The frigid Pacific Coast of the South American Nation of Chile is well and truly blessed with an over abundance of world class surf spots that constantly attract some of the biggest and most consistent swells on the planet. Despite these more than favourable attributes Chile is still not near the top of the wish lists of many traveling surfers who prefer to play it safe and stick to the tried and tested mainstream tropical surf destinations such as Hawaii, Indonesian, Tahiti and the likes of Fiji. However, those surfers who choose to go against the grain and brave Chile's cold waters will most likely be rewarded with some of the best waves of their lives. I for one was hoping to achieve just that during my visit to this beautiful country but unfortunately things did not quite pan out as planned. [Continued below]
Well over 18 months ago my original journey to the Latin Americas begun. Having quit my job and sold all of my earthly possessions I eagerly set off for a five week surfing vacation, my maiden journey to surf the icy waters of Southern Chile. This trip was to be a quick surfing adventure before I was to commence my role as a volunteer worker at the children's refuge Mision Mexico in the Southern Mexican state of Chiapas.
Well, well south of the Capital of Santiago lies a string of some of the most perfect sand bottomed point breaks which you will ever lay your eyes apon. Between May to October of every year the beautifully rugged and raw coastline of Chile experiences a constant onslaught of large perfect and extremely powerful 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 boasting not only the heavy slabbing reefs in the North in the towns or Arica and Iquique but also the perfect point-breaks located in the South....the later being exactly where I was headed. [Continued below]
After the long haul fourteen hour flight from Sydney to Santiago backed up by a ten hour bus journey south for good measure I was to find myself standing alone in the dark in a small plaza of a random coastal Chilean town at midnight. Not exactly the perfect start to my first day in South America as I had already broken half of my safe travel rules in less than a day. I had been waiting there nervously alone and freezing in the dark for neigh on thirty minutes for my somewhat unreliable Australian friend to arrive. I think my friend had been in South America far to long and was now overly accustomed to running on South American time. Or perhaps... had I not followed his directions properly and had I mistakenly disembarked the bus at the wrong stop? I sure as hell hope not but it was possible as half of the journey was in complete darkness. Fortunately for me my overly laid-back Australian friend was to arrive moments later and he was easily able to brush off my anger regarding his lateness with promises of perfectly groomed swells already on the way for the next day. [Continued below]
True to his word the next day I was greeted to perfectly peeling 4-6ft swell lines reeling off a rocky headland and down a sandy beach for a couple of hundred meters. Remember always seeing those perfect setups in the surfing magazines where the waves almost seem to dream like and perfect to be true? Well this is one of those places.
For literally the next seven days straight I was to surf a range of spots all breaking in very similair conditions. There is a vast host of perfect point breaks hidden here all in very close proximity of each other. These spots all work on a different range of swells sizes so you can almost always find yourself a half decent wave as long as there is some sort of swell running. The breaks here range from more mellow fat rolling waves all the way to world class super fast top to bottom barrels. There is virtually a wave for everyone here.
While the waves in the South of Chile can be truly world class I have to leave a word of warning here as this region is home to some of the most territorial and protective crew of local surfers I have encountered on my travels to date and not without due cause. This hard core local crew often view most outsiders with mistrust and suspicion fearing that these blow-ins may in fact blow the lid on the location of these amazing waves and attract the prying eyes of the outside surfing world. Send-ins, threats of beat downs and car vandalism are not out of place here....think Johnny Utah and Point Break styles. However, with a relaxed, friendly and respectful attitude it is possible to gradually earn the trust of the locals. Paddle out and sit at the end of the line-up, wait your turn without being overly aggressive or hassling for waves and you just might go under the radar with the locals treating you with reluctant tolerance. Follow this advice and then you just might luck into some decent waves hassle free. Do not and I repeat do not turn up to the main spots here with your camera in tow. All of my photos here were taken with my Gopro at one of the more low key uncrowded spots so I did not really have any issues.
The protective locals here strive to the keep the location of these quality waves under wraps and fair enough as it is all to common in this day and age for secret spots to be blown-out by the surfing media. Taking this high level of protectiveness into account I was somewhat bemused when one of the more "hardcore" locals in the area happily welcome Ozzie Wright and a traveling Volcom contingent to surf and document the waves in one of Volcom's best surfing video releases in modern memory. If this is not a recipe for instant crowds then I do not know what is. Apparently the word is that following the release of this video to the public domain the situation in the water has become more tense as there has been an influx of traveling surfers all searching for the perfect waves seen in the Volcom vid and have thus been butting heads with the local surfers here. [Continued below]
I scored some great waves during my initial stay in Southern Chile but unfortunately on my tenth day disaster was to strike and cut my travels short. When taking a late drop on a double overhead wave I hyper extended my left arm while dragging my inside hand in the face of the wave and moments before wiping out I heard a loud ominous snap and felt a massive pain shoot through my arm. When I surfaced I knew something was horribly wrong as my arm was not functioning properly. Once I had somehow painfully scrambled ashore and with the assistance of my friend I peeled off my icy cold wetsuit to be greeted by the sight of my bicep muscle sitting awkwardly high up my arm just below my shoulder. I looked liked f@%king Pop-eye! F@%K! F@%K! F@@@@@%%%%K!!!!! Not good, not good at all.
I was forced to return to Santiago to get it checked out. After frustratingly enduring a number of misdiagnosis an ultra sound was able to determined that I had in fact completely snapped my bicep tendon from the bone and needed to return to Australia immediately for emergency surgery. This was the last thing I wanted to hear ten days into my two year journey, my planned trip of a life time for where I had put my life on hold and sold all of my belongings for this opportunity. Oh the irony of it all.
It was a long emotional flight back to Sydney and I had far to much time on my hands to think about things that I did not want to think about. But as they say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger and although it was probably one of the most frustrating and difficult times of my life I was fortunate enough to have my operation and loss of salary covered by insurance. After some intensive rehabilitation I soon found myself finally volunteering at Mision Mexico just five months later. So as they say all is well that ends well.
So what were my thoughts on Chile? Well wave wise you cannot fault it as this area definitely dishes up world class waves on a regular basis during it's peak season. Head to the South of Chile and you might just get some of the best waves of your life although the locals may not make it easy for you. However, if you cop the aggro on the chin, turn the other cheek and keep a low profile you will may sneakily luck into your fair share of barrels.
Culture wise, well I did not find the Chileans I encountered on this journey to be the most friendliest of people especially when compared to the rest of the Latin Americas which came as a big shock to me as all the Chileans I have met outside of Chile have been amazing people. I found many Chileans to be reserved, standoff-ish and not overly friendly but saying that I still did meet some amazing people here.
It is a truly beauty country flanked by the Pacific Coast on one side and the ruggedly beautiful Andes mountain ranges on the other. Chile would be one of the few places in the world where you could surf in the morning and hit the ski slopes in the afternoon if you so wished. Chile currently is one of the most prosperous countries in South America due to it's abundance of natural resources and the Western Capitalist mindset of the current Government. It is one of the most expensive countries in the Latin Americas and also one of the safest although petty theft can be very common in some places.
While the two weeks I had spent there may not of been long enough to form a truly informed opinion I do however hope than my opinion will change when I return to the North of Chile later in the year to chase the heavy waves of Arica and Iquique.