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Blue Tomato

Stormrider Guide to surfing Rio de Janeiro


Barra de Tijuca, John Callahan


+ Brazil's best beachbreaks - Lack of points and reefs
+ Consistent year-round - Rare epic conditions
+ Drier winter time - Ultra-crowded main spots
+ Buzios/cabo frio options - High street-crime rate

Rio’s physical features are dominated by the Sierra do Mar mountain range, which is cloaked by the Mata Atlantica forest. Mountains plunge into the sea, forests meet the beaches, and cliff faces rise abruptly from the extended lowlands. This combination forms the landscape of rare beauty that has made Rio famous as the Wonderful City “Cidade Maravilhosa”. It’s one of the most densely populated places on earth, with seven million “Cariocas” indulging in dancing, drinking, beach-going and sunbathing. The low coastline has been deeply altered by years of earthwork and has several offshore islands in the background.

When to Go

The littoral ‘carioca’ is well exposed to the frequent S-SE Antarctica swells (April-Oct), providing 2-10ft (0.6-3m) conditions most of the time. Expect unusual late-winter E swells produced by lows tracking way off the coast or by major highs blowing strong E winds which send short ENE groundswells. Swells rarely get big which is convenient because few spots seem to hold size. Dominant wind comes from the E varying from 16% (June) to 32% (Oct); NE-SE is the usual direction while winters seem to produce more SW-S winds when cold fronts move towards the coast. Offshores only occur on calm mornings before 10am when the E seabreeze picks up or on SW spots with NE winds. The good news is that tidal range is really low and doesn’t matter most on the time. Grab a ‘tabua de mares’ for better understanding.

Surf Spots

To the west of Rio is a region with a concentration of high-class hotels and condos and from Barra da Tijuca, a magnificent beach extends along Avenida Semambetiba up to Recreio. Further west is the cove at Prainha, which has epitomised the Brazilian surf experience for decades and been the scene of many contests. Restinga de Marambaia represents 40kms (25mi) of mostly off-limits beachbreaks because of military restrictions followed by Rio’s westernmost surf located on Ilha Grande. One of Rio’s great spots is Pepino where lefts can be tubular but frequently zooed out by bodyboarders in the water and lots of hang-gliders circling above. Arpoador is Brazil’s surfing birthplace and usually entertains the best surf of the Zona Sul (South Side), easily recognised by its giant rock lookout. On medium to big E swells, lefts can reach 10ft (3m) and the best way to avoid thick crowds is to come surfing at night since the beach is lit. When the proper SW wind blows though, there's good surfing all the way from Ipanema to Leblon where the seaside strip is even more densely populated. Canto do Leblon is Rio’s best wave, attracting big wave/tow-in riders when conditions allow, as beefy rights up to 12ft (4m) are sheltered from the W/SW winds at the pointbreak and there are beach peaks as well. The 4km (2.5mi) of Copacabana beach are known worldwide and although the surf is not all that good, boogies have found a square, Shark Island type right reef named Shorey or Expresso Escorpiao. Take the 14km (9mi) Niteroi bridge to cross the Bahia de Guanabara and reach Itacoatiara (Costão) where local hot surfers are all over the amazingly reliable beachbreaks including Meio and Pampo. Many travellers opt to head for Saquarema, stopping en route at Ponta Negra’s powerful beachbreak, best with easterly swell. If the swell increases and shifts to the SW, check nearby Jaconé’s sheltered waves. Next along is Barrinha, polluted but consistent especially with a SW swell. Many Cariocas consider Saquarema to have the most consistent, quality waves in Brazil, with Itauna at the heart of it all. 10-12ft (3-4m) and clean is not that rare an occurrence. Overlooked by the Nazaré Church, built in 1630, the outside lefts can be reached through a channel. Inside rights sometimes referred to as the Expresso hold up to 6ft (2m) surf. Vila, aka Praia do Canto, on other side of Nazaré Hill is more urban and can also hold some size. Then, the Massambada Restinga stands out as another endless beach with myriads of potential peaks, best on S to E mid-size swells and N winds. Check as many access points as possible, like Seca about halfway down. Praia Brava sometimes holds long, perfect lefts in Arraial do Cabo, when NE winds clean an E swell. It’s necessary to hike on the other side of Itajaru Canal and nudists pepper the wild beach. Cabo Frio, the ‘cold cape’, gets consistent surf by a 1616 built fort, thus called Forte. It’s pretty urban so expect competitive crowds, especially by the jetties. Buzios is a ritzy seaside resort with nice villas, friendly pousadas and beautiful people. In the ‘70s, hippies would escape there from the military dictatorship. Geriba is Buzios’ most consistent beachbreak, best on NE wind and S to E swell, but it gets super-crowded on weekends. Scenic Brava gets punchy on big E swell; beware the Laje do Criminoso currents. The outside reefbreaks of Laje Rasa are rare but the waves are quality on both sides. Be ready for a 30min paddle or get a boat out there.


dominant swell E -S E -S E -S E -S E -S E -S
swell size (ft) 2 2-3 3-4 4 3-4 2
consistency (%) 50 60 80 90 80 50
dominant wind NE -E NE -E NE -E NE -E NE -E NE -SE
average force F3-F4 F3-F4 F3-F4 F3-F4 F4 F3-F4
consistency (%) 67 46 39 48 47 60
water temp (C) 25 25 23 22 22 23
wetsuit boardshorts boardshorts springsuit springsuit springsuit springsuit

Travel Information

Rio is tropical, warm and humid, with local variations, due to differences in altitude, vegetation and proximity to the ocean; the average annual temp is 22°C/72°F, with daily averages higher in summer from 30-32°C (86-90°F); rains vary from an annual 1,200 to 2,800mm (48-110”in). It can also be dreadfully humid; there are more showers in summer than at other times, but they rarely last long. From December to March, the high summer season, very hot days are followed by luminous evenings when heavy and rapid rains usually bring relief and starlit nights. Most surfers tend to come in winter; take a shorty for the morning windy days but boardshorts rule this coast!

Lodging and Food
Be like Lola and spend a while around Copacabana where most int’l hotels are located, like Edificio Jucati ($30/dble). Try Pousada Barra Sol for $20/25 in Tijuca. In Saquarema, Itauna Inn ‘Casal’ (double) for $22/27 with ideal surf views. Plenty of Pousadas in Buzios, try Sossego surf camp ($15-20). Expect tasty Prato do dia to cost ±$3.

Nature and Culture
The beach in Rio is the main place to go for action, sport, parties, shows...Futvolei is big! Don’t miss Pão de Azucar (400m) or Corcovado Cristo Redentor (710m) for sunset views of the city from a cable car. Pillion flights with a pilot hang/para-gliding off the 510m Pedra Bonita can be arranged. Excellent hiking and climbing.