A wet and wild wind-powered race across the desert

Red Bull Rally dos Ventos may be the world’s most unique kiteboarding race. Got your sand wax?
Competitor performing at Red Bull Rally dos Ventos in Brazil.
Taking the corner © Marcelo Maragni/Red Bull Content Pool
By Josh Sampiero

There's all kinds of adventures in the world and most of them involve various forms of transportation, like paddling, biking and running and a few of them even go through a desert.

But there's nothing quite like Red Bull Rally dos Ventos – equal parts kiteboarding, sand surfing, running – and a navigational challenge.

Competitors were charged with crossed the lagoon-filled desert of Northern Brasil. No race course other than the start and finish. Sound easy? Well, maybe – until you get lost.

Bruna Kajiya performing at Red Bull Rally dos Ventos in Brazil.
Clear, shallow water © Marcelo Maragni/Red Bull Content Pool

Kiter Susi Mai was on hand to give us the low-down on this never-before-done desert race.

“Rally dos Ventos took place in a state-owned desert far in the north of Brazil,” says Mai.

“It's legally protected, and you need permits, a guide and an off-road vehicle just for access. The point of the race was simply to get from A to B as fast as possible – and you had to find your own path to get there!”

Because of the unique way the sand dunes are formed – with wind blowing them into new places every year – it was hard to predict where there would be lagoons for kiteboarding.

Susi Mai performing at Red Bull Rally dos Ventos in Brazil.
Susi Mai gets some practice in prior the race © Thiago Diz / Red Bull Content Pool

Did we mention the race director didn't reveal the course until the day of the race? True story. Armed with GPS units and compasses, 45 kiters set out from the start in search of (literally, in search of) the finish line.

Competitors performing at Red Bull Rally dos Ventos in Brazil.
'You're really just racing yourself' © Marcelo Maragni/Red Bull Content Pool

“The key to going fast,” says Susi, “was finding a way to spend as much time as possible on the water. You're much faster kiting on water than running over sand!”

Just a little stroll across the sand © Thiago Diz / Red Bull Content Pool

On the day of the race, conditions delivered, with sufficient wind for the riders to rig 8m kites, keeping them fully powered up.

Since there has never been a race of this kind before, there was a lot experimentation.

Susi found herself buying 'sand wax' in hopes of being able to surf her board over the sand.

Susi Mai performing at the Red Bull Rally dos Ventos in Brazil.
Susi Mai grabs some freestyle airtime, pre-race © Marcelo Maragni/Red Bull Content Pool

“Everybody had a crazy different strategy, and a different story. One guy was just doing massive jumps, landing 40-feet downwind on the sand. One guy turned his board into a backpack. One guy ended up doing 33km of running because he got so lost!”

Competitors performing at Red Bull Rally dos Ventos in Brazil.
Sometimes the water looks a little rusty © Marcelo Maragni/Red Bull Content Pool

Mai admits to getting highly disoriented herself: “You could have spun me in a circle and I wouldn't have been able to pick out north and south!”

Competitor performing at Red Bull Rally dos Ventos in Brazil.
Flat water means going really, really fast © Thiago Diz / Red Bull Content Pool

One thing was certain for almost everyone – they had to ride their boards finless thanks to super-shallow lagoons.

The winner – a local kiteboarder – finished in just 37 minutes. The event winner never got off his kiteboard.

Competitor performing at Red Bull Rally dos Ventos in Brazil.
A racer cruises on with competitors far behind © Thiago Diz / Red Bull Content Pool

Says Susi: “He found an awkward way to bend his knees and sit on his board, then ride it over the sand. He finished in 37 minutes – others took hours. In the end, it took all of us out of our comfort zones more than we expected. At some point, it just became a race against yourself.”

Competitor performing at Red Bull Rally dos Ventos in Brazil.
The dunes and pools are re-shaped every year © Thiago Diz / Red Bull Content Pool

So what's next? “We'd love to do a Ragnarok-style event with 300 people – we'll see how it goes. We were very respectful of the place, and have high expectations to be back next year.” And how does she feel about it? “It was the craziest, most challenging thing I've done in a long time!”

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