The northeast coast of Brazil is a path well-trodden for kiters, but every so often it’s worth reminding ourselves why it’s so popular. If you haven’t yet managed to get there, read on… Hannah Whiteley gives us the low down on some of the tops spots that she visited recently, where she bagged some awesome photos to whet your appetite and have you hitting up the credit card…
Photos: Svetlana Romantsova (unless specified)
Is northeast Brazil really all it’s cracked up to be? There is definitely a magic about it, and it’s an escape from winter with currently few Covid restrictions in place. But if it wasn’t for our passion for wind sports, I’m quite sure most of us would never visit this part of Brazil. It’s in what feels like the middle of nowhere where everything revolves purely around kiting. But I think this adds something special… you see the raw, uncut Brazil.
This may come as a surprise but the windy season starts in August already, blowing all the way through to December. Sometimes there can be a freak week of no wind, but in general the wind blows consistently every day, all day and all night. The yearly migration for most starts in October with the European summer drawing to an end. If you’re looking to get ahead of the crowds I would recommend going early in the season or towards the end of it, to guarantee those empty lagoon sessions. Every year the lagoons form differently, and change in shape and size, and if lagoons are not really your thing there is always plenty of room in the ocean.
Fortaleza is the airport to fly to. With Cumbuco being the closest kite spot to the airport (about 45 minutes’ drive), it’s usually the first pit stop on my Brazil trip. There’s always quite a vibe in Cumbuco, although it can get rather busy. But it’s good to enjoy the nightlife and many good restaurants. The town comes to life at night with the little quirky streets getting packed on the weekends. There are many Caipirinha cocktail stands, blasting Brazilian funk and reggaeton music. Cauipe is the most famous Cumbuco lagoon. The standard of riding from the Cauipe locals is unreal; double handle passes are a warm up for these guys. This lagoon is where the kite stars are born, Carlos Mario setting the tone incredibly high with multiple world freestyle titles. It’s hard not to push your riding with everyone throwing huge tricks down in the lagoon. Then everyone hangs out in their buggies by the lagoon, cheering their mates on the water. I enjoyed trying to capture the Cauipe fun and energy with photographer Dave Mody. It was great working together and seeing his creativity with motion blur shots as well.
Heading 40 minutes north from Cumbuco, the next stop is Taiba. It’s a small town and a lot quieter than Cumbuco, with another popular lagoon. It is home of world champion and Duotone teammate Mika Sol. Watching her freestyle on home turf is insane – such a shredder! This season the Taiba lagoon was working well and was big. It was great to have some proper freestyle training. What keeps me driven and stoked on kiting is mixing it up. So after some good freestyle training I craved stronger wind and doing some funky freeride tricks. With the hunt for stronger wind, I continued north as the further north you go the stronger the wind is.
Three hours from Taiba is Ilha do Guajiru, a village built around a tidal lagoon, with all the hotels right at the spot. It’s so nice to wake up and be able to kite straight away without needing to travel. You do have to keep the tides in mind, as when it’s low tide there is no water in the lagoon. You can however ride at the bottom of the lagoon where it connects to the sea. What I like most about Ilha is the possibilities I see from a creative side – it’s a shooting paradise with so many different backdrops. Svetlana was now on the road trip to capture some great shots. She is a good friend and we always have a ton of fun working together and pushing each other to get those magic shots. I love all the little fishing boats in the Ilha lagoon. There are so many, some old and barely afloat, and others beautifully painted in vibrant colors. I think I got slightly obsessed with shooting with the boats. I couldn’t get enough of them, especially in the golden hour light!
The boats are not only for fishing; you can take a boat taxi upwind to the top of the lagoon where you’ll find a ‘secret’ spot, a sand bar you can kite next to, with totally flat water. If you continue further upwind to the start of the river mouth, you will find a little harbor surrounded by palm trees and mangroves. From here you can kite downwind through the mangrove channels – it’s such a cool experience, but you need a guide to show you the way. The river mouth is a beautiful setting, and I was compelled to try and capture a piece of this with Svetlana. Jumping over a boat was the obvious choice. But nothing is ever quite as easy as it seems on a picture… the reality was a sketchy one. It’s the gustiest part of the lagoon so taking off on your jumps was a bit of a lottery, but this was not the main concern. The sketchy thing was the landing – the tide was quickly going out, leaving almost no water behind the boat where I was landing. So I was hitting the sand and having to focus on landing softly and not injure myself, while also trying to be in the right position for Svetlana to get the shot and trying not to take out any palm trees with my kite! The pictures are taken with a wide-angle lens so it gives a bit of a false reality, making everything look a lot further away than it actually was. But it was worth the risk and I’m so happy with how the shots turned out.
After a few days in Ilha do Guajiru it was time to continue the road trip to Icaraizinho. I had never been before so I was intrigued what it would be like. The first thing I noticed was the huge wind turbine farm. I love them; it feels like you’re in the right place as a kiter! Ironically the wind was a bit light the days we were there but this lighter wind had me in some sort of state of meditation. Cruising and floating gently around in the sky next to the huge wind turbines felt somewhat calming. There is also a great flat-water spot you can ride by the river mouth but it’s tide dependent and didn’t work out for us on our few days there.
Next, we headed to Jericoacoara, a popular place for Brazilians to come on holiday with a big nightlife scene. There is always a party and a great atmosphere in the town as well as fantastic places to eat. One of the main attractions in Jeri is the huge sand dune – everyone walks to the top of it for sunset and watches the sun go down. Kiting-wise you have a few options – you can kite in the sea by the sand dune, but it’s a very gusty spot. I preferred taking the adventure to the Guriu lagoon – you need a 4×4 or taxi buggy to get there and you have to cross the river which is quite an experience… You drive your vehicle onto an unstable looking raft with a little motor on the back. It’s quite hard putting your faith in this raft knowing the weight of a 4×4 full of kite gear and people. I’m not sure the health and safety officer would pass it but I can confirm we didn’t sink. Once you have crossed the river you drive through what looks like a graveyard for trees, with the roots of the trees coming out of the ground giving somewhat of a spooky feel. The Guriu lagoon works best mid tide and is a great spot – the wind is strong and smooth and the water is flat.
A regular occurrence in northern Brazil is the fishermen wading through the lagoons throwing their fishing nets in the ‘golden’ hour. I had a vision to capture this tradition with the combination of kiting. If I could get the timing to align with a local fisherman throwing a net whilst I jumped over it, I felt like it would be the ‘money’ shot. I wandered into town on the hunt for a local fisherman. It didn’t take me long to find one chilling in his hammock under a tree. I would like to add I can’t speak a word of Portuguese; foreign languages are not one of my strong points. This didn’t worry me… I'm a great charades player and I have Google Translate ready on my phone. The fisherman spoke no English so I wrote my message on Google Translate to him. Only then I realized he couldn’t read! He hadn’t a clue what I was trying to say. This task was turning out to be a little harder than I originally thought… I left the fisherman on a mission to find a translator but time was running out, sunset was fast approaching and it was the final day of shooting with Svetlana. It was now or never. I was running around the town struggling to find someone to help. I then desperately went into a hotel and found a Brazilian guest willing to help. His English was not the best, but it was enough to get the message across. The fisherman agreed to be part of the shoot – I think it might have helped that I offered him what was probably the equivalent of his weekly salary for being the chief net thrower!
It was on. We headed to the Jeri lagoon, which is not a place I would recommend to kite – it’s even gustier than kiting in the sea next to the sand dune. It was however an empty lagoon and a great spot for net throwing. My friend Matt kindly came along to help communicate to the fisherman when to throw the net. It was proving quite tricky to get the timing of the net being open and looking good with the timing of the right moment of the kite trick. The fisherman was also a bit afraid of me; I was jumping quite close to him. Sometimes he got freaked out and didn’t throw the net. The wind was gusty as hell, and there were a few lulls resulting in me being caught up in the net. The edge of it has metal weights on and they are quite painful when one hits you in the face! Despite the difficulties I am happy with our team effort and how it turned out. It’s not always about the outcome, but about the journey of getting there… the adventure of making it happen. I would like to take this moment to thank Svetlana for all her hard work and motivation shooting on the road trip, and a big thank you also to Dave for shooting at the beginning of the trip in Cumbuco.
So, if you are thinking of going to Brazil, go! Yes, it can get very busy on the water in the lagoons, but you can normally find a quieter moment at some point during the day, or the ocean downwinders are a fun option. Life is an easy and enjoyable one in northeast Brazil and you can be sure of a good time… ■
This feature originally appeared in TheKiteMag #46. To read the full issue, subscribe here.