As you drive along the windy, two-lane highway outside of the small Brazilian coastal town of Ubatuba, it’s easy to miss one inconspicuous sign standing in the overgrown grass on the side of the road labeled “Praia da Sununga. Brazilian skimboard capital.”
To the average passerby, there’s no reason to pull off the road and bounce down a kilometer of ruddy, oftentimes flooded dirt roads to go to Sununga beach. After all, Ubatuba has over 100 tropical beaches to choose from. Why even bother?
However, through the eyes of a skimboarder, Sununga holds an entirely different meaning that is well worth compromising your car’s suspension. The right-hand side of the beach is bordered by a large granite slab, oriented at the perfect angle to reflect the incoming south Atlantic swells to create what skimboarders call a ‘sider‘ — the most coveted type of wave in skimboarding.
Every skimboarder dreams of catching a perfect sider, and Sununga is among the best in the world.
In the last 10-15 years Sununga has been growing in global fame, breaking into the international spotlight when it hosted a stop on the United Skim Tour in 2013.
Back when I started getting into skimming circa 2007, my friends and I would watch videos from this mythical, faraway beach, dreaming of getting to skim there someday.
Well, little did 15-year-old me know that I would in fact get a chance, but it wouldn’t come until 2021 as I was traveling in Brazil.
Life in Lázaro
As I spent the months of November and December 2021 living in Rio de Janeiro, I knew that I couldn’t miss this opportunity to experience the world-renowned waves of Praia da Sununga.
Located in the adjacent state of São Paolo, Ubatuba is a six-hour bus ride from Rio, and from there it’s another 30-minute taxi ride west to the suburb of Lázaro, where Sununga is located.
Living in Lázaro couldn’t be any further from the life of Rio de Janeiro. Instead of bustling busy streets, there are deserted dirt roads covered in puddle-filled potholes. Instead of towering high rises, there are humble, single-family homes with clothes hanging to dry in the front yard. Lázaro exemplifies that stereotypical, nonchalant nature of tropical living, where operating hours of businesses are shortened and sporadic. There is a general lack of urgency and formality in most aspects of day-to-day life, and I say that in a good way.
It’s a refreshing change from living Rio, and significantly cheaper.
While Lázaro is indeed a quiet little suburb, it still has the convenience of being close to the city center of Ubatuba where you can find all the necessities and supplies that you might desire. And the bumper to bumper weekend traffic that spills down the highway is a little reminder that the continent’s largest metropolis, São Paolo, seemingly a world away, is actually just a skip and a hop over the mountains to the west.
I have a Chilean friend who decided to make the move to Lázaro (albeit permanent) many years ago. It just so happened that he had an opening for a room to rent in his house, so I decided that I would take it for the month of January 2022.
The waves and people of Sununga
Upon arriving in Ubatuba, I was greeted by the all-too-familiar tropical rainstorms that drench the shores of this part of Brazilian coast. Brazilians jokingly call the city Uba-Chuva — chuva meaning rain in Portuguese — homage to the incessant precipitation that often falls on its mountainous slopes.
Despite the intense rains, upon arrival I immediately dropped my bags and headed down to Sununga to see the legendary beach with my own two eyes.
I zigzagged down the muddy dirt roads anticipating the booming sound of crashing waves that grew as I neared the shore.
When my feet hit the sand I stood and stared for a bit. The waves that I had seen so often in photos and videos came to life as they pummeled the shore. It looked like a scene from a postcard — lush rainforest-covered hills enclosing a wide, sandy beach no more than 200 meters long, with perfect waves throughout.
January is typically the worst month for waves in Sununga, so the stars had truly aligned for my summer stay to kick off with a swell. I cracked a little smile as I threw on my trunks and hit the water.
The power of the wave definitely lived up to its reputation, and as I approach my 30th birthday, I was given the nagging reminder that no one skims better in their 30’s than they did in their 20’s.
I got my ass handed to me a few times, but also got a feel for the waves and got some rides that served as great reminders as to why I had hopped continents to come visit.
Getting to know the locals and watching them show their prowess skimming the wave has been just as fun an experience. Meeting the various generations of skimmers, that span from little kids to older guys, has given me a better feel and context for the community here.
That fabled beach that once only existed in my day dreams, now is comprised of faces and names. There is a tight-knit community of skimmers that live in the area, all of whom have made me feel more than welcome as a stranger living in their town for a month.
While most US-based skimmers I know dream of going to Sununga, nearly all of the Brazilian skimmers here dream of the opposite: a chance to go skim in California and compete on the professional tour. It’s an interesting paradox.
A month in paradise
Life in Sununga has been slow, and that’s just how I like it for the time being.
When there are waves, all day is spent at Sununga. When there aren’t waves, there are tons of other beaches to explore in the area. During the hot summer months, nearly everything revolves around the beach here.
I’ve been in Lázaro for two weeks and they have flown by.
The nonstop rain that greeted me when I arrived has been nowhere to be found lately. The clouds have parted and given way to unbearable heat, which is making me debate which is better, rain or shine. I wouldn’t mind a few days of rain right now.
I’m looking forward to further getting to know this sleepy little town as I approach the 3-month midpoint on my Brazilian visa.