Located over 900 kilometers off the coast of Ecuador lies the ruggedly beautiful isolated islands of the Galápagos. While this region is typically most famed for raw beauty, vast abundance of unique wildlife and the key inspiration for the development Charles Darwin's theory of Evolution; the survival of the fittest but what many do not realise is that these world renown islands are in fact home to some of the best and heaviest waves in Ecuador. Some have even gone as far as to proclaim the Galápagos the Hawaii of South America and not without due reason as one merely needs to quickly glance at the position of the Galápagos islands on the world map to deduce that the islands sit in a prime location for swell. Despite this highly favourable location the Galápagos islands still does not feature highly on the wish lists of many nomadic surfers with possible reasons attributed towards the high travel costs associated with visiting the islands as well as the somewhat volatile and highly unpredictable nature of the surf conditions in the this region. [Continued below]
Well over a year ago when I first commenced my travels through the Latin Americas I soon heard whispers of world class waves located in the Galapagos and some thorough interent research was quick to confirm their potential. So right then and there I vowed that I would do whatever possible to ensure that I visited these famed islands at some point during my travels. Fast forward 18 months and I found myself in Quito, the Capital of Ecuador. While plotting my plan of attack for the exploration of this small yet vibrant South American country I stumbled across a quickfire flight sale offering up return flights to the Galápagos for a somewhat respectable sum of $350 USD. The decision was a no brainer as these low airfares had virtually made the decision for me and true to my word a week later I found myself flying into the key Galápagos surf island of San Cristóbal. [Continued below]
San Cristóbal is regarded as the surfing capital of the Galápagos and it is well positioned to receive both the large North and South ocean swells that frequent the region. The island offers up a good variety of great surf spots all with close proximity to the harbour town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. I can happily vouch for the fact that at least two of these waves are truly world class. I spent over five weeks in San Cristóbal and I was fortunate to experience the magic of the Galápagos for two months in total . I scored great waves at a variety of spots including a truly epic session at one of the most notorious waves in the Galápagos (pictured).
The waves on this incredible day were double overhead in size, experiencing perfectly groomed offshore winds and there were even set waves tipping the scales in the triple overhead range. This session will most likely be heavily ingrained in my memory banks for the rest of my days. It was a truly unbelievable session witnessing these flawless lines of swell surge and slab unforgivingly on the outside section before briefly shouldering off and then aggressively heaving yet again on the inside section before coming to a spectacular end when completely spitting their guts out. It was a very raw and highly unforgiving wave especially as far as water photography is concerned as I copped more than my far share of triple overhead barrels directly on the head while I helplessly flailed over raw jagged volcanic reef in barely shoulder deep water. Definitely in the bad things category! Oh and don't get me started on the swim in and out as I found out first hand why very few people shoot from the water here when the swell really kicks in. I had traveled specifically to the Galápagos to document this particular wave and I was well and truly blessed to score such a flawless solid swell while I was there. While I lucked into some great waves during my stay I never scored another day remotely near this level of size and perfection again.
While the Galapagos experiences an over abundance of swell and has no shortage of quality breaks to choose from it at times can be a rather fickle in regards to scoring the truly perfect days. With most islands here being very small and narrow they tend to experience volatile and often unpredictable wind conditions which can change rapidly without notice. These unpredictable wind conditions unfortunately can commonly result in cross-shore wind conditions. These unpredictable conditions could be another key factor as to why this region often gets overlooked by traveling surfers who may opt for somewhere where they are more likely to experience perfect conditions on a more regular basis. [Continued below]
While visiting Santa Cruz island I lucked into some fun waves at the jaw droppingly beautiful white sand beach of Tortuga Bay but a charter boat was required to gain proper access the waves of real quality on this island....and believe me there are a number of great spots here. If you do visit Santa Cruz then please get in contact with surf guide Nicolas Andrade (firstname.lastname@example.org) as he is your man to get you to the best spots with his charter boat and excellent local knowledge.
Unfortunately when I visited Isabela Island I experienced heavy onshore winds during my entire stay and apart from a very short session on one of the nearby beach breaks I was pretty much skunked. However, it only took a quick visit to a nearby vantage point to gain a glimpse of the true surf potential on Isabela island as countless reefs and point breaks lined the horizon south of the local village....but again boat access is essential here. [Continued below]
I firmly believe that the surf potential of the Galápagos is truly limitless. The region consists of over 18 major islands (only four of which are inhabited) and these stunning islands are littered with numerous reef slabs, point breaks and beach breaks. Most islands attract swells from both the North and South directions which means there is no shortage of waves all year round. If I could liken the surfing conditions here to anywhere in the world I would say that the Galápagos is very similair in style, size and atmosphere to the waves found in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. Lack of swell or surf spot variety is not a problem here but ease of access as mentioned previously is.
Outside of the key spots on San Cristóbal and beach breaks of Santa Cruz and Isabela all other spots require boat access. While it may be possible to charter a boat to access nearby spots on the inhabited islands almost all of the other islands hold completely unexplored coastlines surf wise. I was in fact fortunate to take part in a boat trip to a surf spot on Santa Cruz island that had been discovered less than one year ago. While surf related tourism is relatively undeveloped within the Galápagos it may not stay this way for long as within the past year a surf charter tour has been officially trialed in regards to it's environmental sustainability as well as profitability potential. So we could well see surf charters operating within the Galápagos in the near future. How epic would that be? Imagine going on a cruise in the Galápagos where you get to explore the beauty and wonders of the natural Galápagos environment by swimming with sea turtles, sea lions and sharks one minute and then getting shacked out of your brains the next. [Continued below]
Not surprisingly given the quality of the surf in the Galápagos there is a very strong and thriving surf scene on the islands. With the Galápagos recently hosting it's first ever surf contest as a part of the National Pro Surf tour in Ecuador at Tortuga Bay things definitely look bright for the surfers inhabiting these isolated islands. While the surf scene on the islands is still relatively young the majority of surfers here are highly passionate, chilled and very friendly. The locals all surf to a decent level with young surfers of Michael Ballesteros, Juan Pablo Gerrero and bodyboarder Jerrico Rosero being key talent to look out for in the future.
At most spots you will rarely witness more than 15 people in the water so there is usually more than enough waves to go around. However, if there are a large crew of wave hungry surfers vising from the mainland things tend to get much, much more competitive in the water unfortunately. If heavy reef slabs aren't really your thing then the Galápagos also has a decent selection of different wave types to choose from ranging from world class reef slabs, to more mellow point breaks and all the way down to fun playful beach breaks. [Continued below]
For myself personally one of the major highlights of visiting the Galápagos islands for surfing was not actually the surfing itself (although obviously the surf was pretty epic at times) but the major highlight for me was experiencing the beautifully unique natural environment that exists here. Quite frankly there is no where else remotely like the Galápagos on the planet. From the raw, rugged and desolate Mars like volcanic landscapes of the islands to the over abundance of truly unique animals such as marine iguanas, giant tortoises, sharks, seas lions, marine turtles and the magnitudes of unique bird life. The unique animals here have virtually have next to no fear of mankind. The Galápagos is jaw droppingly beautiful and almost everywhere you look will take your breath away. So please come to the Galápagos region for this unique natural environment alone and then scoring great waves will just be an added bonus.
There is no shortage of flat day activities here. When the waves were bad I would happily keep myself entertained for hours by snorkeling with magnitudes of friendly sea lions, sea turtles, sharks and a host of numerous other sea animals. Alternatively I would stick to the land by taking a hike to explore the stunning coastlines or gorgeous highlands regions. Please if you visit the Galápagos make the most of this once in a life time experience and please ensure that your trip is not solely for surfing as you might just miss out on the many wonders that the Galápagos has to offer. [Continued below]
I strongly believe that we have only just scrapped the surface of the surf potential of the Galápagos islands and it must be one the few truly uncharted surf regions left on the planet. Given the prime location of the Galápagos for large swells and over abundance of reef outcrops, points and beaches there must still be countless world class waves out there just waiting to be discovered. Perhaps when Darwin first developed his theory of evolution and the concept of the survival of the fittest he in fact had one eye on the ocean and the raw power of the Galápagos surf. So why not come and experience the magic of the Galápagos first and I guarantee that you will experience the trip of a lifetime!