Paradise Island

Words by: Matchu Lopes
Photos by: Toby Bromwich

Matchu has grown up riding Ponta Preta, one of the most iconic spots on the planet. He’s also traveled all over the world riding incredible waves. So for him to have this level of stoke about a spot, it’s got to be pretty special… Where is it? We couldn’t possible disclose that, but – unless you’re a big fan of shallow reefs and sharky vibes – you probably wouldn’t want to head there anyway…

“Hey Jo, any way you can get my kit over to Tarifa?” I called out. “Sure man,” I heard back as I ran towards my hotel room, no time for shampoo or conditioner, I just needed to get the salt water off and get dressed ready for the airport. Running through the reception of the hotel and into the car I realized my wallet was on the nightstand and so made one more fast-track through the holiday makers in Portugal.

It’s the third stop of the GKA World Tour and after four days of no wind, on the last possible day of competition, the wind finally showed up and answered the prayers of the competitors. But I knew that today I needed to leave the hotel at 3pm to get to the airport to embark on possibly the most epic experience of my life so far. With this spinning through my head I entered the water in Portugal and, I’m not 100% sure what happened, but as I found the perfect section of flat water in my heat I decided to go for it. I closed my eyes, left the water and boom: opening my eyes just before the landing I realized I had the space to do one more rotation. As I hit the water I thought maybe I had done it but when I started to unspin my lines I counted 1, 2, and 3…WHAT?! I just managed to land the first ever triple in competition, I was so stoked, and as I entered the final with Airton I felt confident and comfortable and managed to land the tricks I wanted to. When I made it out of the water it was already 3.30pm and Jo had helped me out by sorting my equipment so I literally landed my kite, threw my harness on the beach and made a run for it.

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I managed to get to the airport and went from Porto to Lisbon where the guys from GKA needed me to do an interview, it was only at that moment that they let me know who won the heat because I had no idea. I had won! I was super stoked, in fact I did a little jumping and screaming in the airport… Then, sweating, I managed to get my flight to Dubai and then on to Mauritius.

The Fellowship is Complete
Arriving in Mauritius the next afternoon I met everyone and entered into the vibe of nervous excited-energy, with the whole team looking forward to the amazing experience that was about to come our way. The next day we all woke up early and with a nervous breakfast as everyone focused on the black storm clouds forming overhead, we put our stuff in the car and journeyed towards the pier to catch our boat.

As we set off on our little boat, the water was nice and smooth and clean, but as soon as we passed the islands the sea went crazy. Everyone went quiet, sneaking into their rooms to go to sleep. Unfortunately, I was in the front of the boat and it was moving. A lot. It was loud, the water was coming inside and I had a lovely flow of water all night onto my feet. I woke up a couple of times and it was my mission to be cool. Drinking Coca-Cola, talking, trying to laugh, trying to distract my mind because normally on big boats I get sick, so when I saw this much smaller boat I was thinking I was definitely going to throw up the whole way. But I didn’t! I couldn’t believe it. I was impressed with myself, but I was most impressed by Reno’s performance: he managed to sleep for the entire 24 hours. No breakfast, lunch or dinner! I think I would die if I did that.

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Arriving on the island after a long 24 hours, I saw the blue water, white dunes and small trees. And almost immediately we saw a huge turtle. It was right next to the boat cruising around us and checking us out and welcoming us to his home.

Time to Kite
I’d had a good sleep, good breakfast and was starting to prepare my mind, wax my board, put in my fins and prepare my harness. We had two small boats to come and pick us up and take us to the spot. The water on the reef was really shallow, but with the experience of one of the local guys who lives on the island, and the captain from our 24 hour boat trip, we managed to cross easily and 25 minutes later we arrived on a deserted island with white sand and crystal blue waters. With around 23 knots and a 10m kite, I managed to land a couple of triples, double front shove-its and some pretty high backloops. I was also blessed to see 10 stingrays riding alongside me in the water. It was pretty insane. But I can’t say that I wasn’t a little scared… You’re always a little apprehensive in new spots, but here, especially with the shallow rocky reefs and the obvious sharky vibe, my heart was beating a little faster than normal.

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The Reef
The following day everyone’s apprehension had started to dissipate and as our team woke up it was only excitement you could feel on a lovely windy day. It was sunny, the wind was steady and the ocean was clear: the photographers were loving life! After four hours of shooting photos and videos doing jumps, freestyle tricks and kiteloops, me, Reno, Hannah and Tom were all pretty tired but stayed in the water a little longer to follow the many turtles that had come to check out what was going on, and to try to jump with the stingrays which were flying all around us. It was a sick experience.

Since we arrived in our paradise, we hadn’t had a chance to check the waves, but before I came on the trip I had checked the forecast and I knew those first few days were going to be epic, with sizeable waves pumping all day long. We decided to head out to check it over. As we started to approach the wave we could see this sick lefthander but about two miles out on a reef in the middle of the ocean. The waves were pretty much the ones you dream of: double overhead, barreling, super-hollow and with no one else about. Just epic, clean and perfect. The photographers were freaking out, but I was a little serious at this point – I was looking at the waves and thinking about the spot which is also pretty well known for sharks. I have a lot of respect for spots like this with shallow reefs and I didn’t want to make any mistakes, a small mistake there could turn out to be pretty heavy and I didn’t want to find out what the reef had in store for me if I timed the wave wrong.

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With excitement bubbling over, we returned to the base and I spoke to the manager who asked me if I wanted to go out. Of course I did, but I also wanted someone to come out with me with another kite just in case my kite goes on the reef, so they could pull me out and make sure everything was safe and good. On our way back over we had my backup kiter, two boats with photographers, a drone photographer, me, and lots of barrels. So no pressure!

I was on my 8m and the wind was perfect but strong, I got some nice big waves but I was concentrating on my position and working out where I could go. The tide was really low and the waves were breaking on the super shallow sections. I found myself pulling in but not really going all in. For me it was a good session but I knew I could do a lot better…

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Loosen Up
The next day the wind was lighter and the waves were still as epic, and I had loosened up. I felt way more comfortable and I didn’t care about anything: I was just going for it – getting in the tubes, wiping out, and just having so much fun. You know those sessions when you’re just going for it? It was epic and we got some insane shots and videos.

Then, at the end of the day, the wind was so light that Tom and I decided to go fishing. We just went out a little offshore on a boat and in less than 45 minutes we had caught nine tunas and three or four other fish. It was epic! That night we ate sushi and sashimi… Then one of the strongest memories I will take away with me from this unreal place is the feeling you get at night. I felt like maybe the stars would drop down to Earth over me; there is no light, no internet, no phone connection. And there are only a couple of houses on this paradise filled with birds, turtles, fish, waves and sharks – it’s incredible…

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On the final day we did some cruising shots with the three different kite colors near a ship which was on the reef far away. It was so amazing; I have never seen anything like it. I had to go on a twintip because the water was so shallow, and on our way there the water was so crystal clear that we could see shoals of fish swimming under us, and of course some nice big sharks cruising around! We were laughing and screaming and joking with each other and getting closer and closer to this huge boat rusting away. The set up was unbelievably beautiful.

When we finished the shoot the wind was getting lighter and lighter, and I headed back to the wave spot. I am so used to riding Ponta Preta with light wind… just pumping, getting in the wave, positioning the kite and then just surfing. There was just barely enough wind to go upwind on my 11 but then when I pulled in onto the wave, I was just holding, stalling for the section and then pulling into the barrel, and then going out and doing some sick turns. It was like it was MY day… everything just came together! I was getting waves, riding them all the way and then turning to see the next set coming through. I don’t even know how to explain it, it was just unbelievable. This was my magic spot, just for me, it couldn’t have been any better and I am so happy my sponsors gave me the opportunity to come here where so few people get the opportunity to come. I feel so blessed to have experienced this place and that everyone stayed safe and no one got hurt. It was just amazing, so good!

This article originally appeared in TheKiteMag #27. To subscribe, go here.

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