Top kite-surfers battle elements in Rio de Janeiro

Published 5th August 2023 by Ian MacKinnon


Tough conditions with light winds and huge waves allow just four heats of men’s competition in Saquarema

Copa Kitley GKA Kite-Surf World Cup Brazil 2023
Saquarema, Rio de Janeiro
Itaúna Beach 31 July—11 August

The Copa Kitley GKA Kite-Surf World Cup Brazil jumped back into life after two lay days with the men’s competition at Rio de Janeiro’s Saquarema break.

But difficult conditions—a combination of light winds and a huge swell—saw just four heats completed before the race director called a halt to the proceedings on day six as the breeze faded.

Some of the most experienced athletes, like Cape Verdean Matchu Lopes (SUI) and Charly Martin, from Reunion, coped well the huge 10-12ft faces and put some big numbers on the board.

For others, the mix of light wind and the strong current from the swell, saw a few kites lost when they were swallowed by the pounding beach break after riders had crashed.

The men’s contest in Rio, where the Qatar Airways GKA Kite World Tour is making its first appearance at the renowned Saqaurema break, had reached the mid-point of round three after the women’s title was decided on day one.

“Really, really sketchy”

For the athletes about to take to the water, there was a certain amount of anxiety about what they were up against. South Africa’s Matt Maxwell, no stranger to big surf, was due up in the first heat of the day.

“We’re going to be the guinea pigs for today,” he said. “It’s looking really, really sketchy—massive waves and really light offshore wind. I think the biggest challenge is getting out there and feeling safe with the tiny amount of wind we have.

“For me it’s not so much the wave size that’s the problem, it’s more the intense current. With the waves and super-light wind, that makes a really tricky combination, so it’s going to be interesting for sure.”

But Theo Demanez (FRA), one of his rivals in the day’s opening heat, was a little more optimistic, even though he could also see the pitfalls presented by the conditions.

“The waves are really tempting,” he said, ahead of his heat. “It’s really big, so we hope the wind’s going to pick up and switch a little bit to side-shore. But it’s quite sketchy because it’s really big waves and if the wind is light, we’re going to be struggling on the kites. But if the wind picks up, then for sure it’s going to be insane action on the water.”

Fight for survival

When both got out on the water, up against Camille Delannoy (FRA) in the three-man heat, it was the Frenchman who just edged it over Maxwell, while Demanez struggled to find some scores.

Charly Martin had no such problems and romped to victory in the following, 14-minute heat. He racked up big numbers, including an 8.60 to give him the day’s highest wave score, and the largest heat total—14.97 out of a possible 20 for his two best rides. Canada’s Reece Myerscough was swept aside, though he will fight for survival in round four.

Bulgaria’s Nicola Abadjiev went toe-to-toe with Brazil’s Artur Morais. The pair had a tight battle, but Abadjiev just came out on top. But the wind was already becoming difficult for the athletes, who were mainly using 12m2 kites. Most were running up the beach to get upwind, because of the light breeze and strong current.

The conditions did not appear to trouble the tour leader, Cape Verdean Matchu Lopes (ESP), the winner of the opening tour stop in Ponta Preta. While his rival Gray Foster (USA) lost his downed kite in the surf, Lopes attacked the waves with big vertical cutbacks in the pocket, earning him the win and a place round five.

The wind forecast for day seven looks better, with the swell every bit as big. Join us for all the action here.

words: Ian MacKinnon
images: Svetlana Romantsova

Spot Info: Saquarema, Rio de Janiero
Saquarema is a town to the east of Rio de Janeiro. It is renowned for having some of the best surf in Brazil and hosted a World Surf League tour stop in 2022. But it is often neglected by locals from Rio who travel further afield to explore other breaks. It may owe its frothy reputation as a surf spot to the 60’s and 70’s, when it was one of the first places that surfers from Rio explored outside of the city.

Praia de Itaúna
Itaúna is stretch of beach to the east of the old church. A channel runs runs out from the natural lagoon. The east end has a rock shelf. Uncharacteristically for Rio surf, the sandy bottom can maintain big swells that keep their shape. The wave is generally a long left with hollow sections. But it can break right on occasions, depending on the conditions. The waves can be chest to head-high and above.

August is winter in Brazil, with dry weather throughout most of the country. On the coastline around Rio de Janeiro, and in the city centre, the weather is pleasant with daytime temperatures around 21-27C and 18-21C in the evenings.

During August the main wind directions in Saquarema are from north-east, side-offshore, or south-west, side-onshore, with 15-20 knots, depending on winter weather systems passing by.

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