By Tom Ekman
(Photos by author unless otherwise credited)
Are there still surfers in 2016 who will actually welcome you to their break? Yes…at least in this beautiful corner of Brazil known as ITACOATIARA (ita-ko-ah-CHARA). Five nations coming together and crushing it in massive, concussive waves?
It felt more like an epic family gathering than a competition. The “Fish Man”, who stars in his own bodysurfing TV series (and is credited with blowing up the sport in Rio) was just one of the crew. Every bodysurfer would come up and say ola!, which meant a black-slap and aloha shake with 80 of your newest buddies. No one’s in this for money, power or chicks. We just love to bodysurf.
There was a running joke about the wave size at the comp. Mark Drewelow from San Diego and I called it 14-foot face on a couple of bomber sets. But to Brazilians, it’s never bigger than 4 feet. On Facebook, I protested “one meter, my ass!!”, and all the Brazilians chimed in with “one small meter”, etc. etc.
Itacoa is hard to compare to any other wave. It’s one-part Dominical, one-part Waimea shorebreak, and one-part Baker Beach. And Itacoa actually gets better with size, because the greater amount of water makes the wave break slightly farther out (emphasis on the word “slightly”, because there is really no outer bar). Smooth granite flanks on both sides drop into the water at about a 30-degree pitch, creating a cove effect that focuses the wave energy. (The sides can also refract backwash at the incoming waves). On top of that, the coast around Rio sees mostly short interval swells from nearby storms, which means virtually no lulls. It’s always stacked, and it’s always unloading.
95% of Itacoa waves are shut-downs. Over a week or so, I only saw a handful of bodysurfers make pull-out barrels. Most waves feature a split-second of trimming, followed by a throaty barrel and Homeric thrashing. (Most guys eschew handplanes because they stall the drop too long…and no one wants to get pitched at Itacoa!). Once in awhile a bodysurfer gets a longer ride, but usually on backed-off, inside stuff. The average ride is 3 seconds: Drop, tuck, and suck. Itacoa is all about one instant of whomping glory, but with a lip as thick as Pipe, that can be the moment of a lifetime.
The California Coup
Mark Drewelow, a 53-year-old from San Diego, impressed every one when he showed up sight-unseen at Itacoa the day before the comp (he was out at first light in near-storm conditions), and then placed an impressive 4th in the event. Judge Vinicius Dobis attributed Mark’s success to experience, good wave choice, and overall endurance. Mark started surfing SoCal spots like the Wedge in the ‘70s. Before his heat, we watched as a dog jumped into the edge of the water and was instantly carried sideshore by a river of water moving at a fast jog. “Look at how that water is moving,” Mark commented. “I’ve never seen water move like that.”
Thiago Maciel is one of the de facto ambassadors of Itacoa/Rio bodysurfing. Thiago’s always joking around with the crew, and always knows exactly what’s going on at any given moment – where it’s breaking, and who’s on it. A serious biologist and a stand-out bodysurfer, Thiago is The Man.
The competition was based on the ASP rating system, which scores competitors based on their two best waves. Marcelo Zampieri scored a perfect 10 in the first round with a clean, deep barrel. Kalani Lattanzi and Yuri both pulled high-scoring 360s in their heats. Kalani made an attempt to replicate Kane Tsunameh’s (O`ahu) impressive front flip, but didn’t pull the trick. In the end it was Yuri Martins who took down the top spot despite the serious competition.
Hats off to Lucas Castro from Whooze for putting together such a bang-up event. Lucas totally killed it! Big ups to the Rio scene O.G.’s: Paulo Pereira, JC Rodrigues and Vinicius Dobis. And a heartfelt muito obrigado to all of the Surfe de Peito crew for all of the good times in and out of the water!
If you go to Rio, please consider bringing some fins for the local guys. Because of import tariffs, a pair of fins can cost $150 in Brazil. (Trust me: they will really appreciate it. Note the stitched-together fins below.)
Check out more videos from Pervaleo HERE
Go to the Whooze website for more information on past and future events.