Corona Journey No.22 - Fernando de Noronha
In partnership with Corona Extra. Words & Photos by Tom Carey
I’m a careful person. My wife calls me “the hall monitor.” So when I was that pissed off tourist filing a police report in the airport, I was a bit shocked. I’m the travel veteran. That kind of stuff doesn’t happen to me I always thought. But it turns out someone less off than myself needed my camera equipment more than me.
I was handing my passport to the United representative at the desk in Sao Paulo with my roller bag sitting at my side. “How many bags will you be checking in sir?” the lady asked me. I looked around baffled. “I guess only one now,” I told her. Someone had pulled off the impossible and swiped my bag at my feet. The bag was nearly connected to me but somehow I didn’t notice, nor did anyone else around me. I should have worn my leash. My computer, hard drive, camera and some lenses were gone. What a lucky piece of luggage to pilfer.
I had just completed one of the best trips of my life. I was packing up, chatting to Mitch Coleborn, reminiscing on how hard we scored. It was then that I decided to split the main hard drive and the backup into separate bags. Thank God I did. I usually don’t think like that. But after that special week on Fernando I wasn’t taking any chances. Something in my head warned me. It still spooks me out to think about it. Luckily Fernando did happen.
Flash backward one week. My eyes lit up like a kid on Christmas as we flew over the island and looped around to land into the wind. At some point in your career you start to run out of places to shoot. It’s crazy to think, one of the destinations I was so keen on checking out had a six star prime during its peak season. I despise shooting contests and the lack of adventure that comes with it.
Fernando is by no means a secret. Hell anywhere with a contest of that magnitude can never be. But the truth is it can be a pain to get to. Forget about making that trek if you live in Australia or Europe, it’s far enough from California. But oh man is it worth it. It’s what I always imagined Puerto Rico or every Caribbean isle held in its treasure trove. I was determined to make the trip an adventure and not a stop on the WQS tour. I was bummed that there was a competition going on and the agony of defeat was on everyone’s face but the winner. There’s too much beauty on the island for that. My vibe was too powerful though. I won.
It’s hard to describe the tiny island. Its watercolour mimics the Caribbean, its houses much like a backpacker’s destination. It’s waves powerful like Mexico. I jumped at the chance to take Surfing Magazine’s offer to hit the road and make something happen. I had a few emails exchanged with Mitch Coleborn and Mitch Crews and that was enough for me. I was going. Five flights later I landed on that tiny dot in the ocean. I couldn’t contain my excitement. I was jumping over the surfer sitting next to me. I blew his eardrums out with 20 questions about the waves, the people, the food and the beer. It turns out that surfer was Marco Polo, the Brazilian ‘QS warrior. He could tell that I was excited and tried his best to answer my barrage of questions. Thanks Marco.
I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t be let on the island after hearing rumours regarding the number of tourists the government allows to roam the small isle. I came to find out the rumours were true. Fernando is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Brazilian government does a fine job taking care of it. However I think those rules were out the window with the contest being in town. When I say town, I should say village. The entire island can be covered in under an hour, and that’s while driving your vintage dune buggy. That’s one of the best parts about Fernando, the dune buggies. Instead of going through some rip off agency, residents rent theirs out and watch with a steady eye as you roam around the island in style. No SUVs, no minivans, no station wagons will you find there. Instead surfers fill the buggies up with boards and bodies and find one of the 4 or 5 waves that are offered up. It seems like at any given point one of them is working with the wind and swell conditions. That same gentleman will also open up his home to you, cook you breakfast and often barbecue some meat up if you’re nice.
The contest site is home to a beautiful, powerful wedge called Cacimba. It’s the wave you travel 40 hours to surf. It’s a wave you can produce a “cover” on. And it was firing during the contest. I snuck out during the finals and rounded out my batch of photos. Drops were heavy, barrels were wide and my jaw was halfway to the bottom of the ocean. It’s a setup you dream about in school. Notebooks are littered with sketches of waves like this. Some of my favouri images were produced during that two-hour window. I was finally in the right place at the right time.
The days before that had it’s moments too. I watched Chris Ward get barrelled all day at a right-hander just up the point from the competition area. A quick shallow right-hander spun its way towards Cacimba for the lucky few that ventured a few hundred yards away from the zone. And what they were awarded with was nothing but spectacular. It felt like every photo I snapped off was a keeper. No other trip has been like that for me before that and since then. There’s something to say about that. I don’t think many other locations can say that.
Even on the smallest of days the island had so much to offer. An early morning during the first days of the contest presented one of my favourite photos ever. A school of baitfish corralled underwater as I watched Michael Dunphy slide by in a cylindrical dream. Everything came together for that moment and I walked away that morning a happy camper. As a high performance oriented photographer I was captivated by the moment I captured. It changed me forever. I’ve been excited about underwater moments ever since.
After shooting the Cacimba we ventured over to Mejo, a beautiful cove filled with lefts and rights minus the crowd. A fishing boat casted nets into the breaking waves, almost capsizing, as we prepared for our session. A maniac local dove into a shallow pool that lined the south side of the cove. Giant cannons sat above the break where they once protected the magnificent treasure during World War II. The waves can barrel, slingshot you into an air ramp or slam you to the bottom. The 6.9 square mile island is so small you don’t need a map to find the waves. Bring a friend, drink some coconuts and surf your brains out. You’ll be glad you did.
As I started my long journey home, I vowed to come back. I still haven’t but time is on my side. I soared the skies for over 40 hours, mumbling only a few words to grab a beer here or there. But what I was holding back was a mouthful. I couldn’t wait to tell my editors about my adventure and share the moments I captured. I’m glad I can share them again here, all over again.
Head to coronaextra.com.au for more from Fernando de Noronha
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