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Stormrider Guide to surfing Fernando de Noronha

Brazil, SOUTH AMERICA


Abras, Marc Fenies

Summary

+ Powerful tubing reefbreaks and beachbreaks - Short surf season
+ Consistently offshore - Difficult access
+ Untouched, wild environment - Isolated island location
+ Peaceful island vibe - Very expensive living costs

Surprisingly, Fernando de Noronha’s main source of swell is not from the S like most of Brazil, but from the North Atlantic lows that provide Europe with its surf. These swells have to march thousands of miles south, helped along by favourable winds and ocean currents. The island has had a colourful recent history, having been used as a battlefield, jail, air base and weather station, but has now become a tourist heaven for divers and surfers. It is never under 2ft during Dec-Feb, and swells last for 5-6 days. Like Hawaii, the island is the summit of a huge underwater volcano, rising 4.3km from the ocean floor. The surrounding deep water and lack of continental shelf allows the swells to hit with unimpeded speed and power, jacking up wave heights in the process. The SE-facing side of the island is too steep and mountainous for any surf, whereas the NW oriented coastline has perfect topography and offshore winds. The steeply sloping beaches make for some fast barrels, which sometimes tend toward the straighthander category, but are perfectly suited to bodyboarders and tube junkies.

When to Go

Low pressures sitting off the North American east coast generate plenty of 2-12ft NW-N swells between Nov and March. As these systems move towards the Azores, the swell arrives from a more NE direction, helped by the prevailing NE trades and Canaries Current, but slightly hindered by the Cape Verde islands shadow. Fernando de Noronha is also exposed to tropical depressions as they head from Africa to the Americas and will send an off-season swell if they develop into hurricanes quickly enough. South swells hit between April-Oct, but due to onshore winds and steeply rising beaches, they don’t produce good quality waves, however, it will always be 1-2ft at this time. Wind patterns are extremely stable, SE is the predominant direction varying from 41% in April to 70% in Sept, when it's not blowing SE it will almost certainly be due E. In fact for 94% of the time it blows from one of these two directions. This means perfect offshore conditions on the NW-facing surf coastline. There are some slight variations at the end of the dry season, (Feb-April), when there may be NE and S winds. The semi-diurnal tidal range maximum is 2.34m (7.7ft) and affects the waves a lot, with low tide required for some reefs, while the beachbreaks are usually happiest at mid.

Surf Spots

When a moderate to big NW swell slams into the northern-most point of Noronha, the classic righthander at Baia da Rata offers powerful righthand walls for experts with a boat. If the swell is big enough and the tide low enough, then you may get to surf fickle Abras, the best left reef on the island. It starts off as an open barrel before turning into a carvable wall that in turn becomes a fast hollow, close-out section on the gnarled reef shelf. Nasty rocks pop up everywhere, making entry and exit a real pain. On the other side of Isla San José from Abras, a groomed righthander sometimes breaks into the bay that is usually full of moored up boats awaiting passengers for island and dive tours. Needs W in the swell and lower tides as the island gets cut off by high water. Just down from the harbour, Boboca will rip across the reef in NW swell and is perfectly offshore in the SE winds. Handles some size and mid tide attracting the locals on the good days. Praia do Meio holds various decent peaks that usually work best on mid tides. The other end of the beach is Cachorro, below the famous vista from the Fort Remedios, where it is much rockier. More good waves are to be found at Praia do Italcabe, in Conceição, which is a fast beachbreak and is the centre of the island’s beach scene. Closes out quite a bit at the extremes of tide, but can have a right off the eastern corner or some lefts beneath the towering monolith of the Pico do Morro. Boldro is a hazardous reef with some very good lefts and rights that barrel when it’s small, but it gets a little crazy when the swell is over 6ft. Lower tides are needed to pull the waves off the rock shelf and swell direction will decide which side fires. Fast and wedgy at the peak, coupled with sharp rocks and some protective locals make this an experienced surfers spot. The northeastern end of of the main Cacimba beach surf spot is called Bode and it catches some nice peaks in smaller broken-up swells at mid tides. If the swell arrives from the NE then a righthand tunnel will grind off the slab of reef for a longer, pedal to the metal ride. Looking down from the mirantes (viewpoints), Cacimba do Padre appears as a picturesque tropical beach with perfect clean waves in crystal clear water, against the backdrop of the gnarled volcanic rock brothers known as the Dois Irmãoes. This is the most consistent spot on the island and the swell can be doubled in size here, reaching heights of up to 15ft (5m) offering huge, cavernous barrels, before shutting down hard on the fine-sand beach. With enough NW-N swell, it starts breaking on an outside shelf and rolls left through to the inside, getting meaner all the way. There are rights as well, but most of the action is concentrated on the longer, more makeable lefts. Smaller, peakier swells can see a high tide left, wedge off the base of the rocks, but no matter what the size, Cacimba is always hollow and powerful. During the pro contest, crowds explode, but midweek mornings will see a handful of tube-hunters. Beginners should stay closer to town and experienced surfers should take a couple of fast, strong boards, just in case. There are a few more spots dotted around the island, but with a maximum tourist capacity of 450 people at any one time, there's little need to explore.

Statistics

J
F
M
A
M
J
J
A
S
O
N
D
dominant swell NW -N NW -N NW -N NW -N NW -N NW -N
swell size (ft) 4-5 3-4 1 1 1-2 4
consistency (%) 80 60 10 10 20 70
dominant wind E -SE E -SE E -SE E -SE E -SE E -SE
average force F4 F3 F4 F4 F4 F4
consistency (%) 82 77 85 92 93 94
water temp (C) 27 27 27 26 26 26
wetsuit boardshorts boardshorts boardshorts boardshorts boardshorts boardshorts

Travel Information

Weather
Being located just south of the Equator, Fernando do Noronha enjoys a hot and humid climate split between a dry and wet season. SE trades bring the heaviest rain, (nearly every day), from Feb to July and even into Aug. Temps are very stable, with the air and water being around 26°-27°C, (80-82ºF). In the dry season from August to Jan everything turns from verdant green to very brown and burnt. For the best surf and weather come earlier in the season (Nov).

Lodging and Food
There are over 70 pousadas (guesthouses) and most have full-board prices from $80/n/dbl to $500/n/dbl for Pousada Triboju. Food and drink wise you have a choice of either expensive imported items, (like beer), and cheap repetitive seafood served in the launchonetes.

Nature and Culture
An appreciation of nature and hiking will greatly enhance your enjoyment of the island. Aquatic life is very rich with fish, shark, dolphins, (swimming with them is not allowed, nor is spear fishing) and turtles as well as birds and big lizards. There is no nightlife on the island or urban entertainment (except during the competition), if there’s no surf then occupy yourself by hiking, snorkelling, fishing or diving.