Perched at 530m altitude, Vidigal in Brazil has long been considered home to the finest view in Rio. Yet, for many decades, this panorama was the privilege of a select few drug lords, with many of the 13,000-strong community forced to live in hardship. Since late 2011, however, things have improved significantly thanks to a concerted effort by the military police to wrestle control of Rio’s slums away from the drug traffickers and back into the state’s hands.
As the community becomes safer, more and more outsiders are beginning to venture into the area in the west of the city – one of the latest being freestyle trials rider Julien Dupont! The Frenchman famous for his urban sessions in cities across the globe admits that he had long been “intrigued” by the idea of riding the archetypal favela terrain, but was cautious about making it happen due to security concerns.
“Everybody back home told me before I came, ‘You’re going into a favela, are you crazy? You just don’t go in there, it’s too dangerous’. Now am here I can see it’s not dangerous at all. The people are very friendly, there’s a very good vibe,” explained the 32-year-old Lyon native. “This is an incredible spot for the type of riding I like to do. Everywhere you look there are stairs, walls, roofs, drop-offs and step-up jumps. It’s like a huge playground.”
The three-day visit left a lasting impression on both Dupont and the local population. “To me it’s amazing that we can now receive a guy like Julien inside Vidigal,” praised community leader William Santos, known locally as ‘Shakespeare’ for his part-time theatre work. “I saw him ride, and to me what he does is not sport – it’s pure art.”