Surf Women of Brazil: The People We Meet and Connections in Water

Emma Fraser-Bell

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Updated 75d ago

I often find myself saying to friends, “Yeahhh this’ll be the last trip I reckon. I’ll settle down and get back on that full-time salary job and be a sensible fully-functioning, full-time adulting adult.” But it just never seems to happen, or rather, I keep self-sabotaging my own plan.

I think I need to admit to myself and others that I will never stop doing this. For as long as I am physically able to travel, I will continue to travel. Whether it’s a quick hop across the Irish sea on a bumpy ferry ride, a mammoth drive up country to Northern-most points, icy cold frontiers in the North East or a long haul flight to somewhere along the equator, where it’s unbearably hot and uncomfortable and alien and so bloody exhausting and exciting, I’ll do my utmost to be there.

Emma, on the beach of Ilha Grande.

Emma, on the beach of Ilha Grande.

© 2023 - Clare James.

The journey through travel is never ending, ever growing, ever changing. That’s why I haven't yet called a stop to these trips I so often love to take. I hope and pray long may they continue. The more I travel and the more people I meet, the more I see that our conversations and lives are more connected and entwined in ways we could never imagine.

Wherever I travel, whatever line up I find myself attempting to figure out, whether it’s a boulder clad shore break, razor sharp volcanic reef or a lovely long fat rolling point (emphasis on the fat, a personal favourite of mine), there is always someone to encounter.

That might be the epitome of hell to some, but for me, this is the main reason why I travel. I travel for the odd encounters, the strangely comforting discomfort of not knowing what might happen next or who you might bump into, where those wrong turns might lead you. The copious waves and line ups in all their form and juicy glory.

Testing and trying out what I like and what I don’t. Who I like and who I don’t. Who likes me and who doesn’t. I have met my fair share of aggressive, unwelcoming arseholes in lineups all over (who hasn’t?!), but more importantly, and far more frequently, I have met so many caring, beautiful souls with wide eyes and open arms. People who revel in sharing their love for their line up, their wave and their special part of this world. These are the encounters which matter. These are the encounters which have the power to enrich lives for the better.

The People We Meet

© 2023 - Clare James.

A few years back, I met a woman on a vertiginous wild volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic. After losing my way amongst maze like concrete block walls encasing hectares of banana plantations, I found a little known spot. I had been too wary of the immensely unwelcoming line up with its strong deep currents from the winter storm swell, the many boulders littering the entrance and the crumbling, overhanging cliffs above. I hadn’t paddled out. This girl had noticed and welcomed me in with an honest smile and warmth. Genuinely excited to see other women wanting to surf this treasured wave of hers. It still amazes how these connections and encounters occur

Leading me through cracks in the bouldered paddle out, introducing me to her mates and their hangouts under the cliffs, I ended up spending the remainder of my time on that island with her and her family. We surfed her local breaks and I learnt far more about that island and culture than I would have if I hadn’t gone searching for that wave. Years down the line, it transpired she was good friends with a housemate I had been living with back home here in Cornwall. We still keep in touch regularly, with plans to meet again somewhere in water.

It still amazes how these connections and encounters occur. Eventually they always transpire to make perfect sense. The oceans may divide, but inevitably bind together. Thanks to a surfer from California, I was introduced to a Brazilian woman who would be the driving force for my travels to Brazil earlier this year. The connections forged in water continue. The experiences and stories grow and evolve and seemingly never, ever end.

Travelling Solo

© 2023 - Clare James.

This series The People We Meet. Connections in Water aims to celebrate the kindness encountered from those we meet along the way. As a solo female traveller, it isn’t always easy. Sometimes when travelling solo it’s really hard and intimidating situations arise which leave you wanting to pack bags and return home stat.

I’ve had my fair share of uncomfortable encounters and I’ve been close to situations where nightmare stories have occurred. It’s all part of the deal, the rough with the smooth. It ain’t all plain sailing whether we’re travelling just up the road or half way across the world. But when those honest connections in water are created, when we meet these kind, caring, welcoming and genuine people, faith in travel and humanity is restored.

On my journey out in Brazil earlier this year I was fortunate enough to meet some incredibly kind and inspirational people. Young and old. Male and female. All with their own stories to tell, their own pearls of wisdom to share, their own reasons on why they chose surfing and repeatedly found themselves returning to water.

These people gave this journey round the shores of São Paolo state, up to Rio De Janeiro a whole new meaning. I had anticipated an altogether completely different trip on first arriving in Brazil, but after meeting these people, these women, there was a whole new impetus to this journey. I felt welcome and inspired by every single person I met. Our differing lives all connected by similar passions. It was a privilege journeying round a country as unique, vast and so full of a raw, diverse natural beauty as Brazil. A privilege also to meet these women in water. I am forever grateful.

Here, I talk with a 50-year-old woman who only started surfing last year, a woman who started Brazil's first surf shop specifically for women, a 12-year-old up-and-comer and much more.

5 Brazilian Women, in Their Words

Maeva Sestari

© 2023 - Mateus Cardoso

I'm 12 years old and I'm from Ubatuba, Brazil. I began to surf when I was 5-years-old at my local surf school. My parents who surf, like everyone else in my village, encouraged me.

My typical day, I wake up at 6am, go to school at 7am, go surfing from 3pm to 6pm and then I go swimming or to Muay Thai. Come home, have dinner around 8pm, read a book and go to sleep at about 9pm. Surfing for me, I just feel so happy when I’m out there. I love the sea and trying out new manoeuvres. I love to be in the ocean too, feel its temperatures, listen to it, play with my friends in it, and surf in it. The ocean is my natural habitat.

© 2023 - Mateus Cardoso

I feel that my generation of Brazilian female surfers are beginning to get more space and respect too. I'm very happy to be a part of this. At the moment, my inspirations are Tatiana Weston Web, Carissa Moore, Brisa Hennessy, Johanne Defay and Gabriella Bryan. I mostly surf at Itamambuca but I also love Vermelha do Centro Beach.

Lu De Langai

© 2023 - Luiza Coutinho

I'm 26, live in Rio de Janeiro and own the first surf shop for women in Brazil, named Langai and our purpose is to inspire women to surf, encourage them and build a better more inclusive surf world every day.

I started surfing when I was 18-years-old. I always loved sport but I never tried surfing because i didn't feel like it was a sport for me, as a woman. I remember never seeing women in the water, only men. When I started to go to the beach with my boyfriend, I spent hours in the sand just watching him surf. I realised that I wanted to start and hopefully that might bring more women to the water with me.

As for a typical day for me. Hmm.. I love to wake up at 6am and go check the waves. The surf near my home is especially good (tubes for breakfast!). Come back home, take a shower, have coffee, eat waffles with scrambled eggs and avocado, then start work. I’ll watch the sunset and before bed watch a little Netflix with my husband and dog.

Surfing... I love being more connected with nature. I value living more in the moment instead of accumulating things. I like to take a break from the fast paced rhythm of life. I have met people with similar values to me when travelling around the world for surf. Oh I love so much what surfing has brought and continues to bring to my life. The list is never ending. The ocean has taught me a lot and I continue learning from it.

© 2023 - Luiza Coutinho

I think there is resistance towards female surfers, of course more so in some countries than others. Personally, I had to overcome many internal and outside barriers such as shame and fear. These things brought more of a drive and a purpose into my life. It has encouraged me to inspire other women to surf too and feel the cure and power of the ocean.

As for inspirations I have a lot. But I love the courage of Maya Gabeira, the style of Leah Dawson and Stephanie Gilmore, the grace of Jasmim Avelino and the power of Julia Santos.

Suelen Naraisa

© 2023 - Ana Catarina

I’m a professional surfer and surf coach and twice Brazilian surfing champion. I’m 37-years-old and was born and raised in Ubatuba, São Paolo state.

I started surfing when I was 8-years-old and was encouraged by my older brother Wellington Carane. We grew up on the edge of Itamambuca beach where my family owns a beach kiosk. It’s thanks to this break that I became the surfer I am today.

The thing I love about surfing, is the contact with nature and the freedom it gives me. Surfing teaches me something new every day. And as for board, my daily go-to board is a Joca Secco 5’8" swallow tail, 28.77 litres. I am made from the beach out here, it is one of the best rights in Brazil, my absolute favourite beach and wave. I am powered by water. The ocean, the water is essential for my survival, whether it’s when I’m surfing or teaching children, adults, anyone of all ages and abilities at my surf school. The ocean is of great value in my life whether it’s economic, ecological or cultural.

I am lucky enough to live in a country that has allowed me to do the sport I love for all my life. As a professional surfer, and surf coach of my own surf school, I am very grateful for the numerous beaches and quality waves we have here.

It makes it very easy to evolve in the sport very quickly. However, the lack of incentive (by the male-dominated surf industry) experienced for many years previously was one of the biggest difficulties for us female athletes. But, we are currently living a new exciting era of surfing where the big companies have finally opened their eyes to our incredibly talented female athletes, and the results are showing. This new generation of Brazilians are winning world titles and proving we’re just as strong as everyone else, if not stronger!

I'm really inspired by my brothers Wiggolly Dantas and Weslley Dantas and of course Stephanie Gilmore and Carissa Moore.

Joana Marques da Costa

© 2023 - André Marques Da Costa

I have two children and I have been married for 19 years to André, my partner in sport and father of my children. I was born in São Paulo, Brazil and lived for many years in the big city. Today, I am 44-years-old and my family and I chose to live on the north coast of São Paulo since the beginning of the pandemic. We managed to adapt our professional life by living closer to nature and, of course, to the sea.

What brought me to surfing... I think it was the sea, the ocean and fresh waters have always been present in my life. I grew up on the beach and married a guy who loves the water. Surfing awakened the wonder of being in nature, meeting nice people and practicing a magical sport. I wanted to play a challenging sport. A crazy urge to smile on top of a surfboard arose.

I started to take the risk of going into the sea with waves when André was going to surf, he has always been and is a great partner and encourager in everything we do together. But it was practicing another sport that I believed in my ability to overcome. I see many men encouraging us too. I see couples together at sea, I see fathers with their daughters. Women are no longer intimidated and are finding their space out here

I was a wakeboard athlete for many years. I've been six times São Paulo champion, Brazilian vice champion and 1X Brazilian champion. A lot of training, takedowns, resilience, joys and adrenaline at Wake gave me the courage to continue surfing today at 44 and always looking to improve and challenge myself more and more.

And the main thing: surfing unites my whole family. Seeing my kids enjoying something with us that gives us so much joy is wonderful. Family unity only grows. Surfing has the power to do this for the rest of your life. The connection that surfing makes with the people we love, the union it brings in the family, the ability to work on our fears and make us believe in our strength is what made me start and why I continue to surf today.

Surfing is ageless, you make friends of all ages, but the lifestyle is the same.

Female surfing has grown so much in Brazil. Where I surf there are more and more women. Today I participate in a group with more than 70 surfers via WhatsApp from the coast who exchange experiences, tips and forecasts. We women are supporting and encouraging each other so much whether professional surfers or just starting out.

I see many men encouraging us too. I see couples together at sea, I see fathers with their daughters. Women are no longer intimidated and are finding their space out here. Surfing encourages women and we make the sea even more beautiful. No matter the level and age, women will increasingly be in the sea. Many want to get out of the sand, and leave their young children with their partners while they enjoy their time i water. Women always seek to be respected and surfing has made this possible.

My biggest inspirations in surfing are the women I see. When I'm at the beach and I see a woman surfing, I want to be out there enjoying it with her. Surfers like Carissa Moore and Tati West are incredible.

Veronica Goncalves

© 2023 - Baltazarfotosurf

I am 50-years-old and I have lived in São Paulo all my life until recently. When the pandemic hit, I moved to the coast and now live near Jundiaí. As when I started surfing, only last year, in March 2021. There had been so much change as a result of the pandemic. My daughter who studies abroad in Germany came back to Brazil to study online. It was her who told me to start taking surf lessons as she thought I would like it. So I did. Then every class I took I fell in more in love with surfing.

My typical day really changed post-pandemic. When I lived in São Paulo, which is a huge, busy, noisy city, I never felt like I had enough time to deal with all my commitments and tasks. But now, life is so much calmer here, everything is more flexible. Unlike in São Paolo, here we depend a lot on nature. From my home I can hear when there is swell. When there aren’t any waves, there are plenty of other sports to play on the beach here in Brazil. Through surfing, I feel, this is me, the most accomplished and happy 50-year-old Brazilian surfer in the world

Surfing for me, it is being so close to nature. I love admiring it even if it's just sitting on my board. I love the wonderful feeling of catching a wave, enjoying the adrenaline and the challenge of evolving my surfing. I am in love with the sea and its movement. The lives that are within and around it. It's just amazing.

Being a 50-year-old female surfer in the middle of so many male surfers is a privilege, it's a sport that is becoming more practiced by women and now accepted by everyone. I have made some great friends through surfing, whether through falling together or sharing tips. It’s something I'm also very grateful and happy about. It really is a very nice atmosphere. We have a tight-knit group of female surfers where we share the surf report and discuss any surfing related issues and events here on the north coast.

Through surfing, I feel, this is me, the most accomplished and happy 50-year-old Brazilian surfer in the world.

A special thanks to Eduardo from Mango House Brasil for joining me on the journey to Rio and helping me scope out some very good days on stunning beaches with great company and the best waves.