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Tarifa – Brazil

By Michel Cruz

"You come here to dedicate your life to surfing and get away from the big-city lifestyle"  

 Beaches of BrazilSurf lovers know Tarifa as the cool, laid back centre of the kite-surfing world. Since the first pioneers tested the waters here over 20 years ago the area has become a haven not just for those who enjoy water sports but also for people seeking a way of life that is less rushed, stressful and materialistic. The many nationalities that are drawn to this spot, therefore, are bound by a love of the waves and a shared outlook on life that helps to give Tarifa it’s unique character. 

It’s an idyllic way to spend a summer and recharge the batteries for life back in the rat race, but for the many who have made this their permanent home the lack of a year-round season has always been a problem. “You come here to dedicate your life to surfing and get away from the big-city lifestyle,” says Nacho Yuste, who left Valencia eight years ago to set up a kite-school and surf shop. “The problem is, business is excellent during the summer but it’s a short season; you’re run off your feet for several months and then the crowds dwindle during the winter months.”

Discovering new frontiers

Two years ago, he decided to act upon the advice of a friend and visit Ceará, on the northeast tip of Brazil - as much to relax and ‘get away from the stress of Tarifa’ as to look for expansion possibilities for his Kite Obsession brand. “In Tarifa, the season ends late September, early October, but along the tropical coastline north of the city of Forteleza the conditions remain excellent right up to January/February, when the winds drop and the rainy season sets in. Moreover, during the season there is wind every day.”

Nacho took to the relaxed lifestyle and friendly people of this remote and slow-moving part of Brazil like a fish to water. “Life is simple there, and the people don’t have a lot, but they are happy nonetheless. They have food, sun and party a lot, so they’re relaxed and very hospitable.” He enjoyed his stay so much that he bought a house on the beach in Cumbuco and set up a kite school there. “It’s a great place to come and relax for a couple of months, but as it’s cheaper, laid back and the surf is great, more and more people are discovering it, so it seemed an excellent opportunity for us to establish a branch of Kite Obsession to run during the off-season in Tarifa.”

300km of beach…

 Although recently ‘put on the tourist map’, this is still a rugged, pristine region. Apart from Fortaleza, a city of over 1.5 million where wealth and poverty live side by side, most settlements are small, either scattered along the coast or set amid dense vegetation inland. “Cumbuco, just half an hour from Fortaleza, is the main kite-surfing centre, but there are lots of little kite and windsurf spots all along a 300-kilometre stretch of tropical coastline,” says Ben Harrison, a Tarifa-based instructor who spends the winters in South America.

“I used to run kite schools in Venezuela, but I have to say the whole vibe in Brazil is amiable. It’s also still very new. There are some good inland roads but because many of the connecting roads to the coastal villages can be hard to navigate without a 4x4 lots of people drive beach buggies on the beach.” For many it’s this combination of rugged tropical landscape, laid-back people and an authentic surf scene that attracts. “My favourite is Jericoacoara, or ‘Jeri, as we call it. It’s a beautiful spot where the hills slope straight down to the beach and people go to a huge sand dune to watch the sun set directly into the sea. Jeri’s got a real ambience, and because it’s secluded you’ll find it draws an interesting mix of surfers and well to do visitors. Land isn’t cheap, because there’s little of it and it’s surrounded by a natural park, but the atmosphere is chilled and relaxed, and the surfing is really great.”

While there, Ben was joined by Sophie Mathews, a qualified sport instructor and masseuse, who aims to become a professional kite-surfer. “The fact that the wind is constant but normally doesn’t get as powerful as in Tarifa makes it an ideal place to practice,” says Sophie. It’s not the first time she set out for foreign shores, having already had spells working as an instructor in Greece, Egypt and Venezuela, but this was the first time she did it all alone. “I’d heard about this new place and thought it would be a great opportunity to practise for the start of my first PKRA season, so I bought a ticket and found myself at Fortaleza airport.”

 At first fearful that a lone young blonde might attract the wrong kind of attention Sophie found it rather easy to get around. “You naturally don’t stroll into a poor suburb of Fortaleza or go around flaunting Rolexes, but for the rest the people is very nice and if you can’t rent a car the public transport is good and cheap.” Having made it up the coast she now belongs to a growing group of people who have vowed to keep coming back. “I met so many people I know it felt like half of Tarifa was there,” she says. “For the time being my attentions are focused on breaking through in the professional circuit, but I think the Tarifa-Brazil connection has definitely been made now.”