The ride north gives you time to recover, to sweat out the alcohol, but the images of women dancing in Rio may never fade. It’s hot up here. Jungles pressing against the ocean. Sky pressing against the mountains. You need a shower. A cold one.
Jadson Andre greets you at the beach. Staring out into the wind. Compact like a gymnast. Lost in thought. He’s just finished training, with a towel around his neck and running shoes in his hands. He’s smiling and friendly, despite the grim ocean. Kiteboarders crisscross the windswept lineup. You’re a bit worried he might suggest that these are great conditions for practicing airs, but instead he wants to show you where he grew up.
Parked outside the favelas of Natal, there’s a moment you think Jadson won’t even get out of the car. The corrugated sheds. The cardboard housing. This is poverty. But then he smiles. He points out areas where he used to play, where he used to live, where he went to church. This is where he walked to the beach every morning. You wander past men playing dominoes, women hanging laundry across the dusty alleyways, free range dogs all mangy and content. Meat skewered over open fires. The look on Jadson’s face suggests fond memories…and that he also wishes he could save everyone the way he saved himself.
That evening he takes you to a soccer game. The stadium is full and hot with emotion. Amongst Jadson’s chattering cadre of family and friends, it’s hard to distinguish who is who or what anyone is saying. Someone explains that the soccer team sponsors Jadson. Whatever that means. Jadson tells you that a few of the soccer players are guys he grew up with. Soccer was their ticket out of the slums. Surfing was his. They score a goal and a fight breaks out in the bleachers.
In the morning, you go surfing. It’s early, before the wind can ruin everything. Jadson stretches for 20 minutes before paddling out, then spends the entire session attempting rodeo flips. It’s clear he’s pushing himself past the air-reverse robotics that got him this far. He’s getting close.
Over breakfast, he explains that he doesn’t spend much time here in Natal anymore. When he’s not traveling, his apartment is in São Paulo. “Too much wind up here,” he says. “But it’s nice to never wear the wetsuit.”
Maybe someday he’ll return here when he’s finished surfing. But for now, he excuses himself to fly away to a contest in Portugal. —Nathan Myers