Fairfield University exchange student ranked number two bodyboarder in Rio de Janeiro


Image: Roberta PinheiroAthletes come to Fairfield University from all over the globe to receive an education and compete for the school sports teams. One of the finest athletes enrolled in the University however, does not play for one of its sports teams. Nor can she even practice her sport in the state of Connecticut. Roberta Pinheiro de Souza, an exchange student from Rio de Janeiro, is ranked as the number two bodyboarder in her home city, and last year ranked number five in all of Brazil.

Pinheiro, 23, recently traveled to North Carolina to compete in the Feminine Open of the East Coast American Circuit of Bodyboarding and won first place. This year, she competed in the Brazilian Regional Amateur Circuit in Campos and earned a fourth place finish. In 2003, she competed in ten Rio de Janeiro Circuit contests and appeared in eight finals, giving her the number two ranking in Rio de Janeiro. She plans to compete in Brazil after her stay at Fairfield University is over in December.

Image: Roberta PinheiroBodyboarding is a form of surfing in which a person lies stomach down on a smaller, more rectangular foam board and attempts different tricks and maneuvers while riding waves toward the shore.

"We have one of the strongest city-states in Brazil for bodyboarding," she said. The level of competition in Brazil is very strong and the waves are so difficult that the Brazilian girls "have to surf like men to get something," she said. In fact, the bodyboarding in Brazil is so intense, she found the ten-foot waves in North Carolina to be less of a challenge.

Pinheiro recently went back to North Carolina for fun and surfed in a men's competition and placed seventh. She received many praises from the crowd, and noted that some people were "shocked," to see a young woman competing with the men.

Pinheiro is a biology major at Fairfield and researches environmental science. She enjoys comparing the environment and development of Connecticut with that of Brazil. "Coming here is a good experience," she said. "(America) is one of the richest countries." She says she is unsure of what she wants to do after she is done with her education. "I would like to do research and education in Brazil and work on a doctoral thesis. After that, I don't know what's going on with my life; it's open," she said.

Pinheiro attended the Universidade Estadual do Norte Fluminense in Brazil, which has a partnership with Fairfield University through a government funded grant from the Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education. In partnership with Fairfield is Washington and Lee University in Virginia and one other Brazilian institution: the Universidade Federal do Amazonas. "I knew she was adventurous from the beginning," said Dina Francheschi, associate professor of economics who specializes in environmental economics with a focus on Brazil and global sustainable development. "She was bold enough to seek out this exchange experience from her University in Brazil. When she arrived at JFK, I saw her come out of the gate area with her surfboard. I thought 'where is she going to surf around here?'"

The exchange program with Brazil has been a great opportunity for both sides, said Katherine Kidd, director of the International Studies Program. "The exchange program with Brazil has brought about many surprises for students studying in Brazil and for those of us who work with Brazilian students in the U.S.," she said. "When we started we never expected to learn so much about bodyboarding, golden lion tamarins, or fisheries in the Amazon."

Pinheiro hopes that coming to America will give her recognition and exposure for her bodyboarding. "We don't have good sponsors in Brazil," she said. "Maybe here, in America, I could have good sponsors."

Pinheiro's hope is to one day compete in the world bodyboarding championship that is held every year in Hawaii. There isn't enough funding in Brazil to get her to Hawaii, and she would need to attract a good sponsor to fulfill her dream.

Pinheiro chose to study at Fairfield because it seemed to her that it was the most prestigious University that was a part of the exchange program. "The waves were not a priority as I felt being away from the ocean would make it easier to study," she said. "When I found out there were waves in New Jersey and Long Island it was a nice bonus."

Pinheiro has practiced her bodyboarding in Rhode Island, Long Island, New Jersey and North Carolina. When she goes to North Carolina, she takes a 5:30 a.m. train to New Jersey to meet three friends, two of whom are also Brazilian bodyboarders residing in America. Together they travel down to North Carolina where they only have one hour to surf in the freezing water before they head back home. The long trip and icy water does not bother Pinheiro. "It's something I love to do," she said.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on November 1, 2004

Vol. 37, No. 114