Jericoacoara and northeastern Brazil blew into the windsurfing world’s attention over ten years ago. Its famous beaches were once voted the best in the world and have matured into one of the most popular and reliable windsurfing destinations in the world. Since its discovery, boutique hotels have been built to cater for the cosmopolitan band of ‘windies’ who frequent its shores, but has the area forgotten its roots? Ollie Acton, marketing manager for local windsurf centre Club Ventos, share his thoughts while Peter Hart and Jem Hall tell us of their love for its shores.
Words Ollie Acton, Peter Hart and Jem Hall // Photos Richard Ström, Nicolas Jones & Hart Photography
The last big Jericoacoara and Icarazinho press trip was in 2010. Life was different back then. If you need any sort of proof as to how quickly the world has changed, 9 years ago you couldn’t order an Uber from your phone, Instagram and Pinterest were start ups, selfies weren’t a thing and words like ‘cryptocurrency’ did not exist. Whether its technological, social or environmental, our world is changing at a rapid pace, but how has time, tourism and development influenced these villages in northern Brazil? You’d expect modern life to pass by a place that was once so isolated. The roads are still made of sand and with no pollution from street lights, stunning starlit nights can still be savoured. But times are changing here, so do you still get a traditionally Brazilian and extraordinary watersports experience in these two unique destinations?
JERICOACOARA – A BRIEF HISTORY
Jericoacoara (Jeri) was firmly rooted as a traditional and quiet Brazilian fishing village, located in a remote part of northeastern Brazil. This all changed when in 1986 a journalist from the Washington Post stumbled across the stunning village whilst exploring the Brazilian coastline. Jeri was then subsequently added to the list of the ‘world’s top 10 beaches’ and featured in the newspaper. This was THE defining moment for Jeri, which put the village on the international stage for the first time. As the media hype started to gain momentum, Jericoacoara found itself as a hub for adventurous travellers and backpackers. At this time, the remote location put the mass tourism market off visiting. However, Fabio Nobre, owner of Club Ventos Windsurf Resort was running a tourism company taking customers to the remote beaches on a 4×4 from Fortaleza, who amongst other local entrepreneurs, found themselves in the very fortunate position of high demand, with not a great deal of competition. In 2004 Jeri was once again in the international press, now voted the best beach in the world by Lonely Planet. By this time most Brazilians and indeed the world knew of this near mythical beach, but the local population and authorities knew the ill effects this publicity and mass tourism could bring and how it could ruin their piece of paradise.
HOW JERI ISN’T CANCUN 2.0?
Way back in 1984, building regulations were imposed to manage the growth and development of the village, long before the Washington Post journalist arrived in Jeri. The government had made many attempts to ‘modernise’ Jericoacoara, but these were well and truly refused by the local population; however electricity was finally installed but underground, meaning no unsightly wires dangling and swinging between the palm trees.
It’s almost like the locals knew what was inevitably going to happen, but they were trying their hardest to keep the soul of Jeri alive. These regulations and strict nature conservation rules set early on meant the locals had time to adjust and figure out how they can build their own businesses, and were able to react once the tourists started to arrive. This means today you will find many shops, pousadas and restaurants owned by local families. If you wake up early enough, you will still see local fishermen selling their catch to restaurants and shops. Compared to the early days of Jericoacoara, the village is now far more organised. Jeri has boundaries, therefore it can only physically grow to a certain size. There are now medical services and pharmacies, central Jeri is closed to unauthorized vehicles and last year a sustainable tourism tax ($RS 5 per night) was introduced to help with cleaning and maintenance. It’s safer too, which makes the town far more family friendly, for example you now cannot hire a buggy and scoot around town without a qualified driver.
A new airport just outside Jericoacoara National Park has been built to land international flights, which will eventually mean far easier and quicker access for travellers. The new airport is starting to take domestic flights, although finding a good connection can still be tricky. However right now, for most visitors the route to get to Jericoacoara is still to travel by 4×4 from Fortaleza Airport, with the final 50 minutes being off road either in the sand dunes or along the beach.
DOES JERI STILL FEEL BRAZILIAN?
The most noticeable differences from 10 years ago are new businesses, services, and the different type of visitors that Jericoacoara attracts. There are now honeymooners, families and weddings happening in Jericoacoara. But all new constructions still follow the same local architectural style, so it still feels very Brazilian. One positive aspect of the Jeri development is that it gets a lot more government attention, so there are several new rules and restrictions (vehicles: only residents can drive in the village) and new services (local emergency hospital). The nightlife is now on a different level compared to past Jeri. You can find a party almost every night here. If you want to soak in a typical Brazilian party, then head to Forró (a lively dance originating from Northeast Brazil, pronounced foh-ho) which is at Club Ventos, with Samba or Caipirinhas (Brazil’s national drink) on the beach. These parties are extremely welcoming and so unintimidating, with fast footwork, flowing hips and a live band, it’s a joy just to watch and admire, even if you don’t want to join in. For a more European style party there is now a rooftop bar at Cafe Jeri that from 4-8 p.m. is a great place to go. Dance above the palm trees, salute the sunset with a shot of something local, party into the early evening and still get a good night’s sleep after! Generally Brazilian music and dancing dominates the airwaves, the food and drink is Brazilian, palm trees still sway, the sun is still hot and the coconuts are refreshing, all adding to Jeri’s allure, which for many remains unquestionable. There is now a far wider choice of restaurants and places to stay. From simple and cheap pousadas to 5* luxury hotels, Jeri can now cater for pretty much every of traveller. It seems Jericoacoara isn’t trying to be the cute, quiet fishing village it once was. It is undeniable Jeri has changed, but the village has kept a particular appeal with charm and Brazilian vibes. However most significant to you, the sun, sea, sand and most importantly, wind has not changed.
From July through to the end of January and often beyond, it can be argued there is no better place in the world to go for a windsurfing holiday. The incredible conditions on offer here attract the world’s best professional windsurfers, who come every winter to train. During October, November, December and January, top windsurfing coaches such as Peter Hart and Jem Hall also come to Jeri to teach clinics. If the industry experts all come here, it must be for good reason. The wind starts blowing pretty consistently by 10:30 a.m. and lasts until sunset, meaning you can split your day into morning and afternoon sessions, perfect. There are different spots to sail and the conditions vary depending on the state of tide. The main spot is just to the right of Club Ventos, called ‘The Point’. This is where most people sail and here the smooth waves wrap around the headland creating the perfect ramp or wave to surf on. On the inside you will find very flat sections which are great for practicing carve gybing or the latest freestyle move. The waves vary from 2-5 feet, which are by no means the biggest in the world, but they are probably the friendliest waves you’ll ever come across in windsurfing. Without a dangerous amount of power, these mellow waves are great to practice riding and ideal for anyone wanting to get confident in more extreme conditions.
If you do want something wilder, head upwind beyond the point and you’ll reach Malhada Beach. This side-on beach offers great starboard tack jumping, but be warned, there are lots of rocks that can be hidden, especially at high tide. The conditions here at Malhada can feel similar to a decent day on the UK’s south coast. Often the best time for a wave is near high tide, but the point break can get a little crowded, especially if the conditions are amazing. Low tide offers a far larger sailing area, but slightly smaller waves. The wonderful thing about having wind all day is that if you don’t like the conditions you are sailing in, just wait a few hours and have another go later.
The windsurfing here is perfect for confident intermediates, advanced and anyone wanting to get into wave sailing. Beginners can try to get out first thing before the wind really kicks in, however the small waves are present pretty much all day, which will make it very wobbly for someone learning for the first time. At the time of year most windsurfers come to Jeri (September onwards), Europe and North America are starting to get cold. The water temperature is so warm here you don’t need a wetsuit, even on the windiest days. Just remember to bring a rash vest because the sun is very intense.
“Jeri has changed, but the village has kept a particular appeal with charm and Brazilian vibes.”
The main windsurf centre, located as close as possible to the windsurfing action is Club Ventos. This is a high quality centre with the latest Neil Pryde, JP and Starboard equipment all rigged up and ready to go. With a restaurant, bar and beachfront sun loungers, Club Ventos certainly has a ‘resort’ feeling about it, rather than just a place to rent kit.
Fabio Nobre, the owner of Club Ventos is an innovator and next season he is developing a GPS tracking system, which not only helps with safety, but it means all customers will have tracked distance and speed.
If you are planning on visiting early in the season, such is Fabio’s confidence in the Brazilian wind, Club Ventos are offering a money back warranty for any September holiday that has less than 50% days of wind, which they have called the ‘Wind Warranty’. This also applies to their other centre in Icaraizinho, and includes transfers and some partner hotels.
As the wind starts to drop late afternoon, surfers appear out of nowhere and ride right in front of Club Ventos. The waves here are just powerful enough to make for extremely fun longboard and SUP surfing. If you are travelling later on in the Brazilian season (December – February) you will get a great mix of surf and windsurfing conditions. Around New Year is when the waves really start to ramp up and make for exciting conditions for both wave sailing and surfing. Other sports on offer include windsurf foiling, kitesurfing, e-bike tours and SUP tours, which can all be organised through Club Ventos.
For the non-watersports partner or for a day off windsurfing, there is plenty to see and do around Jericoacoara. Visit Pedra Furada, an arched rocked formation which is just a walk over the grassy hill, or hire a buggy and spend the day relaxing in a hammock at Paradise Lagoon. The abundance of boutique shops in Jeri can keep you busy wandering the streets for ages, and there are enough bars and restaurants to not have to go back to the same place twice. From traditional Brazilian food, to Italian, vegetarian and even a Sushi bar, there are a large variety of restaurants for such a small town. A favoured spot is Na Casa Dela, a quirky, rustic styled restaurant serving some of the most delicious fresh fish and meat dishes in Jericoacoara.
WHERE TO STAY
There are many high quality pousadas (guesthouse/B&B style accommodation) and hotels in Jericoacoara, but be warned, because the town is now quite big, some are far away from the beach. The sand roads make the
distance feel even longer and you don’t want to be knackered from walking before you’ve even started your days windsurfing, so your best bet is to book early to get the best location. ‘My Blue Hotel’ is right on the beach in Jeri and with a great buffet style breakfast to start the day, is a good and convenient choice for your stay.
“There is plenty to see and do around Jericoacoara.”
ICARAIZINHO – REMINDS YOU HOW TO RELAX
Located 90 km down the coast from Jericoacoara and above Fortaleza,
Icaraizinho is a tranquil paradise that has kept its charm and slow pace of life. The small community of Icaraizinho began around 100 years ago, and before being discovered by a few pioneering backpackers, the local economy was based on fishing and coconut farming. Icaraizinho holds the highest palm tree density on the Ceará coast, making the area beautifully contrasted from the usual sand dunes in the region. Compared to the relatively rich history of Jericoacoara, little is known about the story of Icaraizinho. However, what we do know is that Icaraizinho has changed very little over the last decades. Often referred to as the ‘smaller sister’ of Jericoacoara, you can see how Jeri and Icari are related, but they seem more like cousins than directly related. The lively and vibrant Jericoacoara is replaced with a sense of calm, peace and very little stress.
In Jericoacoara the beach is busy, kids are playing football, tourists are sunbathing and windsurfers are rushing on and off the water. The gorgeous palm filled beach in Icaraizinho is huge, and not being overrun by tourists makes it feel even bigger. There are plenty of restaurants, but little is offered in terms of nightlife, with one Forró evening making up most of the weekly night-time entertainment. During the night you can go for a moonlight walk on the beach and not come across another person.
Another noticeable difference compared to Jeri is the 54 megawatt wind farm directly downwind of Club Ventos, which takes advantage of the consistent strong winds that hits Icaraizinho, making the place now not only a wind-powered city, but also an exporter of clean energy to the rest of the country.
There is a clear sign the village intends to grow, with new hotels being built to accommodate a potential influx of tourism. Nonetheless, for now Icaraizinho is a quiet paradise where you can totally unplug and unwind from the stress of normal life at home.
Similar to Jeri, the strong and reliable wind in Icaraizinho creates fantastic conditions for windsurfing. At low tide you can have a superb flat water area, perfect for freestylers, beginners and carve gybe enthusiasts! The reef shelters the top section of the bay from the swell moving down the coastline. The same reef generates some great waves for jumping and riding between mid and high tide. The wind is just as reliable as in Jeri, non-stop from July to January. Beginner, intermediate riders and freeriders will love it in Icaraizinho, even though the wind is strong, the general vibe and slow pace just makes it feel a lot more relaxed when out on the water.
One fact that comforts beginners is the shape of the bay, which stretches up to the north on the downwind side, so no matter how far you go before you gybe, if for some reason you can’t sail back, you will always drift towards the beach downwind of Club Ventos. The volume of people on the water is very different, when compared to Jericoacoara. For starters there may only be a handful of windsurfers actually sailing at one time, which is almost unheard of in Jeri. The sailing area feels a lot bigger too, because the waves are created on a reef and not a point break, there is no need for all the windsurfers to bunch up to get the best position on the wave.
One ‘must do’ windsurf alternative is the SUP River Tour organised by Club Ventos. After being loaded into a 4×4, you are driven through farmland on sand roads until you meet the mangroves. As one big group you start the SUP tour, winding down the river, exploring the beautiful scenery and trying to spot the local wildlife. After a few hours of this you eventually come across a small restaurant on the river. Here they serve the freshest oysters and fish, and along with the fire pit and Caipirinhas it makes the whole afternoon an incredible experience.
Other sports offered by Club Ventos include kitesurfing, SUP surfing and kayaking, meaning no matter what the conditions, you’ll have something to play with on the water. Apart from the odd restaurant and local bar, Icaraizinho is not a lively village. Initially it is quite a surreal experience, it’s quiet but your brain is still buzzing from life at home, grinding through the gears and thinking what to tick off the lists and what needs to be done. We are all so busy these days, whether it’s working, exercising, checking emails or looking after kids etc etc. We rush around at 100 mph and have almost forgotten how to relax. Things are different in Icaraizinho, which forces you to slow down. The zero noise and swaying palm trees almost put you in a trance like state of calm. After the windsurf session everyone sits around at Club Ventos, chatting to each other, making new friends and you soon find yourself several Caipirinha’s in, the sun has already set and you have no idea what the time is. You have now remembered how to relax.
WHERE TO STAY
Staying in wooden bungalows on stilts, Villa Mango feels very Brazilian and almost Amazon-like. With incredible panoramic views of the bay, this hotel is in a fantastic location, perfect for group trips and couples. For something a little more basic, Pousada Les Alizes at Club Ventos is a cheaper, yet a very convenient alternative, being right next to the windsurf centre.
With modern amenities, more restaurants and Wi-Fi pretty much everywhere, travelling to Jericoacoara and Icaraizinho may not be for the real adventurer anymore. For someone wanting a 2 week holiday in paradise, and sending pictures on WhatsApp groups to instantly make all friends jealous at the start of the UK winter, there is no where better. From July until January the watersport conditions mean you will get on the water every day. Party or relax as much as you like, you have it all in one place. Times are changing, and although Jericoacoara and Icaraizinho development is well managed and contained, who’s to say it will still be the same in 10 years time. Nonetheless, for now these places are unbelievably beautiful and the wind is very strong and consistent. Get out there whilst paradise still exists.
Location: Northeastern Brazil. State of Ceará. 300 km from main city of Fortaleza.
Currency: Brazilian Reals (pronounced ‘hey-al’)
Time difference: Three behind G.M.T.
Average air temperature: 29-35 degrees Celsius
Average water temperature: 27 degrees Celsius
Best time for windsurfing: From July until January the trade winds, which sweep across the Atlantic from Africa, are very strong and will blow 25-35 knots most days. September is the windiest month, while from December onwards there are bigger waves.
Average sail size: 4.2m – 5.2m
Board size: 72 litre – 110 litre
Bring booties – Sometimes in Jericoacoara the sand on the beach moves, which can expose some rocks. Just in case you get caught out, bring a pair of booties.
Bring some cash – There are now ways to get cash in Jeri, but your safest bet is still to bring cash with you for some small expenses. Credit cards are widely accepted in Jeri.
Download Portuguese in Google Translate or bring a phrasebook – English is the common language, but still many locals, bar staff and shop assistants do not know English at all.
HOW TO BOOK
It’s still easy in Fortaleza to get into an unlicensed taxi, so to be on the safe side, book everything before you decide to visit Brazil. So whether you want to stay in Jericoacoara, Icaraizinho or both, it’s safer, less stressful and often cheaper to book your windsurf package through Sportif Travel. For latest availability, prices and discounted packages, contact Sportif Travel on +44 (0)1273 844919, website – www.sportif.travel or email – [email protected]
PETER HART’S JERI APPRAISAL
“I don’t know what you lot got up to on that trip, but it took him 3 months to recover.” Said the wife of Morten, one of my clients, complaining that I had returned her husband in a much worse state than I found him. In truth, there were no sinister shenanigans. Morten just got properly ‘Jeri-ied’ – a debilitating condition where despite terminal fatigue, you have no ‘stop’ button. Presented with perfect conditions on day one, you overfill your boots on the assumption that conditions must deteriorate …but they don’t. In Morten’s case, they actually got better … and better. And it’s not just the sailing. The first sip of a Happy Hour Caipirinha at 5 p.m. at Club Ventos is one of life’s greatest pleasures. And you get 2 for 1 so fiscal sense forces you to drink your money’s worth. The party has already started and the sun has yet to dip.
An hour later we’re heading out to eat – what a treat. Since Jeri is a fishing town, it seems rude not to have fish – but the steaks (often Argentinian strangely enough) are superb. The choice of eateries is overwhelming but two of my favourites are the Na Casa Dela and the ‘Restaurante do Bigode’ (very local and very fishy). Going pricey is not always an indicator of deliciousness.
So with a body crying for sleep thanks to 6 hours sailing and a full stomach, you surely wander to bed – but no … some bright spark suggests ‘just one …’ down AA (Alcohol Alley). AA lies at the beach end of the main street. It’s where all the cocktail carts gather. Depending on the night it may be mellow or rocking – but the vibe is always friendly and un-drunken despite the
nuclear mixes. Before you know it, it’s 2 a.m. But that’s ok, because you’ll lie in. But no – the morning high tide is perfect for a dawn SUP surf on waves so long and smooth you cant quite believe where you are. So there’s the first Jeri tip – PACE YOURSELF!
ARE YOU GOOD ENOUGH OR TOO GOOD?
If you’re wondering if you’re good enough to tackle Jeri, the answer is almost certainly ‘yes.’ The wind is just offshore enough to clean up the waves and leave glorious flat patches between them – but not so offshore as to make the wind flicky and swirly. There’s no dumping shore-break. It’s relatively easy to get out and the seabed is mostly sandy. And if you don’t fancy the foamy stuff, you can just freeride off downwind away from the waves off the point.
It’s easy and yet introduces all the tactical and technical elements of wave sailing. The sizeable tide creates an ever changing wave and wind-scape. To stay upwind you have to clock the wind bend close to shore and make sure you get on the right section of the refracting wave – and hop off it before it carries you into the wind shadow and the downwind rip. Staying on the wrong bit of the wave is to be carried a mile away to the base of the fabulous dune. But the penalty for poor tactics is merely a walk back through the shallows amidst a sea of near naked, well sculpted bodies.
It’s the best place I’ve found to learn, improve and coach wave sailing. The wind angle is such that you can’t help but sail down-the-line. People who have never sailed in waves before find themselves on an unbroken face riding downwind on their first session. Improving wave sailors have spent much of their lives fleeing oversized swells – but in Jeri the softness of the waves encourages them to charge at pitching sections, get vertical and go for aerials, all in the knowledge that a mishap will result in a warm caressing. It’s never pant-wetting big. We got a proper logo high day back in 2015 – but even then the drillings were ever so friendly.
For coaching what is almost unique is the ability to offer immediate feedback. The shallow shelving beach means I can stand there, hurl abuse/encouragement and even offer high fives as my charges crack off the lips.
And as for jumping … it’s a low tide pursuit at which point the wind blows
uninterrupted all the way into the launch spot. The waves are so well spaced and peak so gradually that you can line up your ramp from miles out and hit it stable, excited and at full speed. It’s properly side-shore if you launch in the middle of the beach, so you really don’t have to do much. I’ve got more people around their first forward in Jeri than anywhere else.
“It’s the best place I’ve found to learn, improve and coach wave sailing.”
Jeri has got a lot busier recently with regular Brazilian tourists, but they mostly congregate at the downwind end of the beach and you won’t encounter them unless you get blown off course. There’s lots of space, it’s all low-rise and has maintained its charm. Jeri is a very windy place. Some might say too windy in the windy season. It’s hard to learn to sail waves with control when you’re hanging on to a 4.0 – but it’s a nice problem to have. I favour January at the end of the season when it’s backed off a bit and a lot less busy. Nowhere in the world is wind guaranteed. In 11 years of clinics I’ve had 2 dodgy ones – but we still sailed most days and there was always a wave. If ever you thought of giving surfing or wave SUP’ing a go, this is the place – you really can’t miss.
I’m also supposed to recommend trips and other touristy things. Well once I took my group on a SUP tour of the mangrove swamps which was spectacular. Other than that I haven’t a clue – always been way too knackered to even consider going off campus. A hammock, a good book and a cold beer and a windy’s downtime is taken care of!
Peter Hart’s clinic runs from 8-18 Jan 2020. Call Sportif for details.
JEM HALL’S JERI
“We love Jeri” is a logo adorning a dinghy boat sail sat in the new town square and I must say that both my rippers and I wholeheartedly agree. It is both an amazing and unique place; the streets paved with sand and the hugely consistent conditions are just a few of the factors that make it so. It’s somewhere you can really start to understand how to sail a beach break and work it properly, and practice keeping upwind to get good jumps and some waverides. And if you need motivation, then watching hot local sailors Ian Mouro Lemos or Edvan Souza is always incredible, their turns and jumps are just amazing and so inspiring to see up close.
Whatever your level, you can really learn and improve your jumping here! To do this you will need to plane early, so take a bigger board than you think. The soft predictable small to medium sized ramps are just awesome for jumps and hands down one of the best places to learn to loop there is. Only wave ride when you have a decent wave to work with, ripple riding is not en vogue. Use the whitewater and waves to get upwind on the way in. Do not sail too far out, there is nothing there, not even Mulder and Scully or the X files. Do not ‘oversail’, it will be windy and often all day / every day. This place can destroy your hands so yes arrive with tough hands, tape, gloves and as fit and strong as possible. Work on your tacks, gybes and freestyle moves on the inside, it is so flat between the waves and amazing for progression. Standing in the shallows doing a fashion shoot will not help your sailing and is dangerous. If your level is higher then have a sail up to Malhada around low tide and sail short runs and work the peaks for jumps and hits.
If you want more wind and the tide is higher then head downwind to the dunes, but know it is a long way back after a lot of sailing, so consider this in your planning. Do your inside moves before going past Club Ventos as this is where the wind shadow starts. If you are riding at high tide then get off the wave earlier than you think and don’t get tempted to ride it all the way to the dunes. Go surfing or SUP surfing if you have a high tide in the early morning and some waves forecast. On my coaching clinics the main skills learnt are getting out, planing earlier, ocean management, basic riding, jumping, learning and improving looping, tacking, switching off and having a great holiday!
It is hot hot hot so bring cotton shorts, short sleeved shirts and light t-shirts for the evening. Take Reals and order your cash back home in plenty of time. Learn some Portuguese – hello, goodbye, thank you and 1 to 10 can go a long way. Wear flip-flops, light shoes and do not go barefoot, the sand looks clean but it is still a pavement / road.
If you are paler in colour or have a streamlined head like mine then sail in a good hat, and use a long sleeved lycra and keep applying cream on your hands and feet. Walk up the dunes around 16.45 and enjoy a fantastic sunset and soak it all in. Go for some beach walks / jogs in the early morning to refresh your aching bodies and take in all that is happening.
Get involved with the Happy Hour at Club Ventos from 17.00 to 18.00. Try and get Ronaldo as your waiter! Café Jeri Sunset roof bar is heaps of fun, get there early – Friday to Sunday are very busy. Ask for your Caipirinha’s without sugar (sem açucar) and see if you like it this way, try a Tangeroska or even a Capeta too. Take some restaurant recommendations from people who have been there many times (which are a lot!) or one of the pros who is training there. Have a bowl of Açaí, and sample the lunch buffet at Club Ventos. The best tip is go there and find the joy that many do in Jeri.
Check jemhall.com for details of his easy wave coaching camps in Jeri, late November into mid December. Jem is sponsored by RRD, Ezzy Sails, Streamlined and Black Project fins.