My favourite spot in Rio isn’t lying on Ipanema beach or watching the world go by sitting in the Copacabana Palace terrace. Nor does it involve hiking in the Parque Nacional da Tijuca, or snaking around the islands on a boat trip in Guanabara Bay. My favourite spot is unfamiliar to the casual tourist, because it’s difficult to find. You can’t even spot it from high up in the favelas or from the statue of Christ the Redeemer. In fact I’d really have to give you directions there.
Arpoador Beach is so central, it’s ridiculous to even call it out-of-the-way; it lies at the promontory junction of Ipanema and Copacabana. Yet the Copacabana Fort hides it from the east, while beachside hotels and shopping centres hide it from the west. You have to know it’s there rather than discover it casually, for you have to go to the eastern end of Ipanema and trustingly walk on.
What you’ll find there is Rio’s great social leveller: surfing. While the favela kids play football on cracked concrete and the middle classes compete in footvolley on the sandy beaches, everyone is equal when carving the surf of Arpoador. You can see the odd board in Ipanema – the word, after all, means something along the lines of ‘bad, disturbed water’ in Tupi-Guaraní – where there are some easier breaks, but these are for the newbies. It’s in the rocky point of Arpoador where the elite come to ride the most powerful waves that regularly reach five or seven feet, especially in September and October.