Why you should care
Because Sandro Cardoso is taking Brazilians and the world to class via bad-ass parachuting expeditions. Take notes.
After an 800-kilometer flight, an 86-kilometer off-road ride, a five-day canoe trip, a six-day trek and a 15-hour climb into the heart of the Amazon, Sandro Cardoso reached the summit of Brazil’s tallest and most inaccessible mountain, Pico da Neblina.
He wanted to do what nobody has done before or since: parachute off.
Eight days passed, but the weather never broke (it’s not called “Fog Peak” for nothing). Stricken by hypothermia, exhausted and eating a half-ration of food a day, Cardoso, his indigenous guide and his cameraman finally retreated. “Unlike Bear Grylls, I don’t have a helicopter following me or a support team to call. Nothing is staged,” he says laughing, but dead serious. “If I get in trouble, I’m fucked.”
In other words, his expeditions are raw, no filler. Which is why his program, Aventuras Reais (Real Adventures), is the hottest outdoor show on Brazilian TV. The show has already chronicled various of his brazen, record-breaking jumps from the country’s most treacherous spots, including Pedra da Mina (at 2,798 meters, the highest jump in Brazil) and a 105-kilometer jaunt with his girlfriend, Suelen (the farthest tandem flight). The audience has yet to blossom — when Brazilians think sports TV, they think futebol — but Cardoso is confident that the show’s high-octane combination of travel and extreme sport will ignite the nation’s thirst for adventure.
He may have a long way to go, but then again, he has never had a problem with steep climbs. His own began in the undeveloped Rio suburb of Recreio de Bandeirantes, where the son of a beautician and a real estate agent grew up surrounded by vast forest and miles of surfable beach. A teenager with a motorcycle and a penchant for risk-taking was good TV just waiting to happen.
The quintessential Brazilian fantasy man — muscled and tan with a smooth demeanor and infectious charm — Cardoso attended Universidade Estácio de Sá for cinema, where he dreamed of marrying his two passions: film and extreme sport. Aventuras Reais has been in the works ever since, from version 1.0 — a postgraduation bicycle romp along Brazil’s desolate northeast coast — to entering its third season on the country’s premier adventure-sport channel, Canal OFF.
Cardoso says he strives not just to entertain and educate, but also to galvanize the public to challenge themselves. “Most people have big dreams but don’t take action,” Cardoso tells OZY. The expeditions on Aventuras Reais are useful metaphors for breaking down lofty aspirations into bit-sized, actionable pieces that can be employed on a day-to-day basis, he says.
The recipe is simple: Cover your fundamentals first (food, gear and top physical condition); break down the journey into manageable chunks and plan every last detail, but prepare to change course at any moment; filter advice and criticism to constantly re-evaluate plans; execute step by step; persevere until failure; rinse and repeat.
But in a media landscape oversaturated with football and novelas (soap operas), the biggest challenge to Cardoso’s dreams is the lack of visibility his (and similar) sports receive. Pile on top a notoriously bloated and corrupt bureaucracy and Brazil’s Bear Grylls can’t get enough backing to fund his missions, let alone live day to day. “The weeks trekking, the starving, the physical exhaustion and the parachuting are the easy parts,” says Cardoso. “The struggle is pre-expedition.”
While a tight-knit community of adrenaline junkies thrives throughout Brazil, the general public is largely oblivious to their existence. TV remains the best way to reach new audiences, but even Canal OFF is a mere 3 years old. “Brazilians have an appetite for adventure; they just don’t know it yet,” Cardoso claims.
For those in the know, like renowned slackliner Gideão Melo (who hosts his own Canal OFF show), Aventuras Reais not only marks the front lines of the battle for a larger piece of televised love, but it’s instrumental in deepening and nuancing Brazilian’s perspective of their own country. “Sandro reveals a side of Brazil that isn’t represented by the media, a side that is uniquely beautiful, exciting and tragic,” he says.
In a bid to vault adventure sports into the mainstream, his next project — in the process of filming — is a high-altitude talk show, where Brazil’s rich and famous will accompany Cardoso’s parachute jumps, spilling the (potentially literal) beans midflight. Soccer gods, novela stars and politicians — they’ll help spark a countrywide love affair with extreme sport …
…which for Cardoso truly began on July 9, 2007. It was just before dawn in Rio de Janeiro when Cardoso and Luiz “Sabiá” Santos pulled themselves from the maintenance ladder onto the head of the Cristo Redentor, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Santos made his way down the iconic statue’s arm, onto his hand … and jumped.
Cardoso was originally asked by protest organizers from IBAMA (the government’s environmental advocacy arm) to string a massive banner from the chest of Rio’s omnipresent Christ. He invited Santos, one of Brazil’s top BASE jumpers — who recently skydived without a parachute — to tag along. Why not make two statements with one extraordinarily dangerous stunt? An instant after Santos’ historic plunge, Cardoso rappelled down the cliff face, landed smack in the middle of IBAMA’s demonstration, shed his gear, and disappeared. The police, privy to the whole event, couldn’t … quite … grab him.
“That was the day ‘the flight’ was born in me,” Cardoso says with a sly grin, referring to the thrill of parachuting and not running from the cops (probably).
This piece was originally published Sept. 20, 2014, and updated as of Nov. 9, 2014.