Legs, are you with me?
By Andre Penna
4 of August, 2016
Today was a very intense day. I’m not sure why I’m always trying to challenge myself, but the results are always rewarding!
I was determined to test my limits foil kiting - that is, kitesurfing using a board that flies above the water using a hydrofoil, which results in a very high level of performance. My plan was to kite about 160km from Jericoacoara in Ceará all the way to Parnaiba, on the border of the Brazilian states of Piauí and Maranhão.
I had never done such a long distance with on a foil, let alone downwind. While riding downwind in easier on a normal kiteboard, downwind is actually more difficult on a foil, and so the journey was even more technical, and quite difficult.
I left from Jeri at about 10am with my 7m Cabrinha FX kite about 10 knots of wind. At first it was tough going, but before long the wind improved and I was able to make good time.
Riding a foil board requires intense concentration, and that combined with being alone at sea kept my instincts sharpened to the fullest. Your attention cannot waver if you hope to make good progress without constant crashes.
I had to balance carefully the entire time, paying close attention to rocks and reefs along the way. My route was quite a bit farther out to sea than usual, and at some points I had to navigate between rocks that I had never seen before on previous trips down the coast on my surfboard. I also saw much more sea life than when I ride the usual route along the beach, including several turtles, rays, and a lot of big fish!
My legs were already burning after the first two hours of riding. My foil board requires a lot of effort from the rear leg, and my left foot was killing me from riding on the same tack for so long. I tried altering my stance and shifting my weight, riding toeside and switching my feet from time to time so I could rest my left leg – and then of course my other leg started to wear out.
I made my first stop after 60km, on the beach at Maceió just after Camocim. I had something eat and a quick rest before getting back on the move. The tide had risen as the wind came up. It was now blowing 25-30 knots, and the sea state increased with the wind. It was a challenge to manage the foil as I climbed and descended each rolling ocean swell, keeping the foil flying just below the surface of the water. Believe me, the results are painful when you let the foil come out of the water!
My energy level was dropping. I fell face-first a couple of times from a meter above the surface of the water and at 30+kph and had to stop to clear the stars from my eyes and get myself together again.
I reached a long stretch of totally deserted coastline – the end of Ceará. My biggiest problems started just as as I approached the state line. At this point it was getting later in day, and I was sailing into the sun, making it hard to see down the line. All of a sudden I ran straight across a fishing net – a constant threat in this area – and I was rudely thrown off my board at high speed. The net wrapped itself around my foil, and I had to body drag upwind to begin to untangle the mess. I reached for my knife but of course discover immediately that it had somehow come undone from my harness, so I had to tear the foil from the net by hand while my kite sat in the water, pulling me downwind. I was quite afraid of getting hooked in the net like a big flying fish. In the end I managed to use the foil itself to cut myself free.
A little further on, the same scene repeated itself. This time it was a little easier to free the foil. The fishing nets are suspended about 30 cm under water, making it very difficult to catch sight of them. With the sun in your face, I'd say it's impossible. At the same time, my left leg was screaming at me, complaining of misuse. I had to constantly adjust my body position to provide some relief to my leg muscles while I continued down the coast.
The border of Ceará and Piauí is marked by a river, and the river mouth – Barra dos Remedios – is at least 5 kilometers wide. With the changing tide and the outgoing current from the river, these river mouth crossings can be very rough, with big pyramidal waves and nasty chop everywhere. I felt so much turbulence on the foil that I stopped to see if there was something snagged on the wing, but it was only the movement of the water.
I continued onwards and maintained my concentration so as not to fall into that brown and turbulent water. I crossed into the state of Piauí at Cajueiro Beach. There you have to negotiate reefs and fishing “corrals” – rectangular fishing enclosures made of sticks – which are also very difficult to spot with the sun in the face. A little later I arrived in Barra Grande, where I could see kites in the water – always a reassuring sight when you’ve spent so long on the water alone. It was late, the sun was low on the horizon, and I decided to stop there for the night and go on to Parnaíba the next day.
I came up the beach at BGK, an inn / kiteschool partner of Surfin Sem Fim, to shouts and cheers from old friends who had watched my arrival. Despite their friendly welcome, I went to sit quietly in a corner, gazing at that sunset in a state of mind which is difficult to describe. I was completely "kiteboarding stoned" from 120 very intense kilometers requiring many hours of physical and mental exertion. The motion of my body, the board, the kite, and the waves were imprinted in my mind – I kept seeing and feeling the same thing even when I closed my eyes. I was part of the flow. I learned a lot in this long day on the water.
After having done this route alone several times, I’ve made friends in many places along the way. People that I met three or four or five years ago when I was alone and looking for food or shelter recognize me and come talk to me. As I write these words, I am hoping for good wind tomorrow to continue the journey towards Parnaíba.
What time is the train coming?
The goal was to arrive at Pedra do Sal, Parnaíba