Itacoa Legends 2016: Whomper’s Delight




By Tom Ekman
(Photos by author unless otherwise credited)

Are there still surfers in 2016 who will actually welcome you to their break? Yes…at least in this beautiful corner of Brazil known as ITACOATIARA (ita-ko-ah-CHARA).

Photo: J.C. Rodriguez

Swelllines asked about the vibe at the comp… Dude. 80 bodysurfers from 5 nations coming together and crushing it in massive, concussive waves?

It was ALL-TIME!!

Carlos Henrique and friends

Maxy Javier (Chile)


It felt more like an epic family gathering than a competition. The “Fish Man”, who stars in his own bodysurfing TV series (and is credited with blowing up the sport in Rio) was just one of the crew. Every bodysurfer would come up and say ola!, which meant a blackslap and aloha shake with 80 of your newest buddies. No one’s in this for money, power or chicks. We just love to bodysurf.

Lucas Oliveira

“One meter, my ass!!”

­­The event was called for a cloudy Wednesday. Not only did the clouds keep the wind down, but they also made Legends a much more focused event. On a normal sunny day at Itacoa, the overwhelming number of bulbous, tanned buttocks can be…”distracting”. But Itacoa was all ours. And Itacoa was BIG.

Maxy Javier (Chile) Photo: Lucas Oliveira


There was a running joke about the wave size at the comp. Mark Drewelow from San Diego and I called it 14-foot face on a couple of bomber sets. But to Brazilians, it’s never bigger than 4 feet. On Facebook, I protested “one meter, my ass!!”, and all the Brazilians chimed in with “one small meter”, etc. etc.

[The guy on the surfboard below is actually the size of a baby, according to the Brazilian scale…]

Photo: Pervaleo

Heat Highlights

The competition was based on the ASP rating system, which scores competitors based on their 2 best waves. Marcelo Zampieri scored a perfect 10 in the first round with a clean, deep barrel.   Kalani Lattanzi and Yuri both pulled high-scoring 360s in their heats. Kalani made an attempt to replicate Kane Tsunameh’s (O`ahu) impressive front flip, but didn’t pull the trick.

The California Coup

Mark Drewelow, a 53-year-old from San Diego, impressed everyone when he showed up sight-unseen at Itacoa the day before the comp (he was out at first light in near-storm conditions), and then placed an impressive 4th in the event. Judge Vinicius Dobis attributed Mark’s success to experience, good wave choice, and overall endurance.

Breno “Batman” , Mark Drewelow, Fredinho and Gabriel Sampaio   Photo: Pervaleo

Mark started surfing SoCal spots like the Wedge in the ‘70s. Before his heat, we watched as a dog jumped into the edge of the water and was instantly carried sideshore by a river of water moving at a fast jog. “Look at how that water is moving,” Mark commented. “I’ve never seen water move like that.”


The Wave

Itacoa is hard to compare to any other wave. It’s one-part Dominical, one-part Waimea shorebreak, and one-part Baker Beach. And Itacoa actually gets better with size, because the greater amount of water makes the wave break slightly farther out (emphasis on the word “slightly”, because there is really no outer bar).

Rider: Renan Talarico

Smooth granite flanks on both sides drop into the water at about a 30-degree pitch, creating a cove effect that focuses the wave energy. (The sides can also refract backwash at the incoming waves).   On top of that, the coast around Rio sees mostly short interval swells from nearby storms, which means virtually no lulls. It’s always stacked, and it’s always unloading

Leonardo Quintanilha

As such, the one thing that seems to break up the thick walls coming in is the rips (what one observer called “black holes”). The rips are constantly shifting as huge volumes of water are trying to get out through the surf line. You can be waiting for a wave and then all of a sudden be pushed outside by a 20-foot wide current of boiling water that comes out of nowhere…and disappears just as quickly. At low tide, you can see where the rips have carved mini-canyons into the sandbar.

95% of Itacoa waves are shut-downs. Over a week or so, I only saw a handful of bodysurfers make pull-out barrels. Most waves feature a split-second of trimming, followed by a throaty barrel and Homeric thrashing. (Most guys eschew handplanes because they stall the drop too long…and no one wants to get pitched at Itacoa!). Once in awhile a bodysurfer gets a longer ride, but usually on backed-off, inside stuff.   The average ride is 3 seconds: Drop, tuck, and suck. Itacoa is all about one instant of whomping glory.

But with a lip as thick as Pipe, that can be the moment of a lifetime. Itacoa is the boxiest barrel I’ve ever seen on a sandbar. Itacoa can break horizontally. The amount of water that heaves up and forward as the swell stalls on the bar is staggering. It’s like a liquid avalanche.

Life’s a Beach

Brazilians don’t go to the beach to lay down. They are always playing around with balls and paddles, or promenading the goods up and down the beach.

In the weeks leading up to the comp, there was always a place in the middle of the beach where the bodysurfers would congregate. A place to fellowship, and to stash your gear. And many clean, small days to happily whomp away.

Laureano Landabru (Argentina)


The Ambassador

Thiago Maciel is one of the de facto ambassadors of Itacoa/Rio bodysurfing. Thiago’s always joking around with the crew, and always knows exactly what’s going on at any given moment – where it’s breaking, and who’s on it. A serious biologist and a stand-out bodysurfer, Thiago is The Man.

Thiago Maciel Photo: André Cyriaco

If you go to Rio, please consider bringing some fins for the local guys. Because of import tariffs, a pair of fins can cost $150 in Brazil. (Trust me: they will really appreciate it. Note the stitched-together fins below. Serious bodysurfing soul.)

Hats off to Lucas Castro from Whooze for putting together such a bang-up event. Lucas totally killed it! Big ups to the Rio scene O.G.’s: Paulo Pereira, JC Rodrigues and Vinicius Dobis. And a heartfelt muito obrigado to all of the Surfe de Peito crew for all of the good times in and out of the water!

See you next year, amigos…hopefully, with some reinforcements from California and Hawai`i…

Thomas Ekman, J.D., M.Ed.
Thomas Ekman, J.D., M.Ed.


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