How surfing has helped Rio children escape slum life in Brazil

More than 2,000 boys and girls have been given free surfing lessons at surf schools in Rio

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The Independent US

Free surf schools are giving a new lease of life to impoverished children in Rio de Janeiro.

More than 2,000 children from Rio’s largest slum, Rocinha, have received free surf lessons at two schools in the city over the course of the last twenty years. The lessons aim to give the children exercise, focus and a moment of escapism amid Brazilian slum life.

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Rafael Silva, second right, and Joao Pedro Alves, second left, prepare their surf board at the Rocinha Surf Association headquarters at Rocinha slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

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Cristiano Gomes 'Xuxu' leaves Rocinha slum on his way to Sao Conrado beach in Rio de Janeiro (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Prior to the lessons, the children have often been street beggars or engaged in local crime. 18-year-old Cristiano Gomes describes his life before the surf school as “pretty bad”. He used to juggle for spare change at a busy highway near the shantytown.

He now ranks in the Top 10 of Rio’s junior surfing league and plans to enter the sport professionally. He says: “A lot of my friends who aren’t surfing don’t have anything, they don’t know what to do with their lives. I don’t know what would have become of me without surfing.”

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Young bodyboarders from Rocinha joke with each other as they run towards the water at Sao Conrado brach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

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In this photo, Gabriel de Lima, 13, stretches before surfing at Sao Conrado beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Not long ago, many of these kids were begging on the streets or engaged in crime, but two surf schools serving youth from Rioís largest slum, Rocinha, have helped change that. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

23-year-old Magno Neves da Silva shares the sentiment. He was approached when he was eight years old by a surf teacher who spotted him skate boarding in the slum and thought his talent would transfer well to surfing.

He surfs everyday whilst also working as a dog walker to make ends meet. He says that Rio needs to develop its pro-surfing infrastructure more to give greater opportunities to surfers looking to become professionals: “My dream until today is to be a pro surfer. I still compete in championships, but there aren’t many of them in Rio, so it’s not easy.”

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Marcio Pereira da Silva, right, founder of the Rocinha Surf Association, ASR, is helped by young surfers as they store boards at their headquarters at Rocinha slum in Rio de Janeiro (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

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Robert Silva poses for a photo while fixing his board at the Rocinha Surf Association headquarters at Rocinha slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Along with free surf boards and clothes, kids are taught how to maintain and fix their gear. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Surfing has been enjoying a boom in popularity within Brazil recently. In December, 20-year-old Gabriel Medina won the world’s premier surfing title, the first ever South American to do so. He was named as one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people this year.

Worldwide, the sport is gaining popularity as the number of people taking to surfboards around the globe has increased by 35 per cent over the course of the last decade.

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Young surfers from the Rocinha slum enter the water at Sao Conrado beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Everyday barefoot boys hustle down the inclined alleyways of the Rio de Janeiro slums they call home, surf boards under their arms. They head to nearby Sao Conrado or Arpoador beach, where they catch waves and momentarily leave their impoverished lives behind. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

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In this May 21, 2015 photo, Christian da Conceicao, 11, shows a signed polaroid photo of him and friends with U.S. surfer John John Florence at Sao Conrado beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Everyday barefoot boys hustle down the inclined alleyways of the Rio de Janeiro slums they call home, surf boards under their arms. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

With additional reporting by AP.

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