Rio de Janeiro is one of the most vibrant and colourful cities in the world; it is also a paradise for paddling! Tom Court and Colleen Carroll discover why in this excellent travel guide!

Armed with an inflatable SUP, Tom Court and Colleen Carroll headed to Rio to discover the potential for paddling in this iconic city.

When you think of Rio de Janeiro, or more simply, just Rio, images are no doubt conjured up of the impressive effigy, Christ The Redeemer, or perhaps the unmistakable outline of Sugarloaf Mountain. Maybe you think of football, the famous favelas and the gold and green of the nation's flag, or even the quintessential Havaianas flip-flops might spring to mind.

It would be fair to say no other city on earth commands this cacophony of visual imagery at the mere mention of a three-letter word. Rio is steeped in history; perhaps it was always destined to be that way, after all, the city is known as the place where the mountains meet the sea. In the past, it had a reputation for a high crime rate, which contrasted with the balneario beaches and bikini lifestyles.

That image was cleaned up for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, Rio was keen to project itself as a city open for tourism no matter where you went, rather than a place where the beaches were safe, but if you crossed the road, you were entering the Wild West. It’s been a huge success, and now Rio is becoming more and more cosmopolitan and accessible. As a destination for SUP it has real appeal, from the seminal waterways around the islands to the world class surf breaks that litter the coastline, it’s got something for everyone!

We discovered Rio de Janeiro to be a bustling sun-kissed city, bursting with culture, beautiful people and a profound sense of heritage. Lined with champagne coloured beaches and the deep azure of the Atlantic Ocean, it certainly made for an impressive and memorable trip. Amidst the glamour of the city's boulevards and beaches, there is still the impending sense of poverty that resonates through the sprawling favelas which are very much there, albeit much safer these days. Somehow it all works, adding extra spirit to the overall experience. 

Arriving with nothing more than a Fanatic Fly Air inflatable and an iRIG, it was time to explore the cosmopolitan city and its SUP potential. Heading straight to Copacabana beach, the first thing that catches your eye is the Portuguese wave patterned pavement that creates a 4km promenade. Known for attracting the local surf crew to the shallow rocky ledge that forms the northern point of the bay, the waves that unload on the outside link through to create a fun ride across the sandbars on the inside at high tides.

Moving down from Copacabana and rounding the historic fort and scenic peninsula of Apoador, you’ll discover the only place to watch the breath-taking sunset. Forming the northern tip of the famous Ipanema beach, you're greeted by the buzzing ‘praia’ and its social vibe. Beer is sold everywhere, along with the traditional cachaca, brazil’s most popular spirit made from fermented and distilled sugarcane juice, and there are people playing football and volleyball as far as the eye can see. At the forefront of the beach culture are the sun-worshippers and surfers who populate the beach each day; the winter swell can bring barrelling beach breaks to rival Hossegor.

Following the Atlantic Ocean inland via a canal that fringes Jardim de Alá, what one can only describe as Rio's Central Park, we found Rodrigo de Freitas: a huge lake encapsulated by the city with a light sea breeze. Having discovered a spot to transform the SUP into a windsurfer, we inflated the iRIG and set sail to explore the stunning surroundings. Embracing the flat water, we took advantage of the versatility of our set up for paddling, sailing and even some yoga.

Travelling with an iSUP is an excellent way to discover new places and get views that you just can’t get from the shoreline. Paddle boarding allows you to explore like no other tourist can and the Fly Air was the perfect board for this adventure. We could pump it up wherever we went and be on the water uncovering hidden gems that we wouldn’t have found otherwise.

If you haven’t seen the iRIG, then it is well worth checking it out, developed by North Kiteboarding and Fanatic Arrows windsurfing sails they developed an inflatable sail that weighs up to 70% less than a standard rig. As it is inflatable, it can be packed into a small bag and taken quite literally anywhere. You all know that when the wind gets up, the fun somewhat diminishes with paddle boarding unless you can do a downwinder. The iRIG looks to make those days when the wind is too strong for paddling fun days on the water too.

As the setup is so light, it is perfect for smaller riders too, and it really does make windsurfing easy and adds a massive amount of versatility to your paddle board. If your SUP board has a mast base plug for a windsurf rig, then the iRIG is compatible and should definitely be considered as part of your quiver, especially if exploring the waters powered by the wind in addition to the paddle appeals to you!

Off the water, no matter if it was day or night, the infectious street vibe never wavered, and it wasn't a case of where to eat or get a beer, but more which venue do we choose? Smoke filled the streets from blazing churrascarias, the local name for BBQ; they are all filled with the most delicious local meats. The 'anyone welcome' and 'no-fuss' ambience as a tourist in a big city was inviting and made you feel as though you were truly living the Brazilian life. There's no need to go looking for nightlife, it's everywhere, just wander out and follow the music and discovers parties and gatherings around every corner!

Continuing on our adventure we made the drive south for an hour or so to Barra de Tijuca, another popular location, and a favourite haunt of wave riders from all over the world. Although we experienced a different style of living compared to downtown Rio itself, the endless beach is home to some fun beach breaks which are ideal for SUP surfing. It is also just a short drive from Prainha, a spot that has to be on your to-do list when visiting the area.

Prainha offers not only left and right beach breaks, but also a point break that sometimes delivers a world class right hander with arguably one of the most stunning backdrops in the area. The rocks and hills that blanket the bay on both sides make for some truly epic surf shots, and it’s been known for more than a couple of magazine cover shots to be taken here!

Our local host took us to the famous K08 Watersports Club; a hub for lovers of the ocean in this area, they provide rental, lessons and also an excellent restaurant and ‘lifestyle’ venue. Perched halfway down the Avenida das Americas and Beach Boulevard, the water in front of the club was filled with fellow paddle boarders and surfers. When the wind gets up in the afternoon the kiteboarders also come out to play! Just behind the seafront are plenty of places to stay and we would really recommend that any trip to Rio includes a visit to the Barra de Tijuca area.

Having visited some of the world's most famous beaches, it became apparent that while the high-rise lifestyle of the rich is in stark contrast with the energetic positivity of the poor, there's an active overall outlook on life that the geographical layout only further enhances. Our trip provided a lifetime of memories and experiences that we will never forget, whatever your preconceptions of Rio it will deliver on all fronts. From the stunning backdrops and the impressive Christ the Redeemer statue to the flashings of gold and green and the beach and bikini lifestyles, oh and don’t forget the Havaianas!

There's no doubt that Brazilians are furiously proud of where they are from, and it is easy to see why. No matter where you decide to spend your time, we can almost guarantee it will be the trip of a lifetime. You can pick and choose to suit your style too; from a dawn patrol in the surf to a breezy windsurf with the iRIG, or an evening paddling down the coast. Everything is accompanied with incredible cuisine and a friendly welcome; Rio is the gift that keeps on giving!


By Sophie Matthews