As the announcer began the awards ceremonies for the Maui and Sons Arica World Star Tour surf competition in Arica, Chile, the winners craned their necks to see the waves coming high and thick. Third place was a tie between Cristian Merello of Pichilemu, Chile, and Lucas Santamaría of Mar del Plata, Argentina. Eala Stewart from the cradle of surfing, Hawai’i, in came in second. The grand prize of $8,000 went to Anthony Walsh of Australia. As soon as the formalities were over, they hit the mighty El Gringo, to give it one last go.
These surfers were amongst the 69 who came from 12 countries to challenge El Gringo, also called the Chilean Pipeline, which forms off Isla Alacrán. Why is it called El Gringo? Because it is the man-eater of waves: a perfect A-frame, with barrels forming to the right and left, rolling over an uneven, submerged reef seabed and crashing upon a rocky shore. It has serious power and is fast. Hazards are impalement, death by drowning and having your ego bashed. Needless to say, this gnarly wave is only for experts.
Over three-quarters of the competitors came from Latin America, including eight Peruvians. But not even that country’s greatest surfers, Gabriel Villarán and Cristóbal de Col, could make it to the semi-finals. They packed their boards and headed back north to hit the surf in their own country.
Peru’s surfing safari trail stretches from south of Lima to the Ecuadorian border. Internationally, the most famous is Máncora, in the extreme north of the country. Legends like Fernando “Wawa” Paraud have schools here—in fact, novices can chose from over a half-dozen places where they can learn to hang ten. The cold Humboldt Current veers off the coast here, making a wetsuit necessary some months of the year.
Several other good surfing spots are near Máncora. To the north, a mere 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the Ecuador border, is Zorritos. It is the only place where a wet suit is not necessary. Travelers may take lessons at Hands & Surf Escuela, established by the international organization Surfing Solidaridad.
Cabo Blanco, to the south of Máncora, hosts a Billabong competition ever year. It is an expert wave, with reef and riptides. This small fishing village has very limited services.
Further south is Huanchaco, where travelers can not only hit the waves on board, but also caballito de totora, the local reed boats that date from ancient times. This is another place where Peru’s great long boarders have opened schools and surf shops.
It may seem surprising, but some of the country’s other surfing beaches are right in the nation’s capital, Lima. The Miraflores district’s Costa Verde has several beaches perfect for beginning to intermediate surfers: Redondo, Makaha, Waikiki and La Pampilla. All breaks are fairly consistent year round but best with a swell from the southwest.
The better beaches, though, are to the south of the city. Experienced long boarders can hit the waves at Punta Hermosa, Punta Negra and Cerro Azul, immortalized in the Beach Boy’s song Surfin’ Safari.
Peru’s surfing team is one of the highest ranked in the world, not surprising since this is considered one of the birthplaces of the ancient sport. It has had several world champs, including Sofía Mulánovich of Punta Hermosa, who was the first South American to win the Association of Surfing Professionals women’s world title, in 2004. In 2007, she was the first South American to be inducted into the Surfers Hall of Fame.
So, let’s go surfing now. Come on a safari, hitting the shores of Peru.