At 82, Manfred Spuck is not only one of the oldest ever kiters, but he’s also largely responsible for introducing kitesurfing to Cumbuco and Jericoacoara 20 years ago. After selling his discotheque in Germany, ‘Manni’ emigrated to Brazil in 1989, going on to influence the growth of the sport in the northern state of Ceará that’s now so popular with kite tourists. He still operates his ‘Tropical Wind’ pousada in the centre of Cumbuco, a meeting point for tens of thousands of kitesurfers over the decades. We pick up Axel Reese’s interview with the pair sitting in Manni’s pousada while discussing the deep satisfaction that time on the water still offers the octogenarian and his first experiences in Brazil
WORDS AND PHOTOS: Axel Reese
You emigrated to Brazil 32 years ago. Can you tell us about the watersports situation at that time?
I had a discotheque near Frankfurt and always had this voice inside my head, urging me to give the business up when I hit 50. As it happens, someone actually wanted to buy the business and I had already met a Brazilian woman. Three months after the sale I found myself in Brazil. I started windsurfing as early as 1972 and I arrived in Fortaleza with three windsurf boards and seven windsurf sails. I set up my first windsurfing school where I taught Brazilians and started to import Fanatic boards. The next four years were a wonderful time! Containers filled with the Fanatic equipment arrived every three months and I had no problem selling it all on quickly. You also helped bring the Windsurf World Cup to Fortaleza for the first time.
Yes, I wanted to show the world that the Ceará region is ideal for windsurfing, with a constant wind of 12 to 30 knots in the second half of the year, 30 degree air temperatures and 27 in the water. It’s fantastic for watersports! Working with the support of the state of Ceará I flew to the Windsurf World Cup in Almanarre, France, to draw the organizers’ attention to the Fortaleza region. Two annual events then ran from the following year at the Beachpark in Fortaleza, where I met German sailor, Bernie Hiss (who went on to start Core Kiteboarding). I also guided the riders through the entire region and saw Bernie’s enthusiasm really grow. Four years later he called me up and came to Cumbuco for the first time to kitesurf with Kristin Boese and yourself in November 2002. At the time my pousada had only two rooms and was hardly ready. Had you seen any kitesurfers in Cumbuco before our trip?
No, I’d say you were the first. At that time in November 2002 there weren’t any tourists in the entire region, never mind in Cumbuco. Your kitesurf travel story about Cumbuco and the surrounding spots was the first to be published and appeared in several European kitesurfing magazines in spring 2003. That was the starting signal for kitesurfing tourism in Cumbuco.
A well practiced shorebreak routine
So you built a pousada before there was any tourism at all in Cumbuco?
Right. I never really had a plan, it just happened. People called me after reading your feature, wanting to come to Cumbuco to kite in the autumn. I only had four rooms by then and there weren’t any other pousadas! I also didn’t have any money to build more rooms, but soon after was able to help broker the purchase of a property, for which I received good money and could then build more rooms for renting. As I said, things fell to me. Aside from having the perfect wind conditions and beautiful temperatures, there was hardly any infrastructure in Cumbuco, I remember. The problem wasn’t just the lack of infrastructure. To get here from Europe you had to fly to Sao Paulo, which is 2,500 kilometres south, and then get another flight up to Fortaleza, which at the time hadn’t been developed as an international airport. Apart from the barracas on the beach there were no restaurants in Cumbuco and no paved roads. My pousada is also built on sand and we only had a few palm trees on the property at that stage. There really wasn’t much here. Bernie Hiss often said that Manni Spuck is the ‘control center’ in Cumbuco. Did you feel that way at time?
You can’t say that really, but I have tried to initiate things. You can try to sew some seeds and hope things will grow. Carlos Mario is famed for growing up here in Cumbuco and I gave him a Core kite when he was five, which helped him go kiting as often as he wanted as a little boy. Yesterday I watched him win the Freestyle World Cup here in Cumbuco and he was proudly celebrated by the Brazilians on the beach as their national hero. His achievements are also helping Cumbuco and kiting become better known here in Brazil. Other school children also received kites but the whole thing had to be coordinated with teachers because, otherwise, they would all go kiting rather than to school. Can you believe the development and popularity of Cumbuco 20 years later?
Kitesurfing has developed insanely and so many kitesurfers come to Cumbuco. I now have 25 rooms in my pousada, though due to Coronavirus there have been far fewer visiting kiters in the last 18 months, however we still receive a lot of Brazilian guests at the weekends.
OUT AND ABOUT WITH MANNI
As we walked the short distance down the street to the beach together, a woman came up and hugged Manni very tightly without asking. I considered how much of a hit he is with the ladies and was a little jealous of the fact that he still doesn’t have an ounce of body fat. Manni wears a long-sleeved lycra in defence of the constant, strong Brazilian sun. He pulled up the integrated hood and donned large kitesurf-sunglasses and an impact vest. “My friend Bernie Hiss gave this to me,” he said, while pulling it over his head. He looked pretty fit while inflating his eleven metre Core GTS kite and then knelt low to attach the lines. It’s incredibly hard to believe he’s 82. We met for a kite session together two weeks later, making nice long tacks, crossing our way up to Cabana Beach. As we arrived I heard several people shout, “Hello Manni”. There’s no question that this guy is well connected. We grabbed a coconut water and I followed up on my interview with more questions about the physical benefits he enjoys through kitesurfing.
Doing the do at 82
What does kitesurfing offer you?
I go kiting almost every day. I may not jump anymore but, for an hour or so, I have a lot of fun on the water. Despite it being the rainy season, I even go kiting in the first half of the year, too. To feel the water, the wind and to be out there on my own in the elements; everything washes away and I return feeling almost cleansed after my session. Freshly relaxed and happy, it doesn’t get any better than that. You still look very fit and I can see the fun reflected in your expression when you talk about about your kite sessions. How much longer do you plan to keep kitesurfing?
I feel a lot younger than perhaps I am and I want to kitesurf until I am 90. A Brazilian tarot card reader recently told me that I would have to say goodbye to this world in 11 years. So 90 will be a good time to stop kiting. Do you have a new project in mind?
Yes, I plan to upgrade a camper van, to drive off with my wife Sandra and write a book about my life. Everything that happened only happened through my ‘doing’. (Manni’s eyes well up and we take a short break in our conversation.) How can I show the world that I can leave here? If I have permission from a higher power, then I will come back to Cumbuco with Buddhist teachers or believers and prepare to return out of the body. I want to be an example that we come here to learn and when we are finished we can go without pain. Everyone is looking for the meaning of life and you don’t have to go to India. Look around and find the reason for yourself. I know why I’m here because I have so much evidence. I went my way and I have my life experience. Choosing to come to Brazil happened almost automatically. My efforts after that were all natural, but have helped to bring kitesurfing here. In this region where, 20 years ago, the people lived almost exclusively from fishing, broader income opportunities have now been paved with the opportunity for a better quality of life.
Kiting off the main beach front in Cumbuco
GUINESS WORLD RECORD HOLDER
Manni helped organise the successful attempt at the World Record for the largest parade of kitesurfers in 2019, when 596 riders completed the 1.6 kilometre course together in Cumbuco. The record was previously set at the Kitesurfing Armada on Hayling Island, UK in 2016, when 423 kiters completed that course. “We actually had a possible starting number of 1027 kiters.” Manni explains. “Though I’m glad only 640 were allowed to set-off safely for the attempt!”