No one doubts that Brazilians know their beaches. So well, in fact, that they use the sand as a playing field for sports you've probably never seen before.
Strolling along the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, where some of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games showcase events will be held – from beach volleyball to open-water swimming – it becomes apparent that idly sitting on the beach is not what many Brazilians are about. Instead, you'll see fit men and women of all ages playing soccer, beach volleyball... and some more creative sports. Ever seen someone play volleyball with their feet, serving the ball with a kick that looks like a soccer penalty shot? You'll see that and more on Rio's beaches.
Here are three of the unique beach sports Rio is famous for.
André Teixeira/Journey Brazil
André Teixeira/Journey Brazil
Sometimes the best way to spend an afternoon in Rio is to pull up a chair at one of the beach kiosks along Copacabana or Ipanema beach, order a Coca-Cola, and sit back and enjoy the show that is futevôlei, or footvolley. You might be able to guess from the name what is involved: essentially it is doubles beach volleyball, with a net. But instead of hands, players use their feet (and heads). Sound easy? Think again.
Whereas in beach volleyball you can dive with your arms outstretched to make a play, in futevolei, you have to stretch out you leg to get the ball up. The result can sometimes look acrobatic, with athletes twisting their bronzed bodies in ways you don't see in many sports. The sheer athletic flexibility of great futevôlei players is astonishing to watch, and a great way to appreciate the beauty of Brazilian beach sports. In fact, it was created on the beaches of Rio back in the 1960s. And Brazilians take futevôlei more seriously than you might expect; there are championships each year featuring some of the country's fittest athletes.
Frescobol seems like a pretty simple game. Take two paddles just a bit larger than ping-pong paddles, a ball just a bit bigger and more rubbery than a ping pong ball, and then hit it back and forth with someone on the beach instead of over a table. Bikini-clad folks play frescobol around the beaches of Europe, as well. But Brazilians claim they invented it, and as inventors, they take it to another level.
Along Copacabana beach, Brazilians set up frescoball zones: sections fenced off with netting so they can play hard without having to chase the ball too far. Ferce Sunday morning competitions feature men who, physically, look better suited for football slam the ball at full strength, rallying between each other as they work up a sweat and sending a chorus of popping sounds up from the beach. And like futevôlei, intense frescoball tournaments are held each year to crown the king and queen of the sand. There's even an official frescobol day.
If you stroll along the shore of Ipanema beach, you'll see dozens of soccer balls in the air close to the water. It's the sign of altinho, an extremely popular – and controversial – game played on Rio's beaches. It's not so complicated: just little groups of three or four people using their feet to keep a soccer ball up in the air.
But, like balls in a dog park, the game has been officially banned from the beach because of the inevitable fights that result from an errant shot bumping over some sun-tanning beachgoer's drink. Despite the rule, the game remains one of Rio's most popular. Every Sunday, you'll see dozens of soccer balls in the air as shirtless cariocas – as residents of Rio are called – enjoy this simple beach game. Altinho is also perhaps the easiest of Brazilian beach sports to join in on, as there is no beginning or end to the game oftentimes. So if you're in Rio and inspired by all the beach sports you see, go on and walk up to a group playing altinho and ask to join. It might be the most fun illegal thing you do.