What if I told you that one of the heaviest big wave spots in the world lay hidden off the Pacific coast off Chile only you did not know it yet? Big wave surfers the world over will go through extreme lengths for the sheer rush of surfing the biggest and heaviest wave imaginable with the likes of Teahupoʻo in Tahiti, Pipeline in Hawaii, Mavericks in California, Puerto Escondido in Mexico, Nazaré in Portugal and even Mullaghmore in Ireland being common big wave destinations. Yet a notoriously heavy and extremely dangerous big wave spot has somehow remained under the radar somewhere on the icy cold Chilean coastline. Hidden in plain sight in the middle of one of Chile's many coastal town's lays what I personally claim to be the heaviest wave in South America and what I like to call the Chilean Teahupoʻo. A big call? Maybe. Yet I firmly believe that after you have closely reviewed the following images and the accompanying story you may struggle to summon a valid argument to the contrary. [Continued below]
Chile, an Overlooked Mecca for Big Wave Surfing?
The frigid and unwelcoming Pacific coast of the South American Nation of Chile is well and truly blessed with an over abundance of world class big wave surf spots that constantly attract some of the biggest and most consistent swells on the planet. Despite these more than favourable attributes for big wave surfing Chile is still no way near the top of the bucket-lists of big wave chargers who prefer to chase the more famous big wave spots such as Teahupoʻo, Mavericks, Puerto Escondido, Mullaghmore and Nazaré where fame and coverage are virtually guaranteed. However, those big wave hellmen who choose to go against the grain and brave Chile's cold unforgiving waters will most likely be rewarded with some of the best, biggest and heaviest waves of their lives. Between the months of May to October of every year the beautiful ruggedly raw coastline of Chile experiences a constant onslaught of extremely large, extremely perfect and extremely powerful south swells that march their way up the Pacific coast of South America all the way from the freezing waters of Antarctica. The entire Chilean coastline is a truly wave blessed region for large clean swells. [Continued below]
Introducing the Contenders for the South American Heaviest Wave Title
While the Northern surf towns of Antofagasta, Iquique and Arica suffer no shortage of heavy big waves spots I firmly believe that the Chilean Teahupoʻo well and truly trumps them all. The Chilean Teahupoʻo, in fact goes by another name but in order to respect it's relatively underground nature and limited crowd levels I will hereby refrain from naming it or disclosing it's exact location although this spot is no secret by any account. Perhaps this widow-maker of a wave is largely overlooked as it is greatly overshadowed by it's more famous Southern cousin Punta de Lobos. Located in the sleepy coastal town of Pichilemu in Chile's frigid deep South Punta de Lobos is Chile's most famous big wave spot....well for the time being anyway. While there is no doubting that the famed big wave spot of Punta de Lobos is more than capable of handling any of the giant and powerful swell that the Pacific Ocean is more than willing to throw at it I still believe that it is light years behind in regards to sheer heaviness and size of barrels that this Teahupoʻo impersonator dishes up on a regular basis.
Others may argue that El Gringo/Floppos in Arica maybe just as heavy if not heavier than this wave but having experienced both waves first hand up close and personal I believe that El Gringo doesn't quite measure up when you take into consideration the thickness of the lip and unpredictable nature of this wave. You can read all about my time in Arica here.
Well what about the rest of South America? I have recently stumbled apon footage of another big wave spot located in the most Southern depths of Brasil that looks like it has the potential to claim the title of the heaviest wave in South America. However, I do doubt that this wave would have the size and consistency of swell required to break on a regular basis but perhaps this wave could provide me with yet another excuse to return to Brasil for further exploration.
Another dark horse to throw into the mix would be the Galápagos islands. I believe that the Galápagos islands hold limitless big wave potential due to it's direct exposure to extremely large ocean swells and the over abundance of heavy reef breaks in the region. I believe that it is definitely an area worthy of more thorough exploration and I would not be surprised to hear of many new big wave finds from the Galápagos in the near future. Your can read more about my surfing experiences in the Galápagos islands here and here. [Continued below]
My First Hand Encounter with the Beast.
I spent close to a month in this small undisclosed coastal town in a hope that I would score this spot firing so I could capture the raw unforgiving nature of the beast! Unfortunately much of my stay was plagued by bad winds and junky swell conditions. While I still had more than my fair share of fun and pumping days surfing in the region I was yet to luck into a truly epic day worthy of documentation. In the meantime two of my closest friends Chad (Chad Barlow Photography) and Matt had recently flown in from the States to join me for a week of surfing/partying and things were soon to get very crazy indeed.
The immediate surf forecast remained poor so I had all but written off my chances of scoring this amazing wave. Being rather long in the tooth these days I am not one to overly indulge in the party scene but as I had pretty much given up all hope on scoring this spot (a very large swell and heavy onshore winds were predicted for the next day) I fatefully decided that it was time to throw all caution to the wind and let loose with a big night out. Why not? I deserved it! With the throwing in of the towel I proceeded to have one of my biggest and craziest all night benders of my entire two years of my travel through the Latin Americas. I could go into much, much more vivid detail on the extreme levels of drunken debauchery and shenanigans that went down that night but as they say what goes on tour stays on tour and you won't hear a further peep out of me.
I reluctantly forced myself to my feet stupidly early the next morning. Soon I was plagued by a thumping headache and desert dry mouth largely thanks to one or maybe eight Pisco Sours too many. I honestly was not expecting much when I scrambled up to the surf check lookout. Needless to say my jaw instantly hit the floor when my groggy gaze was greeted by a solid tripled overhead swell and perfect glassy conditions. Ha! Would you believe it? Stock standard Murphy's law! I knew that there was a very good chance that the monster had emerged from it's slumber and it could well be firing on all cylinders. I madly scrambled downstairs and attempted to awaken my fellow slumbering and horribly drunk compatriots. Despite five minutes of heavy shaking and loud passionate babbling of empty pumping waves my trusty wing-men were lost to the world. It unfortunately looked like I was doing this one solo. The prospect of swimming one of South America's heaviest waves solo and half drunk was not ideal but I knew it had to be done regardless of my current condition as I knew that I would forever regret blowing this rare opportunity. [Continued below]
I must admit that I came somewhat close to thoroughly crapping inside my wetsuit when I first arrived at the check point. I was to be greeted by thumping barrels almost as thick as they were high and the sets often reaching the triple overhead range. Was I really going to take this highly dangerous wave on solo and half drunk? Hell yeah I was!
Despite the apparent heaviness of this wave it is in fact very user friendly and somewhat accessible for water based surf photography due to the deep channel conveniently located at the end of the wave. Half drunk me figured that as long as the current was not overly strong and I did not get caught out of position then it should be all plain sailing...well in theory anyway. When I tentatively submersed myself into the frigidly cold waters the shock from the cold almost sobered me up instantly. After braving the close to thirty minute long swim I was finally face to face to the wave of my dreams or perhaps my nightmares depending on which way you chose to look at it. [Continued below]
Regardless, it was now far too late to turn back now. I was well and truly awe struck with what I was witnessing with my own eyes erupting right in front of me. As mountains of liquid would slowly march towards me water would begin to rapidly drain off the shallow unforgiving rock-shelf and back out to sea towards the oncoming monster. I sat nervously in the channel in anticipation of the carnage about to unfold. Water would ominously draw off the rock shelf causing the incoming wave to stand up straight and square in the likeness of a large solid impenetrable prison wall. The trough of the wave would almost go dry with the liquid mass sucking well below sea level. This beautiful monster would proceed to trip over itself and then generate a frighteningly thick lip that would throw violently into the flats and detonate. The force of the chunky lip of the wave slamming into the razor sharp barnacle encrusted reef would create an intense white water eruption almost three times the height of the wave itself. The pure unadulterated violent energy of nature. I have witnessed some heavy waves in my life time but this was possibly the heaviest I had witnessed in person alongside macking Supers in Southern NSW, Australia and massive Shark Island. [Continued below]
This is definitely a Teahupoʻo esque wave. What makes this wave all the more dangerous is its highly unpredictable nature. More often than not waves would march in and line up perfectly looking to all the world like it was about to offer up the mostly perfectly make-able barrel section. However, once you had successfully negotiated the acid drop and somehow managed to set a clean line through the first heaving barrel section you would then find yourself at the mercy of the gods. Would the gods choose in your favour and allow you to make it through the final surging, wedging and almost dry end section? If luck was with you then you would most likely thread your way through one of the best and heaviest barrels of your life before flying into the safety of the channel to claim your glory. Yet if the gods did not hold you in their favour then you would most likely face the harsh realities of one of the worst wipe-outs of your life. The ruthless end section would shut down, slamming and dragging you unmercifully across sharp unflinching reef. This end section is ridiculously unpredictable to say the least and I feel for anyone who has the misfortune of being eaten alive at the last moment straight after you have skillfully negotiated your way through one of the heaviest barrel sections of your life. Life can be horribly unfair sometimes.
Nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. Welcome to cold unforgiving and unflinching Chile. This can be the reality of the situation when you are brave or perhaps crazy enough to challenge this wave in a round of Russian roulette. Careful wave selection is definitely a must here.
For the next two hours I found myself bobbing alone in freezing Chilean waters witnessing monster apon monster marching in and destroying themselves on this razor sharp rock ledge from the relative safety of the channel. I captured images of the glassy beast solo for three hours straight before I returned to the safety of the shore relatively unscathed and super pumped on what I had witnessed this amazing day. This was one of those days in your life that you will never forget. These are the best days of our lives! [Continued below]
The conditions were absolutely perfect on this amazing day and the only thing that was missing was fearless gladiators challenging the beast while I captured all of the carnage but I hope the Chris Garden's images help to paint a thorough picture for you. But is this really the heaviest wave in South America? Well until I witness something to the contrary I firmly believe so. While there where many sets in the triple overhead range this day I would love to see this wave breaking at a solid four-five times overhead to gain a true glimpse as to what this demon wave is truly capable of. I firmly believe that the Chilean Teahupoʻo could rank up there among some of the heaviest waves on the face of the planet today and I would not be surprised to see this wave emerge in the public eye for big wave surfing in the near future. Big wave surfing in Chile is well and truly primed to make it's mark on the wold stage at any moment now, just mark my words! Are you ready to tame the beast?