Children in Brazil surfing for a better life

Rocinha Surf student
Rocinha Surf student

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL (CNN) — Some of Rio’s poorest children are turning to surfing for a chance at a better life.

Hear from them and their inspirational teacher.

For decades, football (soccer) has helped lift many out of poverty in Brazil.

But the dream of escaping the slums and making it big, can also be found beyond the football pitches.

CNN hits the beach to find out how one surf school is changing children’s lives by teaching them the value of hard work, perseverance and dedication.

At the gate of Rio’s most populous favela lies an opportunity for change.

Here, inside the Rocinha Surf School, children are learning to ride the waves the sea and whatever life throws at them.

Set up by favela resident and qualified surfer, Bocão as he is known here, and supported by famous U.S. musician and surfer Jack Johnson, the school offers children an opportunity to get off the streets and into the water.

“The school started because in Rocinha there was no one to teach kids to surf and I saw that need in the community, a community that is very close to Saint Coronado Beach. So I decided to collect old surf boards that were thrown into the rubbish on the beach and so I fixed them and gathered a group of five kids and began to teach them how to surf,” Ricardo “Bocão” Ramos said.

Despite the financial challenges of keeping the school afloat, he continues to teach.

So far more than one-thousand children from the local favelas have sought training and advice from Bocão.

Two of them have become professional surfers, competing around the world.

A moment of pride for the instructor and a dream of a better life for students like ten-year old Marcos Paulo who tells me he wants to be a surfer and a hard working man when he grows up. He adds: “I like surf because I want to have a good future to help my mum, to help my family, to help “Bocão” my teacher. So, I have to work hard to help my family.”

Any child from the neighbouring favelas can learn how to surf for free but first they have to prove to the teacher they have 100% attendance at school and good grades. It’s all about teaching them the value of hard work and discipline.

In doing so, the school is also offering them an alternative to the crime and drug trafficking that tempts so many young people across Rio’s favelas.

No one knows this better than this teacher who escaped it through surfing.

“Surfing changed my life and is changing theirs. It’s a pastime, but sports can bring about major change, it can be transformative. They wake up, go to school. After their houses, the surf school and the beach is their second home. So we’re joining work and pleasure. Instead of them being on the streets doing things they shouldn’t be doing, they’re playing sports and being happy,” Bocão said.

For these children, it matters little how much water they swallow.

Or how many tumbles they take.

Like in life, this is about learning to get back up, time and time again.

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