Most of the land that Ipanema consists of today once belonged to José Antonio Moreira Filho, Baron of Ipanema. The word "Ipanema" comes from the old Tupi language, meaning "bad water." In this case, it means bad for fishing, since the waves die too close to the sand, pushing fish away.
It is famously known for its elegance and social qualities. Two mountains called the "Dois Irmãos" (Two Brothers) rise at the western end of the beach. The beach is divided into segments by marks known as "postos" (lifeguard towers). Beer is sold everywhere on the beach along with the traditional . There are always circles of people playing football, volleyball, and footvolley, a combination sport of volleyball and football originated in Brazil.
In the winter the surf can reach 9 feet. The water quality varies with days of light-blue water to a more murky green after heavy rains. Constant swells keep the water clean. The often treacherous beach break regularly forms barrels.