I didn’t intend to return so soon South America. Only 8 months prior Donna and I had kicked off the Radical Sabbatical by spending a month in Argentina and then I spent 2 weeks in Chile visiting my cousin and chasing surf and snow while Donna went to Shanghai to brush up on her Mandarin. My short time in Chile was awesome and I knew I’d return someday, but I never would’ve guessed how quickly this vague resolve would actually happen. The impetus was that one morning, while I was at Donna’s house in Fontainebleau after coming back from The Alps, I received a call from my college friend Brant Chlebowski. He told me he was heading to Chile for a weeklong surf trip followed by another week in Rapa Nui (aka Easter Island), where his Chilean friend Patricio del Sol, whom I also vaguely knew from UCSD computer science days, would be getting married. Brant wanted me to come along on the surf trip and be his +1 at the Rapa Nui wedding. After an initial hesitation that was extinguished by Brant sending me a YouTube link of a live performance of Bob Marley’s Wake Up and Live, I pulled the trigger. It was a gooooood decision!
Traveling with Brant meant this would be a proper surf trip. Yes, there was a wedding to attend in Rapa Nui that would certainly be good times, but we were really excited to surf long Chilean left-hand pointbreaks and sample the raw power of Rapa Nui. My previous trip to Chile left me with good foundation of surf knowledge that I hoped to translate on this trip into exploring more locations while connecting with better swell and conditions during the Chilean autumn. I had learned on my previous trip to Chile that March, April & May is often the best time for surf in the country, so although it felt weird heading back to Chile after only having been there 6 months prior, it also felt like the smart move for scoring good surf. And then there was the utter unknown beckoning me to go to Rapa Nui. I feel like Rapa Nui, with its mythical monoliths and intriguing history, is one of those locations that most people would like to visit, but never end up actually making the trip to. It’s “on the list” but then other places take precedence. In-the-know surfers are further intrigued by photos of Hawaiian style juice meeting amazing – and obviously dangerous – lava rock reefs and points, epitomized by videos you can find on the Internet of the likes of Laird Hamilton, Kohl Christenson and Ramon Navarro scoring amazing waves. Surfline has a “Best Bet” from May 2013 with some good info and photos. The funny thing is that for me was a friend-of-a-friend’s wedding that nudged me into this epic surf trip!
Brant and I quickly found our rhythm. We met each other at the airport in Dallas over beers and then got on the plane to Santiago. Once in Santiago we headed to the Wicked Campervan rental lot and were dialed into “Elvis”, which would be our wheels and home for the next week. For ~$90 per day we’d procured a Mitsubishi L300 converted into a campervan, provisioned for adventure and topped-off with obnoxious paintings of Elvis all over both sides. This would ensure that every Chilean local would know we were foreigners, not exactly what you want when trying to discreetly surf amazing waves! Elvis is what the van Donna and I rented in New Zealand should’ve been: so much bigger on the inside that all of our surfboards, 7 in total, would fit inside while on the road and so that two grown men could both sleep inside without being too close for comfort.
As soon as we had our wheels we hit the road for Pichilemu and arrived in time for an evening session at Punta Lobos. There wasn’t much swell, but the waves were fun and I could already see that the sand was much better than when I was there the previous September. Back then the only part of Punta Lobos that was working was the Diamonte section on the inside of the points, but on this day the waves were breaking much closer to Los Morros, the two iconic hump-shaped rocks at the top of the point, in the Mirador section. We stayed in a hostel that evening (not yet ready to commit to van life, I guess) and got a little bit of a late start on the road the next day.
Surfers, it’s worth it to check out this Surfline Spot Check on Punta Lobos, narrated by none other than Ramon Navarro.
The plan all along was to head south of Pichilemu to the Promised Land of Chilean surfing. This is what I love most about surf trips: the adventure of exploration and reward that constitutes searching for, finding and surfing awesome new locations. In order to respect the Chilean locals of the Promised Land – and to not ruin the sense of adventure for those who want to live it as much as possible themselves – I’m not going to use any actual place or wave names in my writing here. This blog post is, after-all, bound for the Internet at large. Maybe I’ll drop a clue here an there for fun, but I definitely don’t want to be “that guy” who puts up photos of waves and then spells out exactly what they are called and where they are. In some respects I imagine Chile being a little like California was 50 years ago and we should try to preserve it that way for as long as possible. If you really want some info, you can give me a call, but don’t plan on met telling you any good info unless you already have a plane ticket booked!
The first spot we found I’ll call Penis. When Brant and I surfed it late during the afternoon of our second day after a few hours on the road we were the only ones out. The waves were fun (nothing epic by the standards to come) but we were frothing so hard on the session we surfed into the dark. On my last wave it was basically dark and I somehow managed to get axed by the lip and blown-up by the impact. I kneed myself in the nose pretty hard, and double-buckled my brand new 5’6” Hypto Crypto! What a bummer, this board was made for fast, powerful pointbreaks and it was gone on the second day of my trip to Chile! I’m now skeptical that Hayden’s “Future Flex” technology really results in any kind of “stronger” board.
After the session we had some bomb empanadas right by the where we surfed and then continued south in the night. We ended up campeing off on the side of the road after another hour or so of driving. Our first night of man-cramming into Elvis also resulted in the consumption of half a bottle of pisco and two good friends catching up on life. Good times.
For the next 4 days we hung out in the Promised Land and surfed 4 different pointbreaks. Sometimes we were the only ones out! The swell was not big, ranging from 2-3m of 14 to 16s energy, but this was more than enough for plenty of pointbreak fun. We roadside camped at first but eventually found a paid campground with bathrooms right by a point that seemed to have better sand and pick up more swell than the other spots.
My memory of the days down south kinda blend together and consisted of the usual camp/surf routine. We’d wake up and always make coffee first thing. Then check the surf. Then we’d make some breakfast, usually eggs with bread, to get fueled up for the surf session. Then we’d surf for 2 or 3 hours. Then we’d recharge the batteries with some lunch and then drive around checking more surf spots in order to nail down where we’d surf the afternoon session. Perhaps at some point we’d need to run an errand or two, which pretty much was either picking up more beer & food at the grocery store or fueling up the van. Then we’d surf the afternoon/evening session. We’d make some kind of dinner, usually pasta and drinks some Chilean red wine or beer. Exhaustion would lead to an early crash out in the van. Rinse and repeat the next day. This is the stuff real surf trips are made of!
Eventually we had to start making our way north in order to get back to Santiago for the flight to Rapa Nui. On the way through we did have a good session at Punta Lobos, it was breaking at the Morros and both Brant and I got some long rides and did a few laps. This was our first experience with the complicated and sketchy process of paddling out at Lobos when its bigger: you have to jump off the tip of the rocks, which means perfectly timing your dash and leap so as not to get smashed into reef by the incoming waves.
We ended up staying at a hostel for one evening in Santiago because our Rapa Nui flight left early the next morning. We checked out the bar scene in the Avenida Italia district on a random Tuesday night and it was pretty dead. Our alarms went off at like 5am and we made our way to the airport. Rapa Nui awaited…
[fast forward to after Brant and I returned from Rapa Nui, 3-weeks later… Brant had 2 more days and we went to go surf some more. I’m including these couple of days in this blog post because they take place back in Chile with Brant.]
We got back from Rapa Nui and wasted no time renting a car so we could go on a mini road trip to score a few more waves before Brant had to leave Chile for good two days later. The leftovers of the same swell we’d surfed in Rapa Nui were lingering around and we hoped to get the last of ‘em. We managed to rent a burley Dodge Durango right from the airport and stayed in the Bellavista Hostel in Santiago that night, which is a spot I’d recommend because the Bellavista neighborhood is probably the spot to stay in Santiago.
Early the next morning we hit the road and went to check on a wave somewhere north of Pichilemu that I’d surfed on my previous trip to Chile (again, see Surf and Snow in Chile). The wind was up in a bad way and the swell was probably too small for the wave anyway, so we drove a bit south to a well known but somewhat hard to find pointbreak also north of Pichilemu. The locals in this area smartly deface the signs and even swap them out to send gringos like us on wild goose chases on dirt roads through the forest, and we definitely took some wrong turns before we found what we were looking for!
It was late on a Sunday afternoon and most of the Santiago weekend warriors had packed it up to head back to Santiago for the work week, so the wave was relatively un-crowded and still showing good 6-8’ sets every 15 minutes or so; these were the leftovers of the big swell we’d seen in Rapa Nui. I surfed Brant’s 7’2” as a single-fin and it was a great call. My second wave was a proper set and I took it all the way to the beach. I measured the length of the ride on Google Earth and I estimate it was about 700 meters!
Even though the sun had already set, I ran back to the top of the point and paddled out again. It was pretty much dark by the time I got into position to wait for a set. It got dark and I turned to paddle in and only to behold a most beautiful sight: on this clear night the full moon was just beginning to rise over the mountains directly behind the wave. The moon was bright and as it rose to higher to become fully visible the whole night seemed to glow. I knew that catching a wave would be no problem now, especially since the moon was directly down the line of the wave and would illuminate the wave face perfectly as I surfed. I waited and waited and eventually another set came. The drop would be the hardest part in the dark, but the bigger board served me well and I stroked in and rode one of the most unique and mystical waves of my life, again taking it all the way to the beach. The combination of a single fin, the full moon illuminating the wave, and the fact that the wave itself was an overhead, reeling and very long Chilean left in glassy conditions was surreal!
I came back to the beach to find Brant jumping up and down to stay warm by the car; I’d had the key to the Durango and he’d gotten out before the moon rose. I was frothing from my moonlit night wave and told him we had to get back out there for a night session. So we paddled back out, the full moon subtly illuminating our session for another 45 minutes!
We stayed in the nearby town and the next morning went back to the point. The swell had dropped considerably, but the waves looked super fun for a longboard session. Fortunately there’s a surf shack that rents boards and they had some logs for Brant and I. There was a friendly local hanging out named Filipe who used my camera to take photos and videos of Brant and I while we surfed, then I came in, traded the board for the camera and took some photos myself. It was a super fun mid-morning session and the day was gorgeous, a great way for Brant to end his trip.
Brant left Chile on Monday, May 4. We cruised from the coast back to the Bellavista Hostel in Santiago and got cleaned up, then went for dinner at Uncle Fletch’s, which was conveniently right next door to the hostel. The burgers we had were top notch, the recommendation from to go there Sam was spot-on: Uncle Fletch’s probably has the best burgers in Santiago. Also Brant was stoked that Felipe, Pato’s brother, cruised by and had a beer with us before he had to go. It was a good send off. I drove Brant to the airport and we killed some time having a pisco sours before he had to head through security to his gate. It was a great trip, a 2-weeker that turned into a month and we were both very stoked. As we said goodbye I remembered the e-mail from Brant that included a link to Marley’s Wake up and Live, an e-mail that had ultimately led me to pull the trigger on buying my plane tickets. My last words to Brant were: “We lived”; indeed we had.