There are hundreds of surfing classes that can teach you the basics, like how to stand on a board or ride a wave, but only a few camps will teach you to actually be a surfer. EasyDrop Surf Camp, in Itacare, Brazil, is one of them. During its six-day beginner’s program, parents and kids learn not only how to get up on a board, but also how to paddle, turn, even wipe out like seasoned pros. The school is located in eastern Brazil’s Bahia region, where the rainforest—a UNESCO-protected World Heritage site—runs right down to the green-blue waters of the Atlantic.
Started by German-born Hans Benjamin Kromayer nine years ago, EasyDrop is known for its highly regimented approach: “We teach everything in detailed, logical steps, so when students finally get a wave, they’re confident and in good form,” says Kromayer of the camp, which is geared for kids 6 and up. “Still, it’s surfing, not boot camp.” Each four-hour lesson includes no more than 12 students and no fewer than three teachers, all warm, gregarious locals (most of them parents themselves). Plenty of breathers are built into the day—especially for kids, who are taught separately, in shallower waters. In the evening, everyone convenes at the EasyDrop bar to review videotapes of the day over smoothies and beer.
But it’s not all paddling drills and critiques—you’re still on vacation, and Itacaré’s scenery isn’t about to let you forget it. The area is tough to reach, but the reward is the feeling that you’ve discovered a secret corner of the world. In this fishing village, English is rarely spoken, samba usually blasts from one of the modest but vibrant colonial-style buildings, and the unpaved roads are lined with lush, overgrown hibiscus and palm trees. You can choose to stay in the pousada (small hotel) Girassol, as part of EasyDrop’s package, or in the luxe Txai Resort. Either way, you’ll be just a short walk or taxi ride away from dense rainforest and unrivaled beaches where you and your kids can test your newfound skills alongside the locals, and feel the thrill of gliding expertly along the water.
Reaching Itacaré is tricky—around 15 hours inflight and over land—but the trip is jet lag–free. Nonstops to São Paulo from several U.S. cities (including New York City, Houston, and Miami) usually depart in the evening and land in the morning, and São Paulo is just one hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time. Take a one-hour taxi ride from São Paulo–Guarulhos International Airport to Congonhas Domestic Airport for the two-and-a-half-hour flight to Ilhéus.Depending on flight frequency, you may have to stay in São Paulo for a day.Itacaré is a 90-minute drive from Ilhéus—arrange a pickup with your hotel, and keep an eye out for the monkeys crossing the road on small footbridges overhead.
The Surf Camp
The package includes six days of instruction and all the gear, and can be booked à la carte or with accommodations at Girassol. For ages 6 and up. From $452 (without accommodations) to $993 (in a double at Girassol in high season) per person; (55) 73-3251-3065.
When To Go
Head to Itacaré from September through March (the high season), when the surf is gentle and the weather is dry, with temperatures generally in the 80s and 90s.
Language: Portuguese is tough and spoken rapid-fire. Everyone at EasyDrop speaks English, but few around town do. Learn some key phrases ahead of time.
Money: The local currency is the real, equivalent to about 60 cents. (One real will buy you a cup of coffee.) Few places take credit cards, and there are often lines at Itacaré’s ATMs, so withdraw enough reals for the week in Ilhéus (estimate about 40 per person per day).
Supplies: Most convenience stores and pharmacies in town stock brand-name OTC medicines and baby supplies. Labels are in Portuguese, so if you’re concerned about the ingredients of specific products (mosquito repellent, say), bring your own.
Transport: There’s no need to rent a car. Everything is walkable or a short $5 to $10 taxi ride away.
The Beaches: There are five main beaches and dozens of tiny ones. Visit Praia da Tiririca to scope out the local surf scene, or Praia da Ribiera to hone your skills on beginner-level waves. A 20-minute walk will take you to the spectacular Praia de Jeribucaçu.
Where to Stay
Girassol: Run by a warm, friendly couple, EasyDrop’s affiliated hotel is just steps from Praia da Concha beach. The 10 rooms are simple and clean, each with air-conditioning and a refrigerator. The lush, hammock-strewn garden is the perfect spot for recalling the day’s events with fellow surf-campers. From $33 per person a night for a double in low season to $37 per person a night for a four-person room in high season (children under 5 are free); (55) 73-3251-2089.
Ilha Verde: A quiet hideaway near the forest, this pousada has seven rooms (and a bungalow) that feel homey and tropical, with vibrant walls, local pottery, and mosquito-netted beds. Capoeira, yoga, and samba classes are offered, as well as in-room massages. From $100 a night for a double in low season to $420 a night for a four-person bungalow in high season; (55) 73-3251-2056.
Txai Resort (pronounced Ta-shy): The luxe wood-stilted bungalows have an earthy, modern look, with huge bathrooms and outdoor showers. On site are tennis courts, two pools, and a spa. Service is highly attentive. From $300 a night for a double in low season to $900 a night for a six-person bungalow in high season; (55) 73-2101-5000.
Where to Eat
Restaurante da Tia Dete:This hole-in-the-wall serves the best Bahian food in town, including shrimp moqueca (a rich coconut milk-based stew) and crispy fish seasoned with lime. Avenida Castro Alves, Centro; (55) 73-3251-2379.
Grão de Bico: An indoor-outdoor vegetarian shack, decorated with tables fashioned from surfboards, where you can get a tasty veggie burger and fresh mango juice for less than $5. Rua Pedro Longo 138.
Boca de Forno: The go-to place when the kids balk at fish stew, this pizza joint has a lively atmosphere, fast service, and delicious thin-crust pizzas. Rua Lodônio Almeida 108; (55) 73-3251-2174.
Where to Shop
Rua Pedro Longo: In about an hour on this main drag, you can see everything Itacaré has to offer shopping-wise, including colorful cotton blankets and hammocks, carved-teak bowls, and loads of bikinis.
Farmer’s Market: Although Sunday is generally a day of rest here, many townspeople roll their wheelbarrows to the soccer field to buy and sell wares from 6 to 9 a.m. You’ll find exotic produce and souvenir T-shirts. But it’s the people-watching that makes the early rising worth it.
São Paulo Layover
Where to stay, eat, and shop if you only have one day to take in this vibrant, Brazilian city.
If you have 24 hours or less in São Paulo, you’re best off spending your time in the Jardins district, a beautiful, tree-lined neighborhood of posh stores (many of them children’s boutiques) and good restaurants. It lacks the energy found in other parts of the city, but if you’re only in São Paulo for a day (with kids), you’ll probably want to avoid the grittier aspects anyway. All the places listed here are in Jardins, within walking distance of the Fasano hotel.
Where to Stay
The Fasano, a 64-room hotel pays homage to the glamour of the ’20s and ’30s, with an understated deco style that infuses every detail. A four-to-one staff-to-guest ratio guarantees you’ll never be waiting long for room service—or anything else—and even the double suites are spacious enough for a family of three or four to spread out in. From $450 a night for a standard suite. Rue Vittorio Fasano 88, (55) 11-3896-4077.
Where to Shop
Rua Oscar Freire
As good for people watching as it is for handbag shopping, this narrow boulevard is São Paulo’s answer to Fifth Avenue, featuring international luxury stores (Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, and the like) interspersed with edgy fashion boutiques like Clube Chocolate.
Monne: This store offers a chic selection of both modern and traditional children’s clothing. Rua Dr. Melo Alves 357, (55) 11-3081-0864.
Best Baby: It’s stocked with fantastic low-tech items for kids and babies, from simple wooden toys to princess costumes you won’t find at Toys ‘R’ Us. Rua Dr. Melo Alves 413, (55) 11-3083-6444.
Where to Eat
Figueira Rubaiyat: To sample the best of Brazilian cuisine in one sitting, head to this lovely restaurant, which offers a buffet and an à la carte menu of fresh-from-the-farm meat and poultry dishes, as well as national specialties like feijoada (a hearty bean stew). Choose a seat in the outdoor courtyard, which is shaded by a giant fig tree and draws a lively crowd (read: no one will notice rowdy kids). Rue Haddock Lobo 1738, (55) 11 3063-3888.
Nonno Ruggero: This restaurant on Fasano’s first floor serves up southern Italian cuisine similar to that found in the hotel’s grand, formal flagship restaurant, but in a cozier, more kid-friendly, trattoria-like environment. Rue Vittorio Fasano 88, (55) 11-3896-4077.
Surf Camps Closer to Home
Paskowitz Surf Camp: San Clemente, California
Camps specifically for families are held every summer at this 34-year-old family-run surf school. Participants get two two-and-a-half-hour lessons daily, with a one-to-three teacher-student ratio. The entire first session is devoted to surf etiquette and safety issues, so everyone will be well prepared for the week ahead. For all ages. Held June through September (also in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and Montauk, New York, during the fall and spring); $1,250 per person; price includes five nights in a beachside tent and meals; (949) 728-1000.
Surf Guys Surf Clinic: Melbourne Beach, Florida
The enthusiastic staff specializes in beginner-level lessons and will teach you and the kids to hang ten. The four-day clinic, located on a quiet beach in central Florida, offers lessons for three hours every morning, leaving your family the afternoon to practice the skills you’ve learned or take a day trip to nearby Orlando or Cape Canaveral. For ages 6 and up. Held May through August, or by request; $200 per person for a four-day clinic; no meals or accommodations included; (321) 956-3268.
Kauai Surf School: Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii
This clinic, which caters to small groups, will tailor its lessons to your family’s level of skill (or dedication). Everyone learns together, so you can enjoy the pristine beaches of the Garden Isle while paddling, turning, and break-forecasting with the kids. For ages 5 and up; parents must accompany kids under 14 during lessons. Held year-round; $225 per day for a family of four (minimum five days); price includes land transportation, three nights’ accommodations in a bed-and-breakfast, meals, and tours; (808) 651-6032.
Originally published in Cookie Magazine, photos by Keith King