It all started when I was at the beautiful Rancho do Peixe hotel in Ceará, where I met an experienced kiter named Adrien Caradec, who produces a national hydrofoil called OKES. It was a week of wild wind, one of those where the wind is beating us with 40 knots daily, on the beach of Preá.
We kited together with our hydrofoils a few times, and Adrien, a resident of Florianopolis, mentioned to me that he and a group of friends wanted to hydrofoil around the island of Florianopolis.
I found it be a brilliant idea, and soon I opened my GPS application to measure the distance. It would be 120 kilometers, a very challenging but feasible distance. It would have a crosswind of approximately 50 kilometers, much bigger than any that I had already done.
It would be an excellent test for this new Hydrofoil equipment.
The longest I’ve ever gone by Hydrofoil was the exact same: 120 kilometers— but downwind in Ceará. I had kited from Prea to Barra Grande, in Piauí, and it took me practically all day, arriving very tired.
Adding to this a long upwind, could it be done in just one day? Would I get a good day with enough wind for it? Because after all, the South is not like the Northeast…
I put together an initial plan, which was changed several times. It is interesting when we are dealing with nature, we should have flexibility to adapt to the conditions.
It was during the summer, so I would do it on a day with Northeastern winds. Many people advised me to do it with a southerly wind, because the southern tip of the island would be complicated with the northeast winds, since it is a very narrow passage, with a land-wind and high mountains. But the south wind is rare in the summer.
However, I preferred the northeast wind on a beautiful sunny day. They say that the south wind in the southern region is reliable, but nothing like the trade winds.
The initial plan was to do some circumnavigation without a support boat, only counting on my friend and cameraman Hugo Valente following by car at some points, and filming what he could get.
I would take a backpack with an extra kite and pump. I would use 6 and 9 meter kites on a very strong windy day, where it would be easier to navigate through the wind shadows of the southern tip.
I mentioned the project to my friend Rafael Papa. Papa owns Soulfilmes, the producer of the series Downwind in Africa, where we embarked on an adventure along the east coast of the continent. He soon saw the potential of the adventure, and sold the idea to channel OFF.
That changed everything. Now I had more resources. I contacted Adrien and asked him to support me with his boat and to document the kiting. He was immediately excited about the idea.
The First Failed Attempt
I went to Floripa at the end of January, and there was a reasonable forecast of northeast wind with some cloudiness. I thought there would be sun and wind, so I went to Ilha da Magia, of the Island of Magic. I contacted the film crew, Adrien, and then I set up the whole circus to take place that week.
To my anguish, the prediction was not right. The weather deteriorated, and began one of those southern of Brazil rains that last 10 days. The wind was sometimes weak, and sometimes even non-existent.
After 5 days of rain, with a very bad forecast, I gave up. I came home with my head down. Meanwhile, in Rio and Buzios it was sunny with plenty of wind. Beautiful days, and 20 knots every day. I only needed one of those days, but down there in the south!
Now that I had created this documentary, there was a promise made. Now there was some pressure to complete the mission, I had never imagined that I would be so amped to do such a thing!
The Second Attempt
After 3 weeks at home monitoring the forecast, a window of sun and wind opened up. I was worried because the season was ending, and for a moment I thought I would have to delay the project until spring.
I left for Floripa again, this time confident and focused, with “blood in the eyes,” a warrior ready for battle.
The forecast showed a beautiful week of sun and moderate northeast wind.
I began observe the same pattern of wind for 2 days: it started to blow at around 9:00, very weak, it increased a lot from noon, and ended around 18:00, with a cloud of Summer rain from the inside.
I did the math, based on the speed and distances of past trips, I needed about 8 hours of wind. The window was 9 o’clock. It was pretty fair.
I could not lose a minute from the wind window. Therefore, I planned to start as soon as the wind arrived in the morning, and to begin kiting downwind, where one can navigate in the weakest wind. I would start from the north of the island, at Ponta da Daniela, and I would do the whole channel between the island and the mainland, with the wind pushing me from behind.
Why such a cloudy morning?
We set the deadline for Saturday, February 8. We embarked with Adrien at sunrise, in Lagoa da Conceição. And to my surprise and anguish, it was a very cloudy morning with a low ceiling.
Was it the harbinger of yet another failed attempt?
We crossed to the sea in the bar of the lagoon, and we kited for an hour and a half until the Point of Daniela. I was quite serious, distressed by the gray, windless weather. Once again I had mobilized a team, and nature did not collaborate.
We arrived at Daniela a little before 9:00, and there was already a weak breeze, despite the cloudy weather. I jumped out of the boat, and set up the kite 12 on the sand. At 9:20 I took the kite down into the breeze, with as little wind as possible, around 8 knots, and threw myself into that channel that was gray that morning. I only thought about moving forward, and gaining kilometers.
Soon I passed the fort of Ratones, which stands on a small, very green island. Continuing south, I saw a bridge a few miles away. I feared the bridge.
The wind began to fail. Curse! I was waiting for it to pick up, but it slowed. I had to pump the hydrofoil with the back leg so it would not stop gliding, making an up and down motion with the board. Otherwise, the kite could fall into the water, without being able to launch again. The water was no longer clean, with light brown in color and a slight odor. The surrounding environment was quite urban.. Both on the mainland and on the island, there were many tall buildings.
Some debris caught on to the hydrofoil, so I had to stop and take the foil out of the water to clean it. And so I continued slowly, until finally arriving at the dreaded bridge, where the wind was very weak.
The Bridge Challenge
From the first moment I thought of this mission, the bridge was a concern. Several kiters told me that it would be impossible to kite past, because the bridge was low and the wind altered, completely crazy.
They suggested that I walk along one of the banks and take the kite on the other side.
The day before the crossing I went to the bridge to make a reconnaissance. There were actually 2 bridges. One is under construction, with several metallic structures around it. I stared at that half-hearted scenario, thinking about how I could pass it. Actually, the structure is low, and if I wanted to go kiting underneath the best plan would be to take a kiteloop (rotate the kite on an axis) under my obstacle. I hoped that this day would have strong wind, because it would be much easier.
As I said before, the wind was very weak! Arriving in front of my private monster, I kept going parallel to that sinister structure, examining, measuring, and staring. It was like a soccer goal. I had to make the goal. I was the ball.
I regained my courage, took a deep breath, and went. When the 12-meter kite was almost touching the bridge, I gave the command to rotate the kite, throwing it down. However, the kite was very large, and the wind was weak, which causes the kiteloop to be wide open, making a very large circumference. The kite descended, passed in front of me, and by the time it started to rise, my instinct acted faster than my mind.
I found that when climbing, the kite would hit the structure. And worse, the kite was borrowed from Adrien. I gave a command with the other hand, sending the kite straight for water.
That way, I sat on my board, floating in that channel of narrow navigation. Meanwhile, the kite, which also floated upside down, was pulling me slowly south, toward the other bridge. I was able to give light commands in the kite by moving a little to the left, a little to the right, and so I managed to pass under the other bridge without hitting any concrete structures.
Meanwhile, several boats were passing by, amused by that curious scene. A madman sitting on the board being pulled by a kite in the water, quietly.
As I crossed the second floating bridge, it was time to launch the kite and continue my journey. I had no time to lose. And there, my agony began. The wind was a breeze that seemed to subside (the psychological factor is terrible), and the kite seemed to be caught in the water.
For a moment, I thought that was the end of my adventure. It would be another fateful outcome.
I spent almost half an hour in this fight until a gust of wind caused the kite to take off. Perhaps this was the happiest moment of the crossing. I went from body drag to the board, which was almost out of reach. I left kiting happy with life, howling with joy.
At that moment things seemed to fit together. Time opened, and the wind increased. I started to ride very fast, the sea was very smooth. I was in the south bay. The scenery was going, and I was delighted by the kiting. I passed the airport, and soon after, the Ribeirão da Ilha, where I passed by an oyster farm. Right next to me, the Cambirela, a 1000-meter high mountain smiled at me. I had already climbed that mountain.
The South Point of the Island
Soon on, I could see the narrow passageway that would be my exit into the open sea. It is a point where the island almost touches the continent, forming a mouth of less than a kilometer wide, and where there is an islet with an old Portuguese fort.
That was the point that made me worry the day before. The tip of the island that almost touches the continent is very high and mountainous, and I knew I could not get around that point without going far enough. It would not be today that I would know the beautiful beach of Naufragados.
Some experienced kiters advised me to make the crossing on a day of strong south wind, because it would be easier to beat the southern tip.
But I believed that I would find my way.
I approached the right side of the passage, and I went right past the islet of the fort, closer to the mainland than to the island of Florianopolis. As I rounded that islet, my natural course would be to go east, and then north.
I knew there would have to sharpen my wind-reading instincts. From the texture of the water, I saw that there was a gigantic wind shadow in front of me. That way, I jibe to the right, reversing my course all the way south. I was moving away from my goal, but it was the only possible way. It was a wind run!
I followed that corridor, almost touching the rocky shore of the continent, very close to the beach of pines. I was moving the kite from side to side, making kiteloops, so that I could kite straight into the wind, using that curious single-handed wind road.
At one point, I thought I could change course to the east. I had already strayed far from the island. So I did, and soon I came across another region without wind.
To the south, captain! I gave a savior jibe, going back to the windy corridor, and headed south again. I moved further and further away from my goal.
Further on, another attempt to change course to the east. I found again a region of failed wind, but I managed to cross it working the kite very well.
Finally, the open sea
As soon as I passed this region, the wind was too strong for my 12-foot kite. I was finally out in the open, and I had conquered the whole stretch between the island and the mainland. The goal was to get there by noon. I had no watch, and I remained curled up like a spider on my board, with the kite high, almost pulling me up to the skies. I was completely “overpowered”. At that moment I could not see Adrien’s boat, and I concentrated on moving on, launching myself into the open sea.
Soon I came across three islets in front of the South Swamp, and the wind increased. It is the archipelago of the 3 sister islands. This was when I suddenly saw Adrien’s boat, with him gesturing, asking if I would like to exchange my kite for one that was smaller.
And so, he mounted the 9-meter kite on board, threw the kite in the water, took off, and threw himself into the sea. I approached him, ejected my kite 12 meters, passed the leash to him, and he passed me the 9 kite that hovered in the air. It was an efficient operation, similar to the tire changes of a Formula 1 race.
As soon as I got on the board with the smaller kite, I saw that it was still “overpowered”. But to my surprise, that kite came with a lovely race bar, which has a much larger depower capability than a regular bar. In other words, it had a greater ability to take pressure off the kite.
Against the Wind and Onwards
In this way, I was able to ride the foil with power in the water, achieving a formidable angles to maneuver. To the lay reader, I could navigate at an angle against the tight wind.
This is when my long upwind began. There would be at least 50 to 60 kilometers upwind until I reach the north coast of the island.
The sea had gotten bigger. I continued concentrating, conquering the tip of the Lagoinha of the east, and soon I arrived at the beach of Campeche. There, the boat pulled up next to me, they threw me a water bottle, and I was informed that it was 1:00p.m. I was doing very well, they were all excited in the boat, encouraging me to keep going. At that moment I felt that the whole team was rooting for the success of the expedition, which motivated me even more.
I felt tired in the legs, but the urge to move on was very great. I told the crew that I would not stop, and I went on to zig-zag motion, maneuvering through the waves, and moving the foil up and down, so that no wave crests hit the board, and so that the foil’s wings did not come out of the water at all between waves.
I arrived very close to the paradisiac Island of Campeche, which was crowded with tourist boats. I had overcome the long beach of Joaquina, and passed the coast where I entered a cove with the beach of Mole and Galheta. My God, how beautiful the scenery was! There were rocky shores, wonderful green vegetation, tall grasses, bromeliads, and everything that makes that region one of the most beautiful in Brazil.
After a few more beach sides and another rocky shore, I arrived at the infinite beach of Mozambique. I had passed by there early that morning, by boat, on the way to Ponta da Daniela, and had been impressed by the size of the beach, which may be the longest on the island.
The conditions were great, I progressed quite efficiently during that upwind.
However, I began to feel more exhaustion in my legs. I decided to stop, almost at the end of the long beach of Mozambique, near a corner known as Canto das Aranhas. There I ate some cereal, a banana, drank water, and recorded a brief interview.
I checked my GPS app to assess the situation. I noticed that there were only 8 kilometers to finish the upwind, and after that, I had the north coast of the island, where it would be a ride of 26 kilometers, across. There I imagined that it would be very fast, because I would not kite in a zigzag pattern- it would be a long straight line, budgeted at first, and arriving after the second half. I was confident, I thought the battle was already won.
A Hard Bone to Gnaw
The reality, however, was quite different. As soon as I passed the beautiful Island of the Spiders, I arrived at Santinho beach, which would be the end of the long upwind. There, the wind weakened, and the strong current against us didn’t help. It was a long zig zag to beat that beach, at each turn I progressed forward very little. I could no longer pump the Hydrofoil so hard in the water. I was sticking to the bottom, and as I turned toward land, I realized that I had made little headway.
I was nervous there. If the wind fell a little more, it would make my life more complicated. Imagine dying on the beach with only so little left! But the forces of nature were with me that day, and finally I was able conquer Santinho’s damned coast.
I entered the part of the cross, where the sea was very choppy, due to the sea wind and the rocky shores. The waves hit the rocks, and then they return to the bottom. Waves are formed from all directions, making the sea scrambled, and navigation complicated.
Despite this, I was able to keep a good speed. The biggest problem there was the fact of kiting 26 kilometers with my feet in the same position. When kiting upwind the course is zigzagged, and we alternate the position of the feet, each hour with one foot in front.
During that part, with the crosswind (lateral to the goal), I was riding the entire time with my right foot in front. I, who was already very tired, began to feel the left leg (which was behind) burning. I adjusted myself, changing position on the board, to alternate the muscles used.
At some point, I passed the rough beach, and I turn to Ponta das Canas, the corner I was so badly looking forward to see. From that point on, I would have a more leisurely angle of navigation – I would shift the course to a more pro-wind angle. Even so, my back leg was burning. It was not as easy as I had imagined. I noticed a piece of land far off, and I thought it would be the final obstacle that I needed get around. Wow, how far away! As I approached, I saw that it was the mainland, the peninsula of Bombinhas. I soon saw the fort of São José da Ponta Grossa, and I was delirious! I had completed the return to the Island of Santa Catarina!
From there, the Daniela Point was a jump. There were a lot of sunbathers on the beach, I played around and landed my kite in the water, I walked up and fell into the sand, excited. I had circumnavigated the island in about seven and a half hours.
For some, it may seem foolish, but it was a goal I had longed for a time. The first attempt was sabotaged, but now I was lying on that beautiful beach, on a beautiful afternoon, with a mission accomplished, and properly documented. I had never been on a board for so long, and I had stopped once. I was in a trance, a wildness of kiting, and enchanted with such beauty. I felt like part of the sea. I got on Adrien’s boat, and the whole team was happy, celebrating. From there, it was another hour and a half back to the lagoon where it all started. The smile stayed on my face for a long time.
Thank you very much to the production team: Adrien Caradec and Cláudia Dodl, super generous since the very beginning of the project. Hugo Valente was also key, his wife Fabiana Silva, Evandro Flash, Lucas, and the fine people Ale Pacheco (father of Isa).
I wrote these words from a hotel in Hong Kong, on the way to the Philippines, for another adventure of kitesurfing. Once again, I kneel and ask Mother Nature to open her paths, and continue to be generous, and thank her for everything!