Although surfing is a large part of what makes Arpoador one of my favorite places in the world, it is not the only element of its spirit.
It is difficult to capture Arpoador’s true essence in words. After the sunset and the streetlights began to dimly light the beach in Arpoador, I took a minute to look around. Behind me was a large group of locals playing guitar and singing. To my left there was a group of foreign models having their pictures taken. To my right there were a few guys rock climbing, and in front of me a few surfers were out for a night session. I watched as they caught some small waves in front of the Rio skyline, which was topped off with a distantly illuminated Christ statue. I realized that although surfing is a large part of what makes Arpoador one of my favorite places in the world, it is not the only element of its spirit.
I have been living in Rio de Janeiro for over seven months, and although I have moved three times, I have been lucky enough to always be within walking distance of one of the world’s most renowned surf spots. Arpoador, located on the edge of Copacabana and Ipanema, is a unique surf spot. It is easily identified by the small rock formation that is usually crowded with tourists and locals alike, who come for the breathtaking view of the city. Arpoador is also a regular host for the Association of Surfing Professional’s World Championship Tour in May.
Before paddling out in this spot, there are a few things that you should know. First of all, this is a heavily local spot. Arguments are common, and confidently speaking English in the lineup is a great way to get shut out and disrespected. Keep in mind that Arpoador is at the base of three Favelas, or hillside slums. For many people in these communities, surfing is everything. They have been coming here since they were babies; they know this spot like the back of their hand, and they normally travel in large groups. They are quite literally in charge. So, if you are a new face in the lineup, be patient and be respectful.
The crowd as a whole is another point that must be addressed. It’s a circus. The lineup is usually packed and there are fisherman crowding the rocks and casting their line right in the middle of the surfers. Sometimes, if the conditions are calm and the waves and current fail to scare away swimmers, there will literally be a wall of people wading right in front of the break. My best advice for dealing with the crowd: if you are able to place yourself in position to have the right of way, be as loud as you can when dropping in, and be even louder when riding down the line. “Whoa, Whoa, Whoa,” and “Opa, Opa, Opa” will discourage people from dropping in on you and will help you avoid collisions. If you’re not comfortable being loud, there is another option.
The crime in Rio provides an unlikely gift. To dissuade robberies on the beach, the city has installed a series of stadium lights to illuminate the beach throughout the night. The large stadium lights that slightly mar the natural beauty have made up for their unnatural existence by lighting up this point break all night long. I have experienced some of the best sessions of my life in this spot between 11:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. During this time, the menacing daytime crowd has faded into just several dedicated night surfers. (Rio summer weather makes a wetsuit a non-factor, and even in the winter a “3/2” will be more than enough.) My favorite aspect of these unique sessions, however, is that the lights literally make the waves glow light green. Lifeguards are off duty at this time and the only people around are some late night fisherman. So, only venture out if you are advanced and confident in your surfing. No beginners.
The last thing to remember about Arpoador is its bipolar behavior. Although today it may be a pool-like atmosphere with groups of beginners taking lessons, tomorrow may be double overhead with a ferocious current. If there are waves, but no one surfing, there’s a reason. I have made this mistake and ended up paddling to the next beach to get out. Before you paddle out, take a minute to observe what’s going on and how the other surfers are looking out there. If there are waves, but only a few people out, take a look around, and you may find them at one of the neighboring beaches. It would serve you well to follow them.
Arpoador is a beautiful natural formation that offers a great view of the city and a breathtaking sunset that calls for a daily standing ovation. I believe it is an impossibility to be able to capture the true beauty of this environment. However, if you keep this advice in mind, you may enjoy the most eventful surf session of your life while under the watch of Rio’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue. And if you’re lucky, you may even be treated to some live music as it carries over from the rocks and faintly whispers over to the lineup.