Liquid Samba

Surf to the Rhythm of Bahia, the Soul of Brazil

Dec 9, 2003
Outside Magazine

Taking a break from the Brazilian surf    Photo: Corel

"Did you hear the big news?" my surf instructor, Adriano dos Santos Sarmento, asked when I arrived in the sleepy Brazilian fishing village of Itacaré. "The fishermen caught three massive tiger sharks—right where we're taking you to surf tomorrow." Then he added, "The price of shark meat went down 200 percent today." This Peter Benchley info-moment got my attention, but because shark attacks are unheard of here, I was undeterred from my plan to enlist in surf boot camp.

I ventured to Itacaré, in the eastern coastal state of Bahia, 186 miles south of Salvador, because Brazilian friends told me it possesses the "soul" of Brazil and a legacy of African-influenced music, cuisine, dance, and religion. The Afro-Brazilian culture, they said, imbues Bahia with a mysticism that affects the spirit and the senses—and, I figured, maybe the surf.

The road to town was paved five years ago, not long enough to have made Itacaré a jaded tourist area. And having noted the dreamy look in the eyes of graduates lounging around EasyDrop, a six-year-old surf camp, I set my own goal as nothing short of spiritual deliverance. For the next two weeks, seven multilingual instructors—led by the owner, German ex-fencer and musician Hans-Benjamin Kromayer—would take me and five other recruits (two Brazilians, two Canadians, and a fellow American) to half a dozen of the best surf spots in a 20-mile radius.

I quickly fell into the routine. Classes began with jumping jacks on the white sand. "Choose your wave carefully and always pay attention. Abaixa mais," Sarmento said, seamlessly mixing English and Portuguese. His suggestion to stay low came right before my surfboard jettisoned me, making me wish that I hadn't skipped so many balance-building yoga sessions back home.

When I needed a break, I paddled out on my longboard and meditated on the warm, poochy swells that trundled in. May through July, the waves would be eight feet high, not the three feet they were in January, and ten times as intimidating. The mile-long beach, cupped by lush Atlantic rainforest, was deserted except for a little girl decapitating coconuts and selling them to surfers.

Every morning as I strapped on my leash, I swore that I would take the afternoon to raft the nearby Río de Contas or explore the mangrove swamps. But after four hours of surfing, I invariably collapsed into a lactic-acid-induced nap. Only when the heat lost its chokehold on the day did I rouse for the evening video screening—a ritual replete with a professional critique from Kromayer. Then we fueled up on moqueca (a whitefish drenched in a thick coconut and palm-oil broth and served over rice) at Tia Deth, a family-run restaurant with homemade oil paintings tacked to the walls.

"God, this is perfect," a fellow surfie said at dinner, setting down his caipirinha, a Brazilian cocktail. I didn't know if he meant the exquisite blend of sugarcane booze and lemon, the tropical breeze that tumbled over the bows of small wooden boats and onto our rickety table, or the delicious soreness of well-used muscles. It was all perfection.

Lodging: EasyDrop (011-55-73-251-3065, offers a two-week package of instruction, lodging at a pousada, and breakfast for $817-$859, depending on the season.
Sports: Mid-September through December and March through April are the best times for beginning surfers to visit. Get surf gear at Pousada Hanalei (daily surfboard rentals, $7-$11; 011-55-73-251-2311). For rafting the Class III-IV Río de Contas, try AtivaRafting (011-55-73-251-2224, A 17-mile trip from the put-in at Taboquinhas, in the Itacaré district, costs $14 per person.

Filed To: Surfing, Brazil

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