The Coastal Crew Hit-Up Brazil: Driven by Chance
Introducing the Coastal Crew. Words and Photos by Harookz.
Introducing the Coastal Crew...
Taken From Dirt issue 140, October 2013
‘Arrival’ brings you into the world of the Coastal Crew (filmers and riders) as they join the next wave of mountainbikers capturing the adventures that unfold in front of them. Arrival documents the fun that is had in a new generation, simply put… it’s about riding bikes, and on this occasion it happens to be in Brazil.
Sodium seeped beneath my sunglasses, singeing my retinas in a vicious rinse cycle. Like a giant straining colander, every pore sprung a violent leak. Not even ten minutes after touching down in Rio de Janeiro, my swamp–nuts situation set a new personal record. Kyle ‘Norbs’ Norbraten, Dylan Dunkerton and Curtis Robinson of the Coastal Crew, Nic ‘VZ’ Genovese, World Cup racer Stevie Smith and I touched down in Brazil to harvest goods for a new production, ‘Arrival’.
A ramped–up growth curve of Brazilian presence in the Whistler Bike Park was undeniably hard to miss. Brazilian downhill racer Bernardo Cruz’s win at the first ever Un–Official Whip–Off contest (Crankworx 2011) provoked our curiosity for Brazil’s mountain biking scene further. Why were there so many Brazilian mountain bikers in Whistler, shouldn’t they be playing soccer?
Pre–trip preparations for our maiden voyage to Brazil were slim to none. Due to last minute travel visa hiccups, Bernardo was locked down for the last two days of our week and a half itinerary. The drive from the airport to hotel should have taken 20 minutes, but our sat–nav directed us on a 90 minute hanger fueled journey, passing by torched cars and streetside bonfires. Seedy areas resembling a war stricken country conjured violent flashbacks of scenes from ‘The City of God’. My street–smart radar beeped while zombie like figures banged on our windows screaming gibberish. “Don’t stop here Stevie, hit the gas!" yelled VZ as I scanned the zombie’s hands for potentially intrusive paraphernalia.
Arriving at the hotel felt like I reached a safehouse. Norbs’ phone locked onto the Wi–Fi, beeping with a notification on Instagram from a self–proclaimed freerider based in Rio. Through Norbs’ Insta feed, he discovered we were heading to his country. With no further screening procedures, we put our trip into the hands of a 21 year–old Brazilian stranger, Caio Suzarte.
PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS
Back in 2005, YouTube and Google queries for ‘mountain biking’ revealed the freeriding world to Caio. “Me and my best friend Marcio Machado bought shitty hardtails from our local bike shop and dug a small jump." Having ridden the Whistler Bike Park back in ‘07 it was “a life changing experience" for Caio and Machado. “I can 360 my Demo 8 now and want to be the first to 720 a downhill bike!" I was relieved to hear he had a respectable ride, taming cynical judgment calls due to past experiences with eager guides. “He’s ridden in Whistler, he knows what’s up," I convinced myself.
“I can’t wait to show you my back flip line!" exclaimed Marcio. “We have a lot of respect for what you guys do, you’re our inspiration," giving us a universal fist pound of approval. I sensed the overly stoked joy of our new friends. “This is unbelievable… you guys are actually here!"
“There are some downhillers and many cross country riders here, but freeriding pretty much doesn’t exist," Caio explained. “Our first step is to build many trails and lines then produce a top quality movie to show this country’s potential."
TAX ON STACKS
It immediately sunk in for me that mountain biking in Brazil was in its infancy. With a population exceeding 196 million and having hosted a UCI World Cup back in 2006, we expected a flourishing movement, particularly after witnessing a multitude of Brazilians lined up in Whistler.
“A used 2011 Demo 8 frame costs $5000 USD here," said Caio, stunning us in outright disbelief. “The government pockets a 60% import tax, and shops mark–up their prices 25%, so it’s difficult to afford a nice bike." Turns out, it’s cheaper to fly to Whistler, buy a new bike, vacation for a month and slip back into the country.
“See that black car over there, it costs $30,000 USD… used," states Caio, pointing over at a rusted late 90’s Honda Civic. It wasn’t long until we bombarded him with Brazilian price quotes for our toys back home. “Your Toyota trucks… those are worth a lot, around $120,000 USD."
GRAND THEFT AUTO
Numbness crept up my left forearm as I battled to mentally subdue the dreaded arm pump. My heart rate bounced off the limiter as I figured having one hand clenched around the ‘holy-shit’ handle would up my chances of surviving a wreck. We were escorted in a base model KIA through Rio where two lanes meant four, kissing side view mirrors, screeching over a deteriorated highway at an average of 170km/h. Caio was driving like a maniac! Bodies outnumbered seats, shutting down the option of being strapped in. The line separating real life and playing Grand Theft Auto was non–existent as our coffin disregarded red lights. The utter silence in the vehicle hinted that I wasn’t the only one scared shitless. Anxiety peaked while I waited for somebody to speak up and simmer down our driver, but we were all men and nobody wanted to be that guy. This was the one time in my life I closed my eyes and prayed for grid locked traffic. The KIA took an exit and came to a halt at a pump.
“We have no rules here," laughed a calm and assertive Caio. “If a police officer pulls you over, you can negotiate with money." We secretly shook our heads as we hesitantly transformed to procedures that were unethical in North America. “My brakes are fading!".
Caio was racing us to a high vantage point where we’d witness the sunrise over Rio. “I’m pretty sure a sunrise is never worth dying for," I muttered. We survived a final course of hairball drifts, skipping over tight hand laid cobblestone switchbacks up a steep mountain pass. E–braking to a stop, a postcard worthy serene view of the city lights lit our faces as my attention shifted away from the heavy smell of asbestos. Christ the Redeemer towered over our backs, while we witnessed a neon pink hue cloak over Rio de Janeiro. “I told you guys it would be worth it to drive fast," snickered Caio.
In a matter of minutes, my sense of direction was in the gutter. Norbs aggressively tailed Caio and Marcio in our Renault Duster, knowing that we’d be hooped if we lost sight of our most valuable resource. Threading the needle through a kaleidoscope of locals and untrustworthy seafood stands, I was grateful Norbs manned the wheel. Parking in a dead end, I looked around for a hint of anything resembling a trail head. Hugged by a hillside littered in homes divided amongst aggressively steep stair sets, the area looked better suited for an urban downhill race.
“So, we’re riding on dirt today… right Caio?" double–checked Dylan.
“It’s a quick hike to the forest and about 20 minutes to a scenic area, trust me guys," Caio reassured us with a smirk. Admittedly, the sunrise was spectacular so my expectations naturally shifted skywards. As we proceeded past a city of beach umbrellas, strings of locals with coolers in hand locked onto our alien group. I was certain they’ve never seen people pushing downhill bikes through this area.
The concrete path pointed painfully upwards, zigzagging through a Tetris stacked town, the Atlantic Ocean teasing us to our right. Temperature levels in the mid 40º Celsius range seared us in the open, amplifying odors from sewage run off that we carefully walked through to prevent any splashing. “So much for the quick hike," I rumbled, we weren’t even at the forest yet and our drinking supply was 80% depleted. The onset of heatstroke dropped Dylan in a limited patch of shade.
“I feel like I’m going to puke, holy shit," panted Dylan, frustrated as he reached for what was left of his lukewarm water. “I thought Caio said the forest was nearby?" he whispered. Day one in the field and our rookie badges embarrassingly glistened. We’ve all logged time in tropical environments but the Brazilian humidity put prior experiences to shame. As I faded in and out of a delusional state, the scorching rays left me thinking I was walking towards the gateway to hell.
We tucked underneath a dense tropical canopy with hopes of lowering our core temperature. Looking down the trail, a technical field of soccer ball sized minerals fired up Stevie since he prefers to tackle this style of terrain. He weightlessly navigated through the boulder field like a minx, hoaxing the traps set to destroy anyone who made the slightest error in line choice. Local passerby’s held their breath in astonishment as Stevie ripped down sections that were quite sketchy to manage on foot. “That was sick, let’s keep’er going!"
Click through to view part one of the full gallery of the Coastal Crew in Brazil before reading on...
A window in the vegetation provided us with a glimpse of our destination, a neon green peak popping against the deep blue of the ocean. A dehydrated 50 minute hike later, we posted up in a bay and gazed up at a perfect Toblerone formation, blanketed in shoulder high grass. Looking carefully, I spotted a ribbon of dirt and rock bisecting the foliage, protected by giant asparagus like trees that dotted the edge of exposure. Heat stroke was the devil, manipulating our priorities towards a dip in the Atlantic in an effort to shake off our pounding headaches. The recovery swim was cut short when the tide decided to invite a human turd, narrowly missing VZ’s lips.
The heat was unbearable and three of our soldiers were surrendered to a makeshift roach den at the base of a tree. Bothered by the unknown, Stevie, Norbs, our two guides and I battled the steep slog towards our final objective.
[part title="The Coastal Crew Hit-Up Brazil: Driven by Chance Part 2"]
The view from the top was nothing short of magnificent. An emerald green body of water gently caressed the white sand beaches below, as a light breeze vaporized any indication of suffering. That is when I was assured that our guides were kosher, sharing a gem unlisted in tourist brochures. Stevie danced down the rock faces that have never before been touched by wheels, gaining speed out of erosion formed berms, disappearing into a sea of green. The boys in the roach den surely missed out.
An elongated double decker bridge guides traffic along a stunning Rio coastline, hillsides scattered with mansions. Caio shattered our euphoric moment with a side note, “This bridge we’re on right now, it cracked and shifted not too long ago. The government decided to install height restriction bars to keep semi–trucks off and they haven’t fixed it because it still works for cars." At any given moment, this structure could crash to the ground, killing anyone who chose black over red, in a game of roulette where your life was at stake. “Until people die, the government won’t do anything about it so they can hang onto their money."
Back at the hotel, we reflected upon the absurd regulations as the elevator started to feel like it was free–falling… the lights flickered off, our bodies locked into a semi–crouched stance to brace for impact as if spikes were going to smash through the bottom. A loud crash brought everything to a dead stop. Minutes later the lights fired back up, the doors opened and we rushed out to the ground level. This was the turning point when we stuck to running 17 flights of stairs as we learned that maintenance procedures in this country could be shady at best.
THE FREERIDE ZONE
Buried unexpectedly in the back corner of a gated community, a dirt path just wide enough for driving on led us out to an open patch of land, formerly used for mining dirt. Cordoned off by a dense bamboo forest, a terraced amphitheatre of laser orange soil encapsulated a main stage. The set was hand sculpted with one hit jumps, drops and berms as an audience of tall grass swayed in anticipation. A colony of dragonflies and bloodsucking Borrachudos (mini black flies) kept us scrambling, reminding us that we were in their territory. After an initial assessment of the area, I felt our group’s disappointment, as the moves here were too small for our standards.
Sliding on his kneepads, Caio sprinted up one of the run–ins for a jump that was about 6 feet high and very short. “Check it out, this is the spot I’ve been telling you guys about!" Like a child on Christmas morning, his level of excitement was contagious. He hammered towards the lip and stomped a stylish dipped 3 on his Demo 8. Considering the size of the jump, I was overly impressed. Marcio took over the spotlight, tucking his chin forward, yet back flipping his Giant Glory over a jump barely suitable for getting inverted on. We couldn’t help but to erupt in cheers and laughter.
What we witnessed was a direct result of videos on YouTube, films like ‘From the Inside Out’, and photos plastered in biking publications. We were standing in the birthplace of Rio’s freeriding movement, where the guys destined to spend time in the air. For Caio and Marcio, sharing their prized possession with us was “the coolest and most unique opportunity, a dream come true." I came to the realization that it didn’t matter anymore that the moves here were tiny. Witnessing the pride and excitement of strangers sharing a common denominator of riding bikes halfway around the globe took precedence.
Click through to view part two of the gallery of the Coastal Crew in Brazil before reading on...
“The dirt here feels like it has been sifted," remarked Stevie as he hand squeegee’d perspiration off his face, chiseling–in a take off for a hip step–down. “If it wasn’t for the blistering heat, this would be the easiest place to carve in lines." Our daily preparation levels were brought up to par with Brazil’s compulsions, packing in 20 litres of water. Vehicles were utilized for ‘A/C sessions’ to prolong our productivity as the in car thermometer displayed a hefty 48º Celsius.
“A scoop here, a chisel there, boom another banger line ready to go!" claimed Curtis from the opposing hillside, ringing out his sweat soaked T–shirt. Each scoop of soil felt like digging into fudge, lacking any snags of rocks or roots. Our Brazilian friends turned into sponges, absorbing every detail of our process.
The shadow line kissed the stage and the dirt turned electric. Four cameras locked into position while Stevie took a few run–ins to his latest addition to the Freeride Zone. “Dropping in 5!" Stevie pumped down the bamboo shaded in run and set flight into the emanating light, greasing the sniper landing. A shit eating grin on Caio and Marcio’s faces beamed with gratification.
“That was so sick man, I can’t wait to ride that line one day!" shouted Caio. It was as if we officially stamped a seal of approval on the Freeride Zone, leaving them in a state of bliss. The race against light left little time for celebrations. The camera crew scurried over to the far corner of the arena where Stevie once again proved his diverse palette of skill, carrying World Cup level speed down a two hit transfer line.
“Yes Stevie, that was unreal!" yelled Marcio. As if our guides weren’t excited enough, Stevie cued up one of the pre–existing drops and stunned us with a casually tossed no–footed can, backing up our notion of him competing in the Red Bull Rampage this year. I packed my camera and noticed that a couple of young kids on department store bikes had caught a glimpse of the session. I smiled, gave them the thumbs up, and imagined new doors opening up in their world of biking.
Thousands of poorly stacked boxes of brick and mortar invaded a massive hillside. I thought of an extended match of Jenga, as each box sat with a slight lean, displaying slapstick craftsmanship. Some were brightly painted, and many surprisingly sported a satellite dish on the roof. We were lined up at the base of ‘Rocinha’, the biggest favela (slum) in Rio. I was well aware of the famous favelas of Brazil through films, but to stand at the base of Rocinha in person, and pan across a monstrosity of economic inequality absolutely blew my mind. I turned 180 degrees and my field of view was replaced with modern highrises, fashion malls and a beautiful ocean canvas.
“Oh my god… I can’t believe this is real," says Norbs, quickly maxing out his iPhone’s capacity. The presence of a military special forces unit (BOPE) armed with M16 assault rifles startled me with uncertainty, constantly checking over my shoulder in paranoia. “BOPE are out to eradicate drug lords who rule most favelas, they are trying to regain control," says Caio lecturing “Don’t point your cameras at them", waving his hand down at our lenses.
I urged to investigate the people living in the shadows of Rio. Marcio agreed to take Dylan and I to a relatively safe, drug lord free favela near his home. We entered through a narrow fragmented alleyway, littered with feces and questionable puddles, as waves of putrid odours tested my gag reflexes. To make matters a bit more heinous, a tangled rats nest made up of hundreds of live wires dangled near our necks with hand twisted connections that were wrapped with electrical tape. “This is absolutely f–ked up," I thought, watching Dylan crouch lower as his hat skimmed some of the wires. Being barreled in hazards didn’t seem to phase the residents as they stared in confusion as to why two gringos bothered to venture into their favela.
Little kids crowded around us, stringing along stray dogs as they posed for photos with excitement. Sharing glances of my LCD screen was exchanged with massive smiles and laughter. A lady who works as a maid in upper class homes held her daughter and explained to us, “The government does little to help those below the poverty line. The schools available for the favela kids are so rundown that most don’t even attend." That explained the crew of kids we saw earlier in the day, busking with juggling acts in a busy city intersection. Some were talented enough to have been recruited to perform in a circus, but the lack of opportunities to climb out of the shadows keep them in the favela.
Despite the harsh realities of living off next to nothing on the margins of society, smiles surrounded us, smothering daily struggles with optimism. I was reminded to never complain about anything back at home.
A short 10 minute drive later, a feeling of guilt sunk in as we approached the front gate of Marcio’s family mansion. A six level home complete with a pool and private soccer field was our home base for the next two nights, giving us a taste of the high–life. Sure enough, there were two maids cleaning the poolside kitchen as I dove in for a swim.
MINING FOR NUGS
A six–hour drive north of Rio spit us out in Ouro Preto, a small historic town in the state of Minas Gerais. The Baroque era architecture divvied with cobble stone streets showcased the prosperity of Ouro Preto’s roots as a colonial mining town. The noticeably scaled down population and unhurried pace of life, contrary to the chaos in Rio, was well accepted. The guiding throne was passed over to a young James Stewart look alike, Ouro Preto’s local hero, Bernardo Neves Cruz.
Against a tropical mountain range, a rickety contraption made of old palettes, plywood and logs marked the starting point of a series of long lofty booters, comparable to that of Crabapple Hits in the Whistler Bike Park. As anticipated, Bernardo kept it sideways off every jump, even on his initial warm–up run. “I love whips man! It’s the best feeling in the world," smiled Bernardo. Stevie followed suit soaring stylishly sideways for the majority of his flight time. As golden hour approached, the boys pushed their whips a few degrees farther, teetering on the edge of requiring a throttle to bring the back end back.
In a short six years, at the age of 21, Bernardo has cleaned up at the Minas Gerais and Rio State Championships, topping off his accomplishments with the title of Brazilian National Downhill Champion in 2010. His big win in Whistler at the Un–Official Whip–Off contest in 2011 attracted a lot of media attention outside of Brazil, scoring him a shiny new Red Bull helmet (Ed note: he has just won the 2013 UNWO as well). Bernardo credits a majority of his success to his father, whose number one lesson was to ‘always believe’. His father took out a loan to purchase Bernardo’s first mountain bike, which took several years to pay off. A small make shift gym fenced off with bamboo in the corner of their carport, complete with bits and pieces of equipment found in the city demonstrated the level of commitment and belief he had in his son. “My father has helped me out so much, I’m very lucky," stated a very appreciative and humble natured Bernardo, who is training to compete in a few World Cups this year.
A caving adventure ending at a waterfall fed swimming hole proved the significance of having a local lead the show. The blistering heat was counter–attacked further with acai berry smoothies, Brazil’s staple superfood. We bounced and rattled our way through Ouro Preto, stopping in a dirt lot backed against a school yard. The forest was thick with tangled underbrush and tangerine soil. Not even 10 steps down the trail, we were greeted with a long step–down which acted as the speed initiator for the four big take offs sculpted further below. In reoccurring Brazilian fashion, it was evident that the riders here preferred to rack up their air miles.
A peanut crusting of bark and pebbles coated the concrete hard surface, instigating two wheel drifts while Bernardo dragged his inside foot, roosting my camera with dust. With a complete disregard for staying within limits, he pinned it into every lip while Stevie stayed on his rear wheel, harmoniously flying through the air in unison. The buzz from their tyres lifting off and touching down in a syncopated rhythm left me in an awe inspired trance. In an unspoken contest like fashion, the boys went a touch faster and farther each run, exhibiting their naturally competitive racer personas.
“This is a dream come true for me to be riding my home spot with a World Cup winner," says Bernardo. “This opportunity to ride and film with Stevie is insane, I can’t believe this is actually happening, I’m so grateful.
KEEPING IT ‘RIO’
The unpredictable moments, tight hurdles, and risky maneuvers in Brazil’s daily life alone recalled moments on my bike, ripping down a freeride line. Passion, a fascinating source of fuel can help people achieve any dream, regardless of how far fetched one may think. The people of Brazil are fighting a constant battle with their government, yet there is no match for the heart and dedication of Caio, Marcio and Bernardo, who will proceed to contribute to the growth of mountain biking.
It wasn’t until a week after arriving back in Canada that I realized the highlight of my entire Brazilian experience. Caio’s Instagram feed displayed the product of an excavator operator who was contracted to dig a 50–foot long double in the Freeride Zone. Our visit had surely left an impression.