Swirling in Rio

By Jamie Brisick
"The capoeira kids loved the camera. They hammed and huddled and flipped." - Jamie Brisick

The year was 1999. The city was Rio de Janeiro. The afternoon was bright and humid. I rented a bike in Leme and peddled south along the beachfront, that wavy-patterned promenade that’s almost as iconically Rio as Sugarloaf or the Christ statue.

I passed rollerblading girls in dental floss bikinis and shirtless, leathery old men in Speedos, socks, and shoes who ran in short steps, almost shuffling. I watched a barefoot kid in red shorts run with a soccer ball balanced on his head. I marveled at a woman in a white gown who danced across the sand in a Woodstock-on-three-hits-of-acid sort of way. She was old and maybe homeless. On cue she looked my way. Her eyes were intense, like she’d peered over some cosmic abyss.

For fun, I S-turned with the lines of the curvy mosaic, the bike riding version of that kids’ game of not stepping on the cracks in the sidewalk. It felt like riding a wave.

The promenade was designed by the Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, who revolutionized the garden aesthetic.Burle Marx was one of the first people to call for the conservation of Brazil’s rainforests. He labored to identify and cultivate Brazil’s understudied tropical undergrowth (he discovered nearly 50 species), framing indigenous plants in arrangements that gave them new significance.

I peddled past kiosks selling fresh coconut water with tall and thin straws poking out of their hacked-off tops. I smelled that succulent Rio beach specialty: fried cheese on a stick. I heard the whine of the chainsaw that severed my connection to God, country, and family, which is a melodramatic way of saying I forgot myself, I felt intoxicatingly free.

I came across these capoeira kids in the southern corner of Leblon. Presiding over us was Dois Irmãos, that spectacular granite rock mountain that is the backdrop for so many sexy Rio beach photos. By this time a bright haze had covered the sun. The ocean smelled briny and vaguely septic. The capoeira kids loved the camera. They hammed and huddled and flipped. I wish I could tell you that I nailed this image on the first take, but in fact it took four or five.


Jamie Brisick is a writer, photographer, and director. He surfed on the ASP world tour from 1986 to 1991. He has since documented surf culture extensively. His books include Becoming Westerly: Surf Champion Peter Drouyn’s Transformation into Westerly Windina, Roman & Williams: Things We Made, We Approach Our Martinis With Such High Expectations, Have Board, Will Travel: The Definitive History of Surf, Skate, and Snow, and The Eighties at Echo Beach. His writings and photographs have appeared in The Surfer’s Journal, The New York Times, and The Guardian. He was the editor of Surfing magazine from 1998-2000, and is presently the global editor of Huck. In 2008 he was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship. He lives in Los Angeles. For more of his work check out jamiebrisick.com & @jamiebrisick