With the Brazilian sun shining brightly, I found myself chest deep in a murky lake, not really sure what could be lurking under the water, pulling thick reeds from below and stacking them on an old and beaten-up stand-up paddleboard. Mateus, standing on the makeshift island, was pulling the reeds from the board and adding them to the island. Moa, the monstrous, chocolate-coloured Labrador, swam around aimlessly, chasing floating reeds, oddly graceful and at home in the water, much like a hippo. Felipe was making sure the island's bamboo fence was doing its job of keeping the reeds in place. We were all working on his biggest project, making a lake out of a swamp. His grand plan is to one day kite surf in his own back garden. Before that can become reality, several thousand metres of reeds have to be pulled from the bottom of the swamp in order to make room.
At present, it is already a small lake and big enough to paddle around, in the hope that Moa doesn't catch up with you and scramble aboard the SUP and inevitably knock you off. By midday, the first day of work was done and it was finally time to check out the surf. Loading up the car with the only board Felipe had; 6 foot, 21 inches wide with a huge bulbous, log-style nose and a twin fin setup, its sperm whale graphic depicted exactly what it resembled. We left the farm and headed to Ibiraquera. The beach was the former site of the WSL Brazilian leg of the tour before they moved it to the much worse beach break of Rio, money always talks in Brazil. We heard it was going to be a big day, but I don't think any of us really prepared for what was waiting.
Arriving in the car park, the place was heaving. Within a minute of pulling up and unloading, a disheartened guy walked up from the beach holding the 2 pieces of his board. The beach was buzzing, walking past the excited locals gesturing wildly, I didn't understand a word of Portuguese but it didn't take much to know that it was well and truly pumping. Heading down the wooden ramp towards the beach, the palm trees and cars gave way to huge rolling sets, perfectly formed off the small island to the left, crashing in steady lines along the beach. Felipe turned to me and said I was to go in first, of course. Having never rode this board let alone surfed for a good month I was to just head in and see what happened. The paddle out was the easiest I've ever had, a channel that hugged the island gave a clear, relaxed rip that took you straight out. That was the end of anything relaxed or easy.
Having heard of Brazilians not being the most accommodating surfers towards outsiders, I edged my way to the back and sat just off the pack. A group of older surfers sat looking out, chatting incessantly. Looking around I noticed every single person out there was riding at least a 6'5, steep rockers and generally better suited than I was. After waiting a few sets just to get a grip on the freight trains rolling past, I decided to go for it. A big set appeared on the horizon, I turned round and dug deep, looking back and I was relieved to be exactly where I needed to be, felt the rise, popped up and just as I looked down the line the sperm whale of a board nose-dived, and that was the end of my ride standing up. Face planting 8 feet and almost kissing the whale, darkness engulfed.
This hold down was the first time I actually ran out of breath underwater. After being tossed around relentlessly, the usual thoughts passed through my mind; which way is up? Has my leash snapped? Where's the seabed? Oh, there it is. My face finally lets me know where which way is down. After what always feels like a good five minutes, I finally manage to find the board and make my ascent to the surface. The moment I tasted sweet air, a deafening wall of white water steamrolled up on me and it was my turn to go under again. This repetitive process happened a further three times before the endless set finally took pity on me and I had time to actually drag myself onto the board where I just lay there, relieved and a mouth full of sand. After a somewhat enjoyable jaunt in a Brazilian beach break, making my way up the beach it I had enough, handed the board to Felipe who naturally went out and had the best time. I went back to the car.