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A Paipo Interview with Luiz Antonio Pereira

Surfing the alligator in Brazil

A Paipo Interview with Luiz Antonio Pereira
March - April, 2013 - Brazil
Interview by Bob Green

INTRODUCTION. Before fiberglass surfboards were made and ridden in Brazil, bodysurfing and bellyboards were popular. Jacaré, literally "to catch alligator," was a brand of bellyboard but also slang for bodysurfing. Luiz  Antonio Pereira recalls these early surfing days in Brazil, when to "catch the alligator" was one of the main forms of enjoying waves. Many early Brazilian surfers were both spearfishermen and surfers. Luiz is also a well known freediving spearfisherman who has dived around the world as well as being involved in Brazilian and international spearfishing organizations.

Luiz started freediving at age 14. Photo courtesy Luiz Antonio Pereira.

1. In the film, Italian Summer 1948 [see Note a], there is some video footage of some small wooden boards. Are these boards similar to the ones used in Basil?
In the beginning they were similar to those on the video. My father was a belly surfer in the 1940s, and there were no fins yet. According to him they were made of plywood by a bloke in his neighborhood, Leme (an extension of Copacabana Beach). Those first boards had a brand-name, Jacaré, (alligator in Portuguese). Pegar jacaré means to catch alligator. The expression came before the brand-name wooden board from the 1940s. Swim fins arrived in the late-1940s, and the Jacaré evolved to have a slightly curved upwards nose and hand slots on the sides. The latter were made by a factory, but I don't recall the name. They began to disappear in the late-1950s, when actual surfing arrived here and serious surfers migrated to it. In my very early teen years I was bodysurfing (just swim fins), then I had a fiberglass longboard, made by São Conrado Surfboards, the first Brazilian manufacturer of GRP surfboards.

The photo caption states, "I smiled, remembering the pleasure of gliding over the waves, as in Hawaii." In the background a surfrider holds a curved nose board. It is not clear whether the board in the foreground is flat-rockered or has a rockered nose.
"O deslisador. Sorri, lembrando-se do prazer de deslisar sobre as ondas, como em Hawaii."

Unknown photographer. (1939, October 28). Beira-Mar. n. 656, p.20, from Bibliotecha Nacional Digital Basil. Courtesy of Paulo Donadio Baptista.

What is your father's name and do you know the name of the neighbor who made the boards?

His name is Luiz Humberto Pereira. He was just a common boy from Rio who liked to go to the beach. He doesn't remember the name of board maker.
2. Is the factory that made the curve nosed boards the same factory that also made spearfishing boats? Do you recall any details of the factory (e.g., the location or who owned it) or who might recall such details?
As fas as I know, the marine carpenter (not a factory) was Moacyr Silva. He made plywood surfboards in the early-1960s. But quit doing them soon after the establishment of a Clark Foam Brazilian distributor. Moacyr continued making spearfishing wooden boats until the early-1980s, when he retired and moved to another state, in NE Brazil. The city district where his shop was located is now a runaway of the international airport.
3. When you mentioned your early teens, around what year was this?
1967 onwards. I was born in 1956. I got a nice surfboard on my 13th birthday, but the bloody thing was so big I couldn't carry it alone to the beach, so I kept on bodysurfing. I took up spearfishing at 14, and gradually stopped surfing.
4. Do you know anyone else who would remember these boards?
I suggest you contact Arduino Colasanti a surfing pioneer and former spearfishing champion. He was a famous movie star in the 1960s and 1970s. [Learn more about  Colasanti in Note 2.] Check this out, very interesting statement by Irencyr Beltrão, aka  Barriguinha ("Little Belly"), mentioned in this piece, is a friend of mine. Luiz Carlos Vital, aka Bisão ("Bison") was a friend of my father and former president of my club, Clube dos Marimbás. According to Irencyr, Bisão hired a carpenter to make the rectangular board you see in the picture with Arduino. [Also see Irencyr's comments on early waveriders in Note 3.]

(Below left) Arduino Colasanti with the rectangular board made for Luiz Carlos Vital.
(Below right) Madeirite heading out.

Photo sources: (Above left) Marcelo Kaneca's lendas do surf blog. (Above right) Caderno B. (1964, June 17). Jornal do Surf. Jornal do Brasil, 74(141), B3, Accessed on January 19, 2014, at
5. I recently read a quote from a 1960s surf traveler, Peter Troy:
"The Italians and the Brazilians were presumably the best in the world at this back in the 1940s, 50s and 60s and they had developed a type of surfboard that you could sort of be on, but they used flippers to improve their kicking, basically so they had more power and could stay under water longer for the spearfishing championships."
Do you know if there was there an Italian connection with Brazil in the 1940s-1950s as Peter Troy suggested?
I don't think so. Jacaré boards were never used in spearfishing. It was only after the 1990s that bodyboards started to used for spearfishing from shore.

I came across this interesting blog site, lendas do surf. There is mention of Peter Troy and "de madeirite no pontão." This site also has an old photo of a longer style board. A couple of other names are also mentioned, Francisco Brasileiro and Raimundo Castro Maia, under the blog heading, "Pré história do surf- Chicão Brasileiro."

I know this guy from the Lendas do Surfe blog, Marcelo Kaneca. I've almost bought a SUP board from him a couple of weeks ago. "Madeirite" was the brand name of the type of plywood used to make the first surfboards in Brazil. "No Pontão" refers to the break on Arpoador Beach, the original and most famous Brazilian surfing peak, AKA amongst the initiated "Arpex." It is the eastern end of Ipanema Beach. Nowadays very few refer to it as Pontão any longer. The guy on the BW picture with the wood board is Arduino Colasanti.

Raimundo Castro Maia was a rich guy who loved sea/beach sports. But he wasn't a thoroughbred surfer. He was involved in the beginning of spearfishing in Brazil and was a keen deep sea angler as well. I knew of Francisco Brasileiro, aka Chicão, as a writer/poet and explorer/bushwhacker. Not that he was a surfer. Perhaps no one knew about it too. Kaneca mentions that he was the father-in-law of a common acquaintance of ours, Patricia Young.
6. Telmo Moraes Teixeira Filho from the Cabo Frio Museo do Surf sent me the following e-mail (March 24, 2013):
"Hello Bob, these boards that you're talking about were made in Brazil in the 60s and were found in large quantities in shops for beach supplies very common in the cities of Santos and São Vicente in the state of Sao Paulo. Note that almost all were unpainted pine. For that reason few survived because pine is a favorite wood that termites devour. Regarding madeirites , they were made in the the 1950s and were a brand-name of a naval-spec plywood. [The boards] were made in two shops near Arpoador Beach, and Ilha do Governador (a district where the international airport is located) at Rio De Janeiro, respectively, whereas in Sao Paulo they were made by Procopio which historically produced ping pong tables."
Alo BOB estas placas de que voce está falando eram feitas no brasil nos anos 60 e eram encontradas em grande quantidade nas lojinhas de artigos de praia muito comuns nas cidades de santos e sao vicente no estado de Sao Paulo. observar que quase todas eram na cor natural da madeira utilizada que era o pinho . Porisso duravavam muito pouco pois era a madeira predileta dos cupins que a devoravam. Quanto às madeirits eram feitas na decada de 50 e utilizavam as placas de madeirit naval que duravam muito . Eram feitas no arpoador e ilha do governadorno Rio De Janeiro , ja em sao paulo eram feitas pela Procopio que historicamente produzia mesas de ping pong. Para ver uma delas acesse espero tyer contribuido de alguma forma. Aloha1................ Telmo moraes ).
What is a madeirite?
Madeirite was an eponym for surfboards, not bellyboards. The madeirites made in Brazil were solid, laminated plywood. They were devised by Irencyr in the late-1950s early-1960s, when in a visit to the marine carpenter, Moacyr Silva, he noticed the special marine plywood boards used to make boats (brand-name "Madeirite"), which were light and water-resistent when treated. The shop in Ilha do Governador (Gorvernor Island in Portuguese) is the same that made the spearfishing boats. Better yet, he saw how Moacyr could bend the boards. He then realized that it was what he needed to make a lighter board (in comparison to the "church doors") and have the nose bent upwards. The madeirites didn't float well, so they had to surf it standing up with their swim fins on, as mentioned by Peter Troy! By the way, Troy was the guy who revolutionized Brazilian surfing because he was the first to do maneuvers on the board instead of just stand-up and ride the wave straight.

(Below left) Edgard Fonseca with a madeirite at Arpoador. Note use of only one swim fin—typically two fins would be used— however, Edgard shared the pair of fins. Ca. 1966.

(Below right) Irencyr Beltrão (right) with Ronaldo "Mentira" de Assis, Arpoador Beach, ca. 1959.
"A foto no anexo sou eu e Ronaldo "Mentira" de Assis com madeirites, surfboard em madeira projetadas por mim 1959 local praia do Arpoador. eu sou quem está com a prancha de faixas claras."

Irencyr Beltrão: "I was the one who made the "Madeirite," it was a 2.5 cm thick marine-spec plywood, about 50 cm wide and 2.2 m long. It wasn't hollow, but a solid plywood board instead. It was made in 1959 and had a slight curving on the nose, as you can see at the top of the photo with Ronaldo "Mentira" de Assis. The bottom had white stripes and you can see the fin."

Irencyr Beltrão: "Quem fez a madeirite fui eu, era de compensado naval 2,5cm de espessura mais ou menos 50cm de largura e 2,20m de comprimento. Não era oca era de compensado naval maciço, tinha na parte da frente no bico uma pequena curvatura, foi feita em 1959 como você pode ver na foto que mandei, aparece a parte de cima com Ronaldo "Mentira" de Assis e a parte de baixo prancha com fachas brancas que está comigo aparece a quilha."

Portuguese captions courtesy of Irencyr Beltrão.
(Above left) Rosemberg, Tito. (1966). Surf Photo Archives. Accessed January 15, 2014, from
(Above right) Photo courtesy of Irencyr Beltrão.

7. I was re-reading your description of a jacaré board. Is the jacaré board similar to the board pictured below?
Exactly. The board has a curved-up nose and handles on both sides. The other characteristics are similar (length, width, thickness). [See Note 4 for more discussion on the jacaré surfriding board.]

A bellyboard similar to a jacaré board. The logo on this board reads "A Mediterranea."

Photo courtesy of Mike Shrouds.

In Spanish, the word for an wooden surfboard was "madera una table de surf." If I wanted to search or ask about the jacaré boards, do I need to add a word to "pegar jacaré" so it is clearer that I am interested in surfing with a board and not just bodysurfing?

No, the correct phrase in Spanish is "tabla de surf de madera." In Portuguese is "prancha de surfe de madeira." In old publications you might use "pegar jacaré" (to body surf, but literally means "to catch alligator", the slang caught on because body surfing may look like a croc sliding on the surface). Or prancha de jacaré. Nowadays it it is called surfe de peito (breast surfing) or bodysurfing. Belly surfing as in the old times never caught on again, due to the bodyboarding craze.

Were the jacaré boards used much in conjunction with spearfishing? If so, how?

No. But wooden paddleboards were used by the American spearfishing pioneers in the 1930s, off San Diego. Since twenty years ago, bodyboards have been used for spearfishing from shore.
8. How did you first get into spearfishing?
I started when I was 14-years-old (43 years ago) -- when I quit surfing -- but just messing around in the summer with a couple of buddies. At 16, I got more dedicated, and at 18, I became very serious, taking part in competitions and all. Ever since, most of my life, private and professional, has been intrinsically linked to spearfishing in some way.
9. What depths do you go to? How do you train to hold your breath?
The shallowest possible to find fish... I don't do any specific breath-holding work-out. My main focus is to be at ease in the water, "aquaticity," one calls it. The ability to adapt oneself to the marine environment. Nevertheless, one must stay fit to freedive spearfish for few hours; it's an endurance activity. The best training is spearfishing itself; and, I also do fin swimming, road biking and, more recently, stand-up paddling.
10. How much of being able to hold your breath underwater is psychological? Are there any secrets to holding your breath?
There is always a physical limit related to one's lung volume and the ability of one's body to withstand working in a low oxygen environment. The latter could be worked out with specific training (ALWAYS WITH SUPERVISION). That said, it's common sense nowadays that the mental attitude and aptitude is the most important factor for breath-holding, particularly in spearfishing.
It has come to my notice that at least one freediving training agency has set up a course tailored to big wave surfers.
11. What's your most memorable diving experience?
Having dived all over the world, I've had many. There wasn't a single day when I've gone to sea that I haven't experienced something new. But my mindset is that the most memorable dive would be the next one.


Note a.
Unknown newsreals. (1948). Italian Summer 1948. British Pathé. Retrieved January 14, 2014, from

Note 1:
Telmo Moraes Teixeira Filho from the Cabo Frio surf museum (24 Mar 2013):
The small planks were used laying down, hence the expression alligator surfing, laying with eyes out. Already the madeirites the vast majority going to the bottom with water until the neck and waited for the wave when it was next surfer jumped on board paddling and beating the feet with one foot duck to help get in the mood. Other coseguian already lying paddling and surfing usually in feet.

As placas pequenas eram usadas deitado, dai vem a expressao jacaré surfando deitado so com os olhos de fora. Ja as madeirites a grande maioria ia para o fundo com a agua ate o pescoço e esperavam a onda quando ela estava pioxima o surfista pulava sobre a placa remando e batendo os pes um deles com pe de pato para ajudar a entrar na onda. Outros ja coseguian remar deitados e surfar normalmente em pei.
Note 2: See the Brazilian surfing blog site, lendas do Surf, for a September 2008 article on Arduíno Colassanti.

Note 3: According to an article written by Irencyr Beltrão in an Internet web site on Brazilian surfing:
They mingled up so the that body-surfers, body-boarders (as in jacaré) and church-door-surfers were not called surfers but pegadores de jacaré (alligator catchers). Why? Even today I do not know! The Arpoador was unlike any other beach. Beachgoers were few. Most were foreigners, descendants of Germans, Americans, etc

Misturavam-se então aos surfistas de peito, de pranchinha e porta de igreja, que não chamava-se de surfistas e sim pegadores de jacaré. Por quê? Até hoje não sei! O Arpoador era diferente de tudo. Os frequentadores eram poucos. A maioria era de estrangeiros, descendentes de alemães, americanos, etc.

Damn, these guys lived defying nature and seas got rough, they would belly surf over the rocks, called Salceirar*. When the wave came, they would throw themselves on it, breast on the rocks where the waves washed, then you had to stand on the stone that dried. The best ones did it barefooted. (Note: in slightly rough days, when the wave hit and went over the rocks (which are slopped down), the guy would jump on it belly first and then stand up on the rock while the wave receded. ... if one couldn't stand up it they had to swim the hell out of it with the receding wave so as to not to be hit the next one.)

Caramba, estes caras viviam desafiando a natureza e com o mar meio virado surfavam de peito nas pedras, chamavam de Salcerar. Quando a onda vinha, lançavam-se de peito sobre as pedras onde as ondas lavavam, aí voce tinha que ficar em pé sobre a pedra que secava. Os melhores faziam descalços.
Source: Beltrão, Irencyr. (2009, October 17). Lendas vivas: Anos dourados do Arpoador. Waves [Internet web page]. Retrieved January 16, 2014, from

Arpoador ca. 1965 and madeirites at Arpoador, ca. 1963.

Photo source: Rosemberg, Tito. "Surf Photo Archives." Accessed January 15, 2014, from

According to Irencyr Beltrão,

These guys started surfing with boards known at the time (1950s) as "church door." Then came the "madeirites," and finally, the fiberglass boards.

Esta galera começou surfando com pranchas conhecidas na época (anos 50) como "porta de igreja". Depois, vieram as "madeirites" e, finalmente, as pranchas de fibra de vidro.
Source:  Source: Mansur, Wady. (2009, October 11). Lendas do Arpoador: Pioneiros invadem Arpex (RJ). Waves [Internet web page]. Retrieved January 16, 2014, from

Arduino Colasanti and Irencyr Beltrão with swim fins (adapted from spearfishing fins) entangled while riding madeirites

O Pé de pato fazia parte da pesca submarina e foi adaptado para o surf (pé de pato swinFins) fins para dar entrada na onda. Neste arquivo estamos juntos nas medeirites eu e Arduino com pés de pato e em pé, embolados na mesma onda..

Photo source: Irencyr Beltrão.

Note 4. It is not certain that the "A Mediterranea" is an actual jacaré board.

Otavio Pacheco recalls riding a wooden body board, called an "Oceania," from around 1958 or 1959 until 1963, when he started riding a madeirite, before progressing to a fiberglass São Conrado longboard in 1966. "Oceania was very popular and we used to buy them in the sports shops. Oceania was also the brand of the factory of the boards, and many others products. It had 2 little rolls in the rails, but we didn't use them because we used to hold the nose with the hands to get more speed. It was about 36 inches long and 18 inches wide with a lots of curve in the nose and usually they were painted." (Persoanl e-mail, November 13, 2013).

Tito Rosemberg has recalled riding a Balnea brand board, a board that could be sold in a store on Santa Clara Street that until recently was still there, but is now a bank. Source: Tito Rosemberg's Jornal de Viagem.

The paipo interview with surfer historian Reinaldo Andraus includes photos of jacaré boards. Additionally, Wöllner Veja, a Rio de Janeiro beach and sportswear store, recently advertised a "prancha para pegar jacaré," shown below on the left. The ad appeared in Veja, a major weekly news magazine.

(Below left) Wöllner advertisement for a prancha para pegar jacaré with a selling price is R$ 200,00 (about $85 USD).
(Below right) David Szpilman made this board as he wished to capture a style of surfing he missed.

(Above left) [Advertisement]. (2014). Veja Rio on-line. Retrieved January 18, 2014, from (Above right) Photo courtesy of David Szpilman.

Other info:
The assistance of Paulo Donadio Baptista, Irencyr Beltrão, Cleber Dias, Marcelo Kaneca, Telmo Moraes Teixeira Filho, Otavio Pacheco, David Szpilman and Tito Rosemberg is gratefully acknowledged.

Feel free to send me suggestions, comments and additional information to: The Paipo Interviews.

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