Go There: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
A Cidade Maravilhosa: The World's Most Naturally Beautiful Metropolis.
By Matias Lovro
Where: In the Southeastern coast of Brazil, 260 miles from the country's biggest city, São Paulo. Rio boasts about 500 square miles of urban landscape crammed in between 2,000-foot-tall monolithic rocks and the huge Guanabara Bay, a smaller and tropical version of the San Francisco Bay. The south side of the city is where the action is at, though. With roughly 25 miles of open ocean coast, there's plenty to choose from when it comes to waves.
What: It's the most visited place in Brazil. And South America. And the entire Southern Hemisphere. It might not be the ultimate trip surf-wise, but it can be a hell of a lot of fun to switch it up from the usual tropical village in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do. Rio is one of the oldest cities in Brazil--it even used to be the country's capital--and one of its biggest too, with a population of more than six million people. Although it does carry a reputation of violence from the favelas, if you don't play the dumb tourist type (walking around with too much cash, electronics, or your passport showing), you're much less likely to run into any trouble.
When: Waves are most consistent from April to October, when storms send south and southwest swell from down the coast, generating up to eight-to-10-foot waves. During the fall (April through June), though, you're more likely to get swells free of the bad weather associated with winter storms. True long-period groundswells are less frequent in Brazil, due to storms being generated close in, so the first day or two of a swell usually comes with onshore winds and some rain. Bigger swells, generated further away, or by cyclones, though, can bring big surf with clean conditions to the entire region. When storm activity is low, east, southeast, and south windswells can also generate rideable waves. The occasional off-season cyclone can happen, but the surf is usually either flat or really small and way too crowded during the summer (US winter).
Why: Why do people from all over Brazil and the world go there? Well, it's a huge and culturally rich, for one. There's also the weather and the natural beauty. There's the other natural beauty--the one under those tiny bikinis Rio is famous for. Plus, the soccer World Cup will be there in 2014, as well as the Summer Olympics in 2016. There isn't a hotter time to be in Rio than right about now. Oh yeah, and there's surf. From the more popular and fancy areas of Leblon and Ipanema, which is holding some heavier though slightly walled waves, to the current WT venue of Barra da Tijuca and every stretch of beach around them. There's the sand-bottom semi points like Arpoador, where this year's Billabong Pro started off, to the more consistent and mushier waves of Barra, and the smaller beaches, like Prainha and Grumari. And if you're lucky to score one of those bigger swells--and hook up with some local knowledge--there's rock-bottom, ball-shrinking, tube-spinning slabs all around, just offshore, with very few people willing to surf them. You could also head to Saquarema, which is only a few hours' drive from Rio and said by many to be home of the best beachbreak in the entire country--ask World Tour surfer Kai Otton.
How: Most of the major airports, aside from the West Coast, have direct flights to Rio de Janeiro. If you book early, the price of a Los Angeles to Rio ticket, stopping in Atlanta, for example, can be as low as $1,200. Once out of the airport, take a cab straight to the hotel and you're good. If you're coming from the US, you also need to get a visa from the Brazilian embassy or consulate nearest you.
Places To Stay: There are options for everyone, from the really fancy Copacabana Palace, where world-famous celebrities stay, to cheaper options, like the Sheratons. There's one in Barra da Tijuca where most WT athletes stay, and another between the Leblon and São Conrado beaches, a 10-minute paddle to a famous slab named after the same hotel. Hostels are the cheapest option, though. The trendy Z.BRA (zbrahostel.com), in Leblon, is really close to the best bars and restaurants in town, and the surf there offers some really fun barrels on the right day.
Places To Eat: From fast food (fun fact: Rio has the only KFCs in Brazil) to movie star-type fancy bistros, you can find pretty much everything without much research. Ask in the hotel lobby, a friend, a local, or look it up on the Internet, just don't worry about it.
Babes And Dudes: This one's a no-brainer. It'd be a challenge not to spot the really fit skin showing around every corner and every stretch of every beach. Be it sunbathing, jogging and biking on the boardwalk, out in the streets or partying at night, they're everywhere. Try making some friends at the beach by day to find out where to go at night. Who knows if you'll meet your own Girl Of Ipanema.
Crowd Factor: A few spots, like the historic Arpoador, are a little more heavily guarded by locals, although getting waves there is still manageable. Aside from that, it's the big-city crowd--there's always someone in the water, but an early rise can earn you plenty of waves without too much of a hassle.
Stuff To Bring: Sunscreen and a thin wetsuit. You may or may not use it, but most locals put them on as soon as the sun hides during the winter months. The coldest the weather gets is around the high 60s, so unless the weather is bad, it's manageable to surf in boardshorts. Also, bring some nice clothes for a night out, be it a fancier dinner or an all-nighter.
If The Surf Is Flat: This is one of those surf trips where this is not much of a concern. There's the must dos, even if that means missing out a session or two: checking out the Cristo Redentor--a huge Jesus statue, considered one of the seven wonders of the world--and riding the cable car up the Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf Mountain). For the more cultural crowd, well, it's a historic city leaking culture from every corner, so head to one of its theaters, museums, or concerts and enjoy. And for the more outdoorsy types, Rio offers plenty: everything ocean-related, riding a skateboard on the boardwalk, flying off a cliff with a hang glider, and trekking in the largest urban park in the world are only a few of the activities available. At night, look up the Circo Voador (circovoador.com.br), in the Lapa neighborhood, where there's always a big concert going down.
Helpful Websites: The city of Rio's official guide (rioguiaoficial.com.br) provides all the basic touristic information you may need. For a bigger selection of hostels, check out brazilian.hostelworld.com; and for surf info, conditions, and forecast, visit ricosurf.globo.com, a Rio-based surf portal.