Founder, Wave Tribe/Author/Shaper/Surfer
The gangs of Rio are notoriously ruthless.

The gangs of Rio are notoriously ruthless.

The Inertia

Ok, I know I usually write about green business and everything ecological, but let me start by saying there is nothing more organic than staying alive.

I have been through some crazy situations in my life, but this hits the top three for sure. I have lived through a category 5 hurricane in Jamaica, I was chased by armed bandits by car through corn fields in the hills of Puerto Escondido, and I was on a boat in Indonesia (returning from G-land) when “the” tsunami hit. However, the event that happened back in June in Rio, Brazil, in some ways trumps all of the aforementioned.

While on a surf trip to Brazil this summer, my partner and I went to dinner down the road from our apartment in Barra, a suburb of Rio. This particular restaurant had the best pizza I have ever had in Brazil–the cheese tasted like it was flown in straight from Italy and the garlic was fresher than a northwest swell in October. During dinner we spoke a lot about our stay in Rio. We were leaving the next day, so it kind of felt like a review of the last few weeks of our trip. The conversation was super positive; people had been so gracious to us, kind and helpful—everyone from the bus drivers to other surfers in the water.

We finished dinner and went to take a bus home. We discovered that you can take a bus for $2 or a taxi for $20, and as we’d learned the lay of the land, we had tried to take more buses than taxis. Unfortunately we got on the wrong bus. Once we realized it, we got off and tried to figure out where the next bus stop was. We saw one a few hundred yards down the road and walked to it to wait for our ride home.

We stood there alone and I had a strange feeling inside, like something was not right or was about to happen. And then it did. As we were standing there, two guys on a motorcycle rode up to us in the dark. I stepped forward to see what was up, and once they got closer I noticed the guy on the back had a strange look on his face.

I looked down at the rider’s hands and he was pointing a .45 Magnum at me. You see, I know a thing or two about guns, in a previous life (earlier in this one) I would have been the one holding a gun (with a badge) and I put guys like this one behind bars. Maybe in some kind of twisted universe this was my karma. A .45 will rip a hole through you big enough to put your entire arm straight through the exit wound. As they approached us, the gunman said something in Portuguese, but even if he had screamed in my ear I wouldn’t have heard what he said. My whole world and all my senses were concentrating on that gun.

In what seemed like a nanosecond, I told my partner to run and we bolted out of there like lightning running toward the oncoming Brazilian traffic. We didn’t turn around until we had sprinted quite a distance, there was no sign of them following. We ran across the road and flagged down a taxi to take us home. There is nothing like having a gun stuck in your face to get a little perspective on life. It’s strange, because in that split second that I saw the gun I had no fear. I knew exactly what I had to do and there was no question about intent or motive. The guy was too far away from me to charge him and I knew instinctively that it would be difficult for him to hit a moving target (i.e. us running) from the back of the motorcycle as they inched forward in the opposite direction.

Let’s be clear, it wouldn’t have been impossible–a bullet travels much faster than a human–but I knew that was the chance we had to take. I also knew that even if we gave them our wallets and money they could still have shot us dead in the street, and I wasn’t going to test that theory.

I know how ruthless Rio gangs are and if you haven’t seen the movie Cidade de Deus based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Paulo Lins, you must watch it to get an understanding of how easily a life can be taken. I knew that I’d go down fighting or running my ass off, and I hedged on the latter as our best option. Somehow all my instincts knew this and I ran like a cheetah. Of course, later on I doubted everything. I should have tackled the motorcycle, I should have gone Bruce Lee on them and done a flying Jeet Kune Do kick, I should have taken the bullet for my lady as she got to safety. But the reality is that what happened happened, and nothing else matters. I never thought I would die taking a bullet in Rio, but damn, you just never know what life is going to deal you.

I wanted to write about this experience to help remind you of the preciousness of life and also to pass along a few tips if you happen to venture to Brazil for a surf trip:     

1. Don’t hang out in dark places at night, stay in well lit areas.   

 2. Stay in a hotel close to the beach that has security.     

3. If anyone approaches you by motorcycle don’t stick around to see what they want.     

4. Don’t take a bus at night in Rio, grab a taxi.     

5. Celebrate your life TODAY, because you never know when it will be over.

Life is about clear perception and how you show up in each moment, it’s about the awareness surrounding your daily movements, and it’s about a vital living action. This is why we all love surfing so much. It puts us in “the zone” with very little effort. I hope these tips will help you have a safe trip as you venture to unknown places in search of that perfect wave.

This was originally published on

  • Chef Goldblum

    try stabbing hadjis in the desert with k-bar knives so dull you can barely cut paper, no barrels, no babes, just this same god damn motorcycle pulling up to you every 7 minutes. eventually you stop running player. but cool story. tell it at a party.

  • Lavieri

    I ‘can’t tell you that you were very, very lucky to be alive to tell this story. in Brazil, thieves act as you are obliged to accept the robbery. If you run, they shoot you and go away….
    I live in São Paulo, a city as dangerous as Rio, but in a different way. A foreigner can mix easily with people in SP, but not in Rio, so you become kind of a moving target there for thieves, street vendors, hookers…

  • Seaman

    what a stupid waste of time this article geee….

  • Gustavo Correia

    Really bad article! I live in Brasil and we have this kind of problems, but just becouse we are a young country.. At the same time we have happy locals and we will be very receptive like aways! Stop hating brazoos because i just love guys of australia, usa, hawai.. Come in and lets make that a party.. I WILL BE THERE

  • Burckauser

    good job, Inertia.
    weeks away from the event in Rio.
    we love you too

  • João Paulo

    don´t come to brazil gringos, you gonna be robbed. if u come don´t get involved with brazilian girls tought. don´t go dark places with them. they will robb u then her boyfriend may molest u sexually. it is a tradition here in brazil. also should fear BJJ fighters. if u really have to come it´s simple look always down says “Licença” and “por favor” and “obrigado” (excuse-me, please and thank you) and then u might have a chance to not have your arm broken… don´t be an wasted drunk also. there´s another tradition in brazil involving a drunk mans ass, but that one i´ll let u find out here.
    much aloha from brazil #sqn

    • iuvbio

      cool that brazil is so tolerant towards all these gay traditions

      • João Paulo

        be welcome and bring some lub if u really liked. and remember no eye contact, not that u had eyes in your back… rs

        • iuvbio

          actually I do have eyes in my back. it’s a medical condition..

  • Just to be clear, I love Brazil. This event could have happened in any big city of the world and just because it happened won’t stop me (nor should it stop you) from going to Rio in the future. But if this article helps a reader become a bit more aware and safe then I have reached my objective of helping to keep a few surfers safe out there in this big crazy world.

  • Chad Bonsack

    This could happen anywhere. It happen to me in Florida at a party in front of a lot of people the guy was insane. Derek is right it can happen anywhere so enjoy life but pay attention to your surroundings

    • Thanks Chad—hope you are getting some waves.

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