Henrique Saraiva is paralyzed in the legs, but was determined to get back to some form of activity- he has taken to surfing and now there is no looking back.
It's hard to believe this 30-year-old can barely walk when on dry land.
Saraiva was the victim 12 years ago, of the violence that dogs daily life in this Brazilian city. He found himself in hospital, a bullet lodged in his spine that left his legs paralyzed.
But, while doctors were skeptical that he'd ever walk again, Saraiva set about his physical re-education with determined fervor. Now, he gets around on crutches rather than a wheelchair.
That was not enough for a young man who had led an active life up to his tragedy and dreamed of recapturing that joy of activity.
"I was 18 and I missed sport so badly," he said.
A friend's suggestion he take up kneeboard surfing turned out to be a revelation: after avoiding beaches because of the way he was viewed by others, he discovered a new freedom, and a new self-esteem on the waves.
Inspired by his experience, Saraiva in 2007, created with two friends, Luiz Phelipe and Luana Nobre, Adaptsurf -- an association that helps handicapped people catch sets on Rio's magnificent shore, as well as lobbying for better access for them to beaches.
"We give free surf lessons adapted to each student, whatever their handicap," explained Luana, the association's physical education instructor.
Phelipe, a physiotherapist, explained the advantages of the sport for those with physical disabilities: "Tailored surfing helps the internal and external balance of a person. It helps cardio-respiratory development.... And that's not counting the social benefits."
Two students of Adaptsurf, Daniela, who is partially blind, and Andre, a paraplegic after a motorbike accident, backed that assessment.
"Before, I didn't dare go in the water," said Daniela, 28. "I didn't want to be a burden for my family, so I stayed home in front of my computer."
The association assisted her in overcoming her fears.
"Now I feel freer, more open. I'm not so afraid to talk to people... In the water, we're all equal," she said as she followed Phelipe pushing Andre in his wheelchair to the sea.
Andre's wheelchair itself is a structural wonder that turns heads. Waterproof and equipped with giant all-terrain wheels capable of supporting 120 kilograms (265 pounds), it takes its owner well into the water, where he hauls himself on to his board.
"For six years I didn't set foot in the ocean. There was no way that let me get to it," he said, visibly happy that those circumstances have changed.
"I think things are changing quicker now, with the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2016 in Rio. Of course, that doesn't mean we should sit back and wait for them to arrive -- we have to keep fighting for handicapped people and accessibility for all, everywhere."
For all the enthusiasm its practitioners display, it's clear that the style of surfing still has a long way to go to be accepted among other sporting disciplines.
But Saraiva and his partners intend to use the attention generated by Rio's hosting of the Olympics to raise the profile of the sport -- drawing on their own uplifting experience of sitting atop the waves.