to get the waves they wanted. Looking from the beach it was crowded but not quite as competitive as you might expect.
What is it like Surfing in Brazil?
On beaches where the majority of surfers live near the beach and surf every day the above paragraph will be less relevant. Locations such as Florianópolis, Garopaba, Garujá, Rio, Salvador, and Itacaré, will have many good, experienced local surfers. Best you try and make friends with them.
Perhaps it is that Brazilians like to party or maybe they just like to sleep in but you can often get some good uncrowded waves if you are prepared to get up early. I had almost an hour of 4-5ft waves at Easter all to myself because I set the alarm clock. The swell arrived the day before so it was not like everyone was caught by surprise.
Watching the moon set on one side of the beach and the sun break over the other end of the beach (it faced south) as I sat alone in tranquil silence was an unforgettable travel memory.
In making the above comments I should point out that I come from a very crowded beach in Sydney. There are not only a lot of surfers but a lot of good surfers on the local breaks every day. My definition of crowded and competitive is likely to be different to yours.
Brazilian Surfing Etiquette
Brazilians seem to love dropping in on each other. At first, I thought that it was because I was a gringo and worse, a gringo bodyboarder, but after 5 minutes it became pretty obvious that they are not discriminatory on this front. Many Brazilian surfers seem to drop in on everyone. This doesn’t mean you should go around doing it yourself.
Always remember that you are the guest. As a local, at your home break, you like to see a little respect given by the visitors and so you should return the favor. Being on friendly terms with local surfers makes your stay in small coastal villages a lot more fun. Even if you can take every set wave it’s probably a good idea to let a few go.
If your home beach is 100 times better than the beach you are currently on it is still good manners to tell them you like their beach and are having a wonderful time. Learning the names of a few Brazilian professional surfers also helps.
Dropping a few famous names is a good way to show some understanding of Brazil and can be done without even speaking a word of Portuguese. Carry a few surfing magazines with you. Especially if they have photos of your home break. Give the magazines away. Really want to impress? Bring a few surf shirts from your local area and swap them with Brazilian surfers. You both get a good souvenir.
In the summer if you are surfing in the northeast around Bahia all you will need are board shorts and perhaps a lycra rash shirt to protect you from the sun. The water temperature hovers around the mid-20s (75 F). It’s really warm. Winter is not much cooler.
In the south, the very most you will need is a light wetsuit during the summer with most people getting by in just board shorts. The exact temperatures I can’t tell you but I surfed as far south as Garopaba’s Praia da Rosa and in February (Brazilian summer) all I needed were board shorts.
Winter is a different story as it can get quite cold in the south. Although I haven’t surfed Brazil in the depths of winter I’d guess good wetsuits are required south of Rio. Around Ilha do Mel and further south it can get rather cool. Water temperatures probably mirror those on the Australian coastline. 2/3mm full-length suits would be adequate but for the extreme south, you might want a little more.
Learn to Surf in Brazil
Brazil is a great place to learn to surf. The waters are warm, the waves are not too big and exchange rates make it cheaper than in most western countries. In summer the waves are typically small (up to 1m or 3ft) which is exactly what you are looking for. Just about every beach with surfing waves will have a company offering surfing lessons. You may not be able to understand too much of the language but the whole point is to get out on a board and have a go.
Popular places to learn to surf are around Itacaré in Bahia, Ubatuba, and Maresias in São Paulo, anywhere on the east coast of Ilha da Santa Catarina or around Garopaba in Santa Catarina and for Rio, you can try Saquarema, Arraial do Cabo and Buzois to name a few. These beaches are just a few of hundreds. Ask at any surf shop near a beach for an Escola de surf (surf school) and you will be on your way.
In terms of recommending one surf school over another, I can’t help here. It all depends on what you are looking for. A few questions you should ask beyond quanta custa? (how much).
A few questions to answer:
- Does the instructor speak English?
- How long have they been surfing/teaching?
- What happens if there are no waves or it is too big for beginners?
- How many students will be in the class?
- What beach or beaches will you travel to?
- Do they have first aid qualifications and a first aid kit?
Don’t count on meeting surf instructors with fluent English. If they do speak English it is likely to be limited. Waves are unpredictable so knowing what happens if you can’t surf is important. Do you get your money back or are you paying to watch DVDs? In learning to surf you want uncrowded beaches with plenty of space where you can make mistakes and fall off your board. You’re not likely to get injured surfing but their response to questions on first aid will indicate their level of professionalism.
Don’t want a surf school but want to rent a board and teach yourself to surf? This is how most surfers learn. So what should you look for in a beginner’s surfboard if you know nothing about surfing?
Most learn on surfboards that are old and weather-beaten. Image isn’t important when learning to surf. What is important is selecting the right board. Thin, short, narrow, lightweight boards are the hardest to learn on. Avoid them. Look for a board that is thick and about 50cm (1 1/2ft) or taller than you. Girls, be careful that the board is not too wide as this affects your paddling. Remember, the bigger the board the easier it is to stand up on but the harder it is to maneuver in the surf.