Rio surf club aims to give hope to shantytown children

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionRiding the waves with Favela Surf Club instructor Jefferson Cardoso da Silva

Ipanema beach is where Rio's beautiful people go.

Its sand glistens against a backdrop of rocky hills that jut far into the sky and it is lined by some of the most exclusive real estate in Brazil.

Out to sea two small figures, one in yellow and one in red, bob up and down on surfboards waiting for a wave.

They are taking part in a surf competition and, as the final countdown begins over the public address system, they both pop to their feet on a sudden swell and make their way to shore.

The small figure in yellow is 10-year-old Anderson, dwarfed by his surfboard, who is out of breath but happy with his performance.

Image caption Anderson is keen to improve his surfing skills

"It went OK today. I think surfing is really cool, and it makes me really proud," he says.

Anderson isn't the sort of person you might expect to find taking part in a sport traditionally pursued by wealthier Brazilians.

He comes from the shantytown of Cantagalo, which clings to one of the hills just behind Ipanema beach.

The high cost of surfboards and surf lessons normally price Cantagalo residents out of the sport.

A board sells for around 600 reais ($380; £240) - more than the minimum monthly wage of 545 reais.

Ocean harmony

But Anderson is a member of the Favela Surf Club, an organisation that provides children like him with boards and lessons for free.

It offers an alternative to the crime and drug trafficking that tempt some young people in the favela, and encourages its members to instead "ride the wave of hope".

Image caption The Favela Surf Club aims to make a real difference to its members' lives

Anderson's instructor is Jefferson Cardoso da Silva, also from Cantagalo, who joined the Favela Surf Club as a child.

"Bad things were going on in the favela so I would come down to the beach and go surfing instead," says Jefferson.

Now aged 21, he is studying at university and the money that he earns from giving surf lessons to tourists helps fund his studies.

But his passion is teaching the children from his neighbourhood to surf.

"Ipanema is one of the most expensive places to live in South America. But out in the water the children from the favela and the children from Ipanema are the same, their interaction is very good," he says.

"Most people here welcome the favela children but some of them, maybe four in 100, have a problem with their skin because they are darker."

Skateboard surfers

Getting to the favela of Cantagalo from Ipanema is a 15-minute walk but it is a world away.

The hillside rings with the sound of children shouting to each other as they clamber over rooftops, making their kites dive and soar in the wind.

Shacks with corrugated iron roofs are stacked haphazardly on top of one another, all the way down the dizzying slope towards the ocean below.

"There are no waves up here, so the kids practise their surf technique on skateboards," Jefferson says as we make our way to the Favela Surf Club headquarters.

The clubhouse is newly renovated, with a smart entrance hall and several workshops where the instructors repair old surfboards that have been donated to the project.

"We are teaching about 30 children at the moment," says Jefferson. "Although some of them may go on to be professional surfers, their education is very important, so we check they are attending school before they can join the club."

The club is funded by sponsors and private donations, and has taught hundreds of children to surf since it was founded in 1988.

It is now branching out into other activities, teaching beach volleyball and percussion for example.

So can surfing really change lives?

Jefferson says that he is living proof of it.

"Many of my friends are dead or are living in prison. Surfing without a doubt helped me."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites