The coastline is two-way road: 280km from Atins to Prea, upwind.
The stretch of Brazilian coast that goes from Fortaleza to the Lençois Maranhenses is the best place in the world to go kitesurfing. Here is north-facing with super-constant wind, warm water, no large waves rocky shores, and welcoming villages that are turning this place into the world Mecca of long distance kitesurfing journeys that many people call “Downwind”. Four years ago I started guiding kitesurfers along Downwind trips in this region.
Apparently in the world of kitesurfing, this coastline was a one-way street. They always went from east to west, pushed by the generous east trade wind.
However, the hydrofoil has arrived and it’s breaking paradigms. This new type of board allows you to kite against the wind, to challenge this great force going upwind.
The route I usually guide is from Prea, the neighbor of Jericoacoara, to Atins, in the Lençois Maranhenses. It’s a 280 kilometer downwind of extreme beauty! I decided to go the opposite way, against the wind, in the same 5 days we spent at Surfinsemfim. Each day I would travel between 50 and 60 kilometers along the coastline.
Subtle Details Make the Difference
The coast there is north-facing, and in some parts sloping northeast. In north-facing stretches, the zigzagging is more intense, more than doubling your distance travelled. When it’s facing the northeast, the winds are more onshore, greatly reducing the zigzag trajectory. The difference is brutal.
Another factor that greatly affects navigation is the subtle change of wind direction that occurs from morning to afternoon. In the morning the wind comes from the southeast, from land to sea. In the afternoon, it slopes northeast, facing the sea, making it much easier for me to kite to Prea. The zigzagging allows for larger tacks that are almost parallel to the coast.
I left from Atins on August 2nd. I expect the wind to turn to onshore (from southeast to northeast), which only happens after 13:00. It was a stretch where the coast is facing northeast, making it easier. I make a small zigzag out of the mouth of the Preguiça River, and I follow the lip of that huge beach to Paulino Neves, where I stopped to eat.
I was kiting without support; I had everything I needed in my waterproof backpack. It carried only one kite: a 10-meter F-one Furtive, a good downwind kite model with a high Aspect Ratio, which is good for upwind.
I enjoyed a delicious eggplant sandwich that I took with me from Vila Guará. I kept kiting around the Praia do Amor, around a small sand island, and arrived in the village of Arpoador, a small paradise 10 km before Tutóia. I was received by the staff of the posada NAK (Native Arpoador Kitesurf). You will soon hear a lot about this Arpoador place, as it will be a new point of kitesurfing.
50 kilometers of coastline.
71 kilometers navigated in GPS.
This was the day that I feared most. Ahead I had the Delta do Parnaiba and a totally wild and unsupported stretch of coastline. There are several islands, and large river mouths with a lot of currents and tide variations. It is a fantastic and intimidating place.
I left Arpoador early, around 9:00. I had complete respect for that stretch. Time is safety. The southeast wind increases my zigzagging. The tide was going out quickly because it was the day of the new moon. I approached Tutoia, and headed towards the point of Melancieira, the little piece that I feared most out of the whole trip. The exposure would be large to get around that point.
I entered the current of the channel at the sandbar of Tutoia. The current was so violent that the water was turbulent and swirling. The current was in the same direction as the wind made me lose power and the upwind angle. I returned to the beach to escape the current. I followed near the edge, gaining height in the wind, and approaching Tutoia, I again headed towards the point, this time with a good angle. Again I sink into the current and lose the angle, but I keep going anyway. Muddy, turbulent water pulling me out to sea and the shifting wind made be a bit scared. I kept controlling my breathing.
Finally I got around the point, because I know that if something failed there I’d be in serious trouble. That point protrudes kilometers into the sea, with the wind and current pulling you out. I kited slowly around, and became euphoric when I overcame the obstacle. I was in the amazing Delta do Parnaiba!
I passed the Melancieira River, and followed a long zigzag path, with light wind, until Barra do Caju, which is the largest river mouth of the delta. I stopped just before for a quick break, and then decided to cross right away, even in the light wind. The tide was very low, and the situation complicated, with many shoals. The sea was like a washing machine. I maneuvered through the banks, and hit 2 of them and fell! I went back out to the ocean to get away of the banks, and felt exposed again.
Once the barra do Caju was passed, the wind improved. It increased power and turned more onshore. From there, I went very fast, earning 2 times more coastline per hour than before. When I arrived at Ilha dos Poldros, it was 15:00, and I thought I would have time to arrive in Barra Grande that same day, cutting a day off my trip. I should enjoy the good afternoon conditions, I thought. I made it past the Ilha dos Poldros.
I was a few kilometers on my way, and I realized it was irresponsible not staying at the Ilha dos Poldos, one of the most fantastic places on the coast. After all, I wasn’t there to beat a speed record, and most importantly I had to take pleasure in what I was doing.
So I turned around and headed towards that wonderful place. I hid my stuff in a carnauba bush near the beach, and stood there in the shade admiring the lush nature. It was one of those times where every cell in my body had the feeling of ecstasy. My spirit was floating. After a few walks on the island, I slept in my hammock, gazing at the moon and stars, thinking of the magical day I had lived.
65 kilometers of coastline kiting.
161 kilometers navigated in GPS.
This would be one of the easy days where the coast is facing the northeast. It was 55 kilometers of coastline ahead, until Barra Grande. I enjoyed the morning on the beautiful island, and left after midday, when the wind turned onshore. I made a 5 kilometers zigzag path to reach the end of the Delta.
I got past the mouth of the Parnaiba River, and from there it was only a giant straight edge of 37 kilometers to the beach of Arrombado. In the end I had to zigzag some more to get to Barra Grande, where I had to take a long walk through the shallow water due to the low tide. I did this route in 2 1/2 hours, very fast!
55 kilometers of coastline kiting.
77 kilometers navigated in the GPS.
Until Barra Grande, I had kited with a 10 meter kite. But now I was approaching the region where the wind really blows: Camocim and Jericoacoara. So, I switched to an 8 meter kite that I had stored in Barra Grande, and left my 10 meter.
It was another day of 55km of coastline. I woke up anxious to leave, but the wind was weak and offshore. I waited until 1:00 pm, but the wind was no better… Time was already running short for me. The tide was very low, so I would have to walk more than a kilometer through the water to find depth for my Hydrofoil. I decide to start the walk, and wait for the wind to improve while I was already in deeper water.
And so it happened: I was chest-deep in water, the wind turned and got stronger. I went kiting in that super low tide. There was a lot of maneuvering around sand banks far from the beach. I passed the outside the corrals of Bitupitá. The wind increased until it reached the 30 knots mark. I had a hard time during the last few kilometers due to the strong wind, but I arrived in Maceio at sunset, where I was greeted by Paulo Martins at his home.
55 kilometers of coastline kiting.
104 kilometers navigated in the GPS.
It would be the final day, with 65 kilometers of coastline to Preá. I knew the zigzagging path would be big, so I decide to set out as soon as possible, even in the offshore wind.
So at 9:00 I threw my kite into the water, with an offshore wind, and swam out to sea, where I was able to launch the kite with a strong 25 knots wind. When I started kiting and I aimed as far as I could into the wind, and I realize it was very offshore! It was blowing quite south. I could even manage in a straight line parallel to the coast, with right foot in front.
I got very excited about how fast I was progressing. After 12km, I arrived at the lighthouse of Camocim, and the angle of the wind changed, requiring me to start the damned zigzagged path again.
It was a strange cloudy day, giving an eerie loneliness to my solitude in that windswept sea. I could see rain clouds coming, and I decided to stop and wait. That lesson I had already taken before. I lied down and buried myself in the hot sand. I was cold.
The rain cloud passed. It was already 13:00, and the offshore wind was still strong. I went back out to sea, and went far, far away from the shore, hoping the wind would turn onshore while I was out there. It would be beautiful. But it never happened.
Instead, the wind began to die. Curse! I accelerated towards the safety of the beach, where I could only reach by pumping the hydrofoil in order not to sink. One thing I’ve learned from these years of experience is knowing when to get out of the sea.
I left the beach of Guriú. It was 14:00. I waited another hour, and the wind was still dead. I looked at the GPS: 10 km to Jericoacoara and 20 km to Prea. I could even see Jericoacoara nearby. I decided to walk there, I knew that 10 km of walking would not kill me. I start walking, still with the kite mounted. The wind threatened to come back, I got in the water again, and I could kite another mile of beach, and then the wind died for good.
I disassembled the kite, put everything in my backpack, and walked back, carrying the hydrofoil. I felt like Jesus Christ carrying the cross. Every mile that hydrofoil got a little heavier.
It was 3 hours of walking, until Jeri, where I arrive completely exhausted. Some friends drove by offering a ride, but getting in a car would be a defeat in my mission, which was almost complete!
Then I learned that virtually no one had sailed that day. They said there was no wind!
45 km of coastline kiting.
10 km of coastline walking.
I woke up in Jeri, at Vila Kalango, just 10km from my goal, Rancho do Peixe, in Preá
I got in the water at 9:30, again with an offshore wind. I thought it would be a short one-hour ride to Rancho do Peixe, but once again nature would play a trick on me.
When I was getting closer to my goal, the wind began to die. The kite fell from the sky. Man, how difficult this trip was becoming! I took advantage of the gusts, and I worked for each meter of coastline with difficulty, until finally arriving at Rancho do Peixe. It had taken 2 hours to cross that 10km stretch.
The feeling of completing such a venture is interesting: a mixture of joy and emptiness. I was very happy to have arrived at Rancho, being well received by friends. On the other hand, there is a feeling of “what now?” The mission gets you so focused that when it ends, you have to take time to relax and get back to normal life.
Many people ask me: why alone?
Well, first because it’s not easy to get a partner. Imagine me walking around asking:
“Hey buddy, let’s upwind Atins to Prea? It is only 280 km against the wind…”
I don’t know if my proposal would be very successful …
Second, because I love riding through in nature alone. I am in a state of full alertness, and maximum attention. I know I can’t go wrong. That evolves me as a human being.
Oh, what about your Hydrofoil? What about that fantastic tool?
I made this trip using a f-one hydrofoil, with the smallest wing they produce. I went strapless, not for religious reasons, but because I forgot to bring them. It’s very good equipment, firm and stable. This invention is revolutionizing the kiting world with absurd efficiency.
Now, I set sail for the Lençoís Maranhenses to cross the kite desert, and then board a catamaran for an Amazon kitesurf adventure with Surfin Sem Fim. May nature continue to be generous…
Written by: Andre Penna
Translated by: Hammond Sale Jr.