Monthly Archives: November 2015

Chile Redux Part 2: Solo Road Tripping

Brant and I left Rapa Nui and spent 3 more days chasing surf together in Chile. I chronicled what we found in my previous Chile post, Chile Redux, Part 1. After I dropped Brant off at the airport, I was scheduled to have only a few days left in Chile myself…

At this point it was Monday and my flight from Santiago back to San Francisco was that Friday evening.   My plan was to spend the rest of my time in Reñaca catching up with my Dutch cousin Matti – remember her from my time in Chile back in 2014, which I wrote about in a post called Welcome to Chile. I had returned the Dodge Durango when I dropped Brant off at the airport so I was now cruising via public transport, but this isn’t so bad in Chile as Santiago has a good subway system and the intercity buses are cheap and very comfortable. The plan was to hang with Matti and her husband Berner for a few days, surf the beach at Reñaca and then fly back to SF that Friday.

By late Monday afternoon I made it to Reñaca and met up with Matti at her apartment. She had some good news for me: her restaurant was open and doing well, plus she had adopted several new pets: 2 cats and a dog. Matti is an animal lover. When she first arrived in Chile she spent some time working at an animal shelter so it is no surprise that her pets are adopted off the street. The dog’s name is Bella and she looks kind of like an Australian shepherd mut of sorts. Bella has the best temperament of any dog I’ve met.   She never barks and is very chill, actively seeking to avoid confrontation with other street dogs when I took her for neighborhood walks. She must’ve learned these conflict resolution skills from her tough days as a stray! The first of her two cats is a female tabby named Jules. Of course, and unknown to Matti although Berner had his suspicions, Jules was pregnant when Matti adopted her off the street. Matti kept the single surviving kitten, a jet black cutie named Billy. I affectionately named her 3 pets, whom eagerly await her every arrival to the apartment, “The Farm”. And a further update as I write this in June: much to Berner’s chagrin, it turns out that Bella was also pregnant when Matti adopted her off the street. Bella had a puppy named Sami and now The Farm consists of two dogs and two cats… Matti is happy, Berner was right and The Farm gets bigger!

Matti and me with Bella

Matti and me with Bella

Jules and Billy

Jules and Billy

Sami, Bella's pup and the newest addition to the Farm who wasn't born yet while I was visiting Matti

Sami, Bella’s pup and the newest addition to the Farm who wasn’t born yet while I was visiting Matti

 

The last time I visited Reñaca, Matti and her husband, Berner, were in the midst of creating Matti, the sandwicheria that is named after my cousin. Now the restaurant is open and serves delicious gourmet sandwiches, salads and deserts. The shop is small because the restaurant is to-go only but everything is top notch quality and very tasty. Matti has several employees working for her and her Spanish has improved even more since last time I was in Chile; she is now truly fluent in Spanish. Matti and Berner came to the concept of quality, to-go food by studying the market in Santiago and the business model seems to work well in affluent, beach-side Reñaca. They have plans to create more Matti Sandwicherias in other locations, including Santiago. Meanwhile, the restaurant that Berner and his family own, Delirio, also continues to be lively and do well. I’m very proud of my cousin!

Matti working in the kitchen of her sandwicheria

Matti working in the kitchen of her sandwicheria

Matti Delivery, Renaca, Vina del Mar, Chile

Matti Delivery, Renaca, Vina del Mar, Chile.  Delirio, Berner’s restaurant. is the adjacent building in the background.

 

Matti and Berner had to work much of the time I was there, but that was no problem as I just spent time surfing the Reñaca beachbreak. There wasn’t much swell, but Reñaca was still pretty fun for groveling and catching a bunch of short rides with other groms. Of course I checked the surf forecast constantly, and by midweek it was clear that there was about to be a long run of good swell for Chile. I started having doubts about flying back to California that Friday…

Back along the boardwalk in Renaca

Back along the boardwalk in Renaca

renaca beachbreak

The beachbreak at Renaca never was really good for the few days I surfed it, but I still had fun schralping the small, fast waves with the groms.

 

The big decision I had to make was whether or not to fly back to San Francisco given I had a job interview with a solar financing marketplace lender scheduled for the following week. The job opportunity came to me without me really looking for it thanks to a friend’s recommendation. The job itself was as a product manager, a perfect blend of my technical and finance skills, and a direction I thought I might want to move my career once I was ready to restart. Plus the company was growing fast and working towards the environmentally noble goal of bringing solar energy to more households across America. However, there was a big question I needed to answer: was I ready to start working again in Oakland, given Donna and I still had plans to move to Singapore together while she finished up the second half of INSEAD? I spent many hours talking to Donna, my dad and my stepdad about what I should do. I was surprised when both my dad and stepdad gave me the same seemingly irresponsible advice: stick with your lady, keep the sabbatical going and find a job later. I took their advice, cancelled the interview entirely (after I had previously pushed it back 2 weeks to stay in Rapa Nui) and extended my return ticket another 2 weeks. The bonus of my irresponsible choice to pursue life instead of career for the time being: I would be scoring more Chilean pointbreak surf!

The plan was a repeat of what Brant and I did, head to the Promised Land, but this time I’d be solo. I rented a Wicked Campervan, this time instead of Elvis I got “Vansky”. I drove to Pichilemu, where I knew from Instagram that my friend Kyle Thiermann would be. My first night there I slept in the van in the parking lot at Punta Lobos and the next morning the surf was good. I found Kyle in the lineup while surfing, the most awesome way to meet up with a surfer friend in a far away destination! Kyle is a professional surfer and personality behind Surfing for Change, a non-profit that aims to spread the message of environmental activism through surfing media.   Recently Kyle has decided he wants to be a big-waves surfer and so he was in Chile to tackle the juice at Punta Lobos. His main sponsor is Patagonia, and thus while in Chile he was hanging out with other Patagonia sponsored surfers including Ben Wilkinson and the surf jefe of Chile, Ramon Navarro. After the session I cruised with Kyle, Ben and a few others back to a beautiful house with an amazing view of Punta Lobos where they were staying. We had a good lunch and watched as a new swell filled in and Punta Lobos grew in size.

Vansky, my transport and home for the next week and half

Vansky, my transport and home for the next week and half

The back of Vansky. The Spanish says "Honk your horn if you made love last night" ... now it makes sense why I kept getting honked at by passing cars!

The back of Vansky. The Spanish says “Honk your horn if you made love last night” … now it makes sense why I kept getting honked at by passing cars!

Punta Lobos with a solid swell filling in

Punta Lobos with a solid swell filling in

I snapped this photo of Kyle, Ben and the crew while we were eating lunch together. From Kyle's Instagram account.

I snapped this photo of Kyle (rightmost dude), Ben Wilkinson (next to Kyle) and the crew while we were eating lunch together. From Kyle’s Instagram account.

Shortly after lunch Ben and Kyle were frothing to get back out into the water. The waves were now 20 foot plus on the faces with good shape: this is what they came for and I felt like charging too.  I drove Vansky to the point but somehow lost the crew as they prepped for battle. I was on my own.   I cruised over to the Los Morros and plotted how to paddle out.

In my previous post I mentioned that Mataveri on Rapa Nui had the most difficult exit of any wave I’d surfed and big Punta Lobos the most difficult. Even when Brant and I had surfed Lobos at half the size it was kinda sketchy. I had learned previously through observation of the locals that the preferred way to get out at Lobos is to jump off the very tip of the outside morro, timing your jump to be during a lull, lest a wave come and smash you into the rocks behind the jump-off spot.   What I didn’t realize is that this is really the only way to get out once Lobos gets much bigger than about 15 foot. For my first attempt to get out I tried the “cheater” way of getting out by jumping off the inside part of the second rock. This route is much safer because if a wave hits you, you won’t wash into rocks. It works when Lobos is medium sized, but as I learned when Lobos is big, like it was this day, the sweep of waves down the point can be too strong to allow a paddler to make it to clean water. I jumped off this cheater section and paddled my ass off for 15 minutes only to be swept over a mile down the vast point without every being able to get past breaking waves. I made it to the beach a good quarter mile from the point itself and spent 20 minutes walking back to the top of the point. I decided to try again at the same spot, still lacking the courage to jump off from the riskier but correct spot. On my second attempt I managed to make it to clean water, but only after I’d been dragged two-thirds the way down the point. It was another 20+ minute paddle back up the point. Once I was out there I caught 2 waves and then the sun went down. It was a humbling experience, but I learned.   I also learned that Kyle, Ben and the other pros had all taken jet skis out to the lineup!

Bigger afternoon surf!

Bigger afternoon surf!

Los Morros. Getting in requires swimming across the channel to the left and getting up on the ledge, then jumping off the backside tip of the Morro to the right

Los Morros. Getting in requires swimming across the channel to the left and getting up on the ledge, then jumping off the backside tip of the Morro to the right

Surfers getting ready to swim across the channel. This gives a better perspective of what's it's like!

Surfers getting ready to swim across the channel. This gives a better perspective of what’s it’s like!  Those are big waves breaking beyond Los Morros.

 

That evening I hung out with Kyle and his crew. We had a pizza dinner and I was invited to stay in the nice house with them, so I didn’t have to sleep in Vansky. They were up the next morning, keen for more big wave surfing.

The house had a rather nice view of Punta Lobos, don't you think?

The house had a rather nice view of Punta Lobos, don’t you think?

Posing with an alaia that I found in the house. I've always wanted to try surfing one of these.

Posing with an alaia that I found in the house. I’ve always wanted to try surfing one of these.

Ben Wilkinson's asymmetrical gun. I saw him crack some serious off the lip turns on this thing in 20 foot surf.

Ben Wilkinson’s asymmetrical gun. I saw him crack some serious off the lip turns on this thing in 20 foot surf.

 

I rose with them and drove with Kyle in Vansky to the point. The waves were even bigger and the conditions even better, very clean. I snapped a few photos and got ready. Ben Wilkinson was the first one out. Kyle was right behind him. They both quickly and deftly climbed down the cliff, paddled across to Los Morros, clambered to the outside morro, waited briefly for a lull and made the jump into the water, both of them making it out quickly and cleanly.   The tide was low now, which was making things easier, at least compared to the previous afternoon, but it was still a harrowing experience. I made my way out to Los Morros and began to wait for a lull. A few other surfers with 10 foot boards joined me to wait for their window of opportunity. Mistakes were made.   I saw one guy too exposed when a set came and he got swept off his feet by the rush of whitewater over the rocks and flushed into the crack between the two Morros where his leash got tangled around a rock and he was stuck for about 30 seconds, getting pounded by waves and unable to get free. Eventually his leash came free and he was instantly swept away, gone down the point. Another guy got swept into the same crack but at least avoided the leash entanglement.   The procedure resembled the game Mario Brothers: the surfers, behaving Mario or Luigi while trying to jump across perilous obstacles, would creep and then run forward when they thought they saw a calming in the waves and either commit to the jump or rush backward to safety on a higher part of the rocks when they realized waves were coming and making the jump into the water would be a bad idea. A few guys successfully made it out. I played it super safe, and spent a long time on that rock. The entire time the tide was rising up and it seemed to be getting more and more difficult to find a good opportunity. Eventually I seized upon a window and made it out to the lineup with my hair dry. Ben paddled past me in the lineup and I exclaimed that it had taken me 45-minutes on the rock to get the balls to make the jump, to which he replied, “Glad to have you out here, but mate, that was longer than 45-minutes!”

The morning session: big and clean. When it's breaking that far beyond Los Morros, you know it's serious.

The morning session: big and clean. When it’s breaking that far beyond Los Morros, you know it’s serious.

 

The waves were solid and dudes were charging. I was stoked to catch five waves, all of them 15 feet or so, and make it out of the session without any scary moments. My takeoffs were about even with the Los Morros and I milked the waves far down the point. It would’ve been easy to milk the waves all the way to the beach, but then the paddle back would’ve been too long and I may not have made it back out. My board felt undergunned; it’s amazing how quickly even an 8’2” feels small in big surf. The guys getting the big set waves were fearless and it was cool watching them commit to dropping in on big waves behind Los Morros. Kyle was one of those guys and I saw him take off deep on one and pull into a huge backside barrel and get completely swallowed.  Kyle has a YouTube channel that he put a video up about the session, you can check it out with this link. At the beginning of the video, he’s actually in Vansky riding with me to Punta Lobos, although you never see me.   Around minute 1:00 you can see the big barrel I saw him bag and get swallowed by. And around minute 5:00 he describes what happened on his 2nd session on this day, when he mis-timed the rock jump off Los Morros with Ben and they got swept into the rocks! Gnarly!!

Instead of sticking around for more of Punta Lobos after the morning session I decided I’d had enough of the big stuff and it was time to head someplace else. I ate a solid lunch in Pichilemu and then drove north. At Puertocillo the surf was good, as expected, and I stayed the night there in the van after being treated to an amazingly colorful sunset.   The next morning I was up early and I drove a little further north to another location I’d originally went to when I was in Chile the previous autumn. I checked the wave from the overlooking cliffs and I could see that it was good. There were a few surfers out as well as a jetski that appeared to be ferrying them back to the takeoff zone after long rides down the point. I parked the van, jogged 20 minutes along the beach out to the break and paddled out. As I was just making it beyond the first breaking waves, I noticed the jetski heading straight towards me and wondered if I was about to have an issue with the locals for surfing a ‘secret’ spot. I shouldn’t have worried, though, as the jetski rider greeted me with a friendly smile, invited me up onto the back of the jetski and brought me to the takeoff zone.   I caught the first wave that came to me and surfed probably about 150 meters down the line, getting barreled along the way. As I was paddling back to the point the jetski again picked me up and towed me back to the takeoff. Apparently I was in the rotation with these guys and I couldn’t believe it, I was in utter astonishment at how awesomely friendly these Chilean locals were! In total I got about 5 or 6 rides back up the point before the jetski and the other surfers left and I was alone. I surfed for a couple more hours until exhaustion set in.

Looking good!

Looking good!

Amazing sunset

Amazing sunset

Ground level view

Ground level view

Another pointbreak. Note the jetski in the water down to the lower right.

Another pointbreak. Note the jetski in the water down to the lower right.

Selfie up on the cliff after the session

Selfie up on the cliff after the session

 

At this point it was time for me to head far south to “The Promised Land”. I spent the entire afternoon driving Vansky towards the south until I found a decent spot to park and sleep. The next morning I took some photos of decent waves I found nearby and then kept moving south.

Overlooking beautiful Lago Vichuquen during dusk

Overlooking beautiful Lago Vichuquen during dusk

Early morning photo of a spot near where I camped. This is an unnamed break and if it were not that there is a better wave nearby, it might actually get surfed occasionally.

Early morning photo of a spot near where I camped. This is an unnamed break (at least to my knowledge) and if it were not that there is a better wave nearby, it might actually get surfed occasionally.

The wave that Brant and I surfed a few weeks back.

The wave that Brant and I surfed a few weeks back.  Obviously nobody out; there was a kind of morning sickness on it.

 

By midday I made it to one of the best waves in the region and also one of the most secluded. I met a friendly local who was also checking the wave and he showed me a better way to get down to the wave than Brant and I had previously discovered. The wave was pumping fast, thick barrels down the line, akind of like a Chilean version of Deadman’s, a wave I surf in San Francisco. There were only a few guys out, many of us blowing takeoffs but getting nicely pitted on the ones we made. One pro was out and he was killing it. When I finished up and got back to my car, I discovered I had one flat tire and another that was pretty low. It took me a few minutes to realize that this must’ve been the work of one of the locals out in the water, who obviously knew that the obnoxiously painted Wicked Campervan housed a foreign gringo here to take his waves. I later learned that a group of the Promised Land locals are known for these kind of shenanigans, and to be honest I can’t really blame them; I wouldn’t be very happy on my uncrowded waves being visited by foreigners either.  Advice to anybody renting a Wicked Campervan for surf exploration in Chile: bring one of those cigarette lighter powered tire pumps because locals may let the air out of your tires.  At any rate, I resolved to hang out for a bit, make lunch, and take some photos of his previous wave before I changed the flat tire to the spare and limped to a filling station to fill the tires up with air.  Whoever did that to me at least didn’t get all 4 of my tires, which would’ve left me in a much worse position.

A path through the forest leads to the wave.

A beautiful path through the forest leads to the wave.

Umm, yess please.

Umm, yess please.

Takeoffs are harder than they look. And they look pretty hard.

Takeoffs are harder than they look. And they look pretty hard.

chile redux part 2-25

Another post session selfie. This is the shit eating grin of a stoked man who just got some good tube time.

 

The next 5 days I spent down south surfing several different amazing left pointbreaks. I stayed at a quant little hostel perched right in front of one of these waves, it’s amazing that such a nice place exists there.  Here’s the website.  Anyway, Brant and I had camped at this spot a weeks earlier, but it was different this time: the waves were bigger and there was much fewer people. Two Australian surfers stayed at the hostel and most sessions were just the three of us on the wave. We’d wake up a little after sunrise, eat a nice Chilean breakfast meal made by Carlina, chat in Spanish with Ruperto, Carlina’s husband, and surf a morning session until we were too tired to paddle more.   Then lunch, a siesta and it would be time to take Vansky off to check some of the neighboring pointbreaks. One other wave in particular was working well, a wave that was dormant when Brant and I were here previously now had ample sand and was producing 500+ yard rides. It is amazing what a difference sand can make!

The upstairs of the hostel.

The upstairs of the hostel.

Sunset view from the hostel balcony.

Sunset view from the hostel balcony.

Waves like this broke all day long with nobody around.

Waves like this broke all day long with nobody around.

I snuck my camera out to take a few pics of Louis, one of the Asutralians who was at the hostel with me, surfing. He was stoked on the photos -- the only he has from a long surf trip he's on.

I snuck my camera out to take a few pics of Louis, one of the Australians who was at the hostel with me, surfing. He was stoked on the photos — the only he has from a long surf trip he’s on.

This is the wave that was dead flat when Brant and I were there previously. Now the sand was in and the rides were loooong.

This is the wave that was dead flat when Brant and I were there previously. Now the sand was in and the rides were loooong.

Another sunset shot from the balcony of the hostel.

Another sunset shot from the balcony of the hostel.

Left pointbreak

Left pointbreak

Left pointbreak

Left pointbreak

Left pointbreak

Left pointbreak

Me barrel hunting during the golden hour. Since I got good shots of Louis the previous day, I convinced him to snap a few of me.

Me barrel hunting during the golden hour. Since I got good shots of Louis the previous day, I convinced him to snap a few of me.

And a third sunset-ish shot from the balcony of the hostel.

And a third sunset-ish shot from the balcony of the hostel.

 

Eventually it was time to head north again. I could see from the forecast that down south was going to get some rain and north winds, which would likely wreck the waves at the southerly points, but it seemed that only a few hundred kilometers north the winds would remain relatively light.   We were heading into the weekend, so I contacted Samuel del Sol to see if he would be going to his house on the coast that weekend to surf. He said he was busy and couldn’t make it, but he put me in touch with his friend Matias who would be there. I got ahold of Matias via WhatsApp and we made plans to meet up.

I hammered the entire drive out in one long haul after a morning surf session. At some point I picked up a Chilean hitchhiker who was trying to get to Antofagosta to visit his grandmother. He seemed like a young, poor farmer and eagerly ate any snacks I gave him. We chatted a bit, but mostly we just jammed out to rock music I was playing on the stereo from my phone. I dropped him off in Pichilemu, ate dinner, and finished the last 2 hours north late in the evening. I stayed in the van high on a cliff overlooking a good wave.

Lago Vichuquen from the opposite side. I took some sketchy dirt road around the lake this time.

Lago Vichuquen from the opposite side. I took some sketchy dirt road around the lake this time.

Sunset over the ocean with a blanked of clouds

Sunset over the ocean with a blanked of clouds during the drive back

 

The next day I met up with Matias and his crew. Matias lives in Matanzas and is all about kitesurfing and watersports, although I’m sure he kills it at skiing too.   His crew of friends included a bunch of other Santiago based dudes who are also friends with Samuel del Sol and were out at Matanzas that weekend to surf. Most of the Santiago guys were actually pro or former pro skiers. Jorge Martinic was the elder and used to be on the Chilean national downhill ski team and was now doing some ski coaching. His family had a house in the neighboring town of Natividad and that’s where most everybody was crashing. The Carvallos brothers, Ben and Nick, are twins aged about 23 and in the process of transitioning from downhill racing to big mountain freeriding. Their plan was to spend the following winter in the Alps, so we chatted about skiing in Chamonix and Switzerland. Henrik von Appen is the current Chilean downhill champion, a solidly built, strong dude whom it made sense would be an awesome downhill racer. I was super stoked to connect with these guys (thanks Samuel!) and I know I’ll be in good hands next time I head to Chile on a surf or ski trip!

Now cruising with this local crew of extreme sports aficionados, we headed to a hard to access left pointbreak known as El Secreto. We cruised along dirt roads for awhile and then booked across the beach in Matias’ light Toyota 4×4 truck for a mile, then we climbed up and over some bluffs to find lumpy but good waves. The dudes were impressed with some of the late drops I made; it was good to see that all the surfing I’d been doing lately seemed to be resulting in improvement!   Afterwards we headed to the house to refuel and relax for a bit and then we cruised to the nearby pointbreak. This time I avoided the long beach walk since I was with guys who had 4x4s! The fog was in but just thin enough that once you were out you could see everything you needed to in order to surf. The waves were going off: it was low tide, dead calm winds and plenty of swell. My first wave resulted in 2 barrels and a 500+ yard ride.   I did laps. I took off really deep and barrel rode into oblivion. There was never a crowd and everyone got the waves they wanted. It was a sick final session to end the trip.

Getting ready to surf El Secreto with the boys

Getting ready to surf El Secreto with the boys

Benjamin Carvallo took this shot of me with Vansky and my quiver for the chile trip. All of these boards got some tube time.

Benjamin Carvallo took this shot of me with Vansky and my quiver. All of these boards got some tube time while in South America!

 

I stayed with the guys that night in Jorge’s house and it was good to get to know everyone even more. The next day was Sunday at time for me to go. My flight was in the evening and so I drove back to Santiago, returned Vansky, got to the airport and flew back to San Francisco. And thus ended what was probably the best 10 days of surfing I’ve ever experienced.

Below is a video I cobbled together of clips from my 6 weeks in Chile & Rapa Nui.  It’s 15 minutes long because I didn’t care to edit it down to something meant for mass consumption… it was more meant for me to remember the good times later on!

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Categories: Chile, Pichilemu, Promised Land, Reñaca, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Rapa Nui Part 2: The Surf

This is a glimpse into the surfing that Rapa Nui offered Brant and I while we were fortunate to be there for 3 weeks. As I mentioned in the previous post, we didn’t even surf during the first week, but then things got interesting…

rapa nui part 2-3

If only they knew… although photos can be deceiving with respect to how surfable this wave actually is

Brant and I’s unofficial surf ambassador for our time in Rapa Nui was a surfer named Rene. His wife Carolina and him own one of the best restaurants in Rapa Nui called Te Moanawhich is located directly in front of the ‘town’ surf breaks of Hanga Roa.   Brant and I became friends with Rene after being on the island for less than an hour. We were picked up at the airport by Pato, the groom, and whisked away to a lunch at Te Moana where we met with Dani, Pato’s, and several of their friends. With our big surfboard bags still on top of Pato’s jeep, Rene took notice and began chatting with Brant. “Whoa, you guys have big boards!” Rene said to Brant, and he told us that it’s not very often that “serious” surfers, especially non-Chileans, come to Rapa Nui to surf. In fact we never saw any other tourist surfers on the island the entire 3 weeks we were there. We later learned that one of Rene’s surfer friends was at the airport when our plane arrived had already alerted Rene that two gringo surfers with big boards had arrived on the island! That this kind of news spread to Rene so quickly is not entirely surprising considering how small an island Rapa Nui is and that the daily LAN flight arrival from Santiago is one of the most important events each day for the island’s impotant tourism industry. Rene told us to keep in touch with him about the surf and we exchanged WhatsApp contact info. Brant and I were stoked have connected with such a legit dude.

Rene explaining to Brant and I that we should extend our tickets an extra 2 weeks and SURF

Rene explaining to Brant and I that we should extend our tickets an extra 2 weeks and SURF

Rene has been surfing in Rapa Nui since he was a teenager and now, I guess aged somewhere in early 40s, he is at the top of the Rapa Nui surf hierarchy. Every local surfer on the island knows each other but in the water Rene seemed to have a gravitas that nobody else had.  The Rapa Nui people have a deep connection with the ocean and much of the young population are in the ocean either surfing or boogie boarding a couple times per week, but it turns out that very few tackle bigger waves of consequence. Mostly the locals stick to the relatively mellow breaks in town rather than risk injury and broken surfboards in the heavy, barreling and dangerous waves that one finds on the south shore or Mataveri. But Rene, another local named Uti Araki, and a few other adrenaline junkies charge the big and juicy surf – these are the guys holding up the Rapa Nui banner high. Check out this video and this video for what I’m talking about.  I should note that I did witness a few young rippers out in the water, launching airs and laying down sweet hacks and carves, so I’d expect that over the next decade there will be an increase in local surfers tackling the big stuff.  One such grommet is Rene’s 14-year old son, who unfortunately had a broken arm during our visit so we didn’t get to see  him surf, but he was already competing and set to surf in a contest in Chile a month after we’d leave.  Rene and Uti are also hosts and friends to a small cadre of professional big wave surfers who make regular stops at Rapa Nui. Of course the Chilean contingent tops this list; Rene and Ramon Navarro are friends and check this out for an example what Ramon and his buddies are no stranger to taking a 5-hour flight from Santiago.   Another regular to the island is Kohl Christenson, who at one point spent almost a year living ion Rapa Nui and returns every now and again to reignite his fling with waves like this.  I also heard the Long brothers like to visit.

 

At this point a brief Rapa Nui surf geography lesson is in order.

There are basically 3 zones of surf.  See below.

the 3 sides of Rapa Nui, a very triangular island

the 3 sides of Rapa Nui, a very triangular island

 

Zone 1 on the west side of the island is where most all the surfing happens. The Hanga Roa “town” breaks I mentioned are consistent and never really get too big, even with a massive swell, while at the same time always producing something fun even with meager swell.  I believe the town waves can work on north and as well as south swells, but we only surfed them on energy from the south since April marks the emphatic beginning of the southern swell season and the definite closing of the North Pacific storm track.   The northernmost town break of Tahai, right in front of where Pato and Dani were married, looks like a sweet righthander that only activates on a big, clean north swells; we never saw it break properly. All of these spots prefer easterly offshore winds, but accept southerly winds as well.

Rene surfing at the left in front of his restaurant, Te Moana. This wave is actually an A-frame and the right was super fun too.

Rene surfing at the left in front of his restaurant, Te Moana. This wave is actually an A-frame and the right was super fun too.  They call it Motu Hava.

In front of Motu Hava is a nice place to park and hang out before and after a session.

In front of Motu Hava is a nice place to park and hang out before and after a session.

This is the town right called Papa. This wave just got more fun the smaller it got and was perfect for logging when really small.

This is the town right called Papa. This wave just got more fun the smaller it got and was perfect for logging when really small.

Rene on a stylish turn at Motu Hava

Rene carving a stylish turn at Motu Hava

Beautiful backdrop at the Hanga Roa breaks

Beautiful backdrop at the Hanga Roa breaks

Turf mats, always coming in handy

Turf mats, always coming in handy

And then also on the west side, right next to the start of the airport runway, is beautiful Mataveri, the crown jewel pointbreak of Rapa Nui. This fast lefthander breaks over boulders and can result in long barrels. There are actually two distinct wave zones to Mataveri, but nobody really surfs the outer section

as it closes out into a rock outcropping halfway from the top of the point, which is marked by a rock island. Rene told us that one time they tried tow surfing the outer Mataveri and ended up losing a jet ski to the rocks after trying to make a rescue; the guy that needed rescuing ended up being fine.  The outside Mataveri section is about 800 meters long and the inside Mateveri section, where all the surfing we saw happens, is also about 800 meters long. See the above video links (if you haven’t already) for what this wave looks like when its working — it’s a sight to behold when it’s working and is a big reason why Brant and I were stoked to come surf Rapa Nui. I should also mention that Mataveri has the sketchiest spot exit of any wave I’ve ever surfed (the sketchiest entrance I reserve for Pichilemu, in a story I will describe in my next post). Getting in at Mataveri is easy: you just jump off a lava cliff into the bay, although of course Brant and I didn’t realize this on our first attempt at surfing Mataveri.  When we naively tried to walk down to the boulders and paddle in from the shore where waves were breaking the locals kindly corrected us.   Anyway, to get out of the water at Mataveri you have swim up to a sometimes submerged rock, get up on it, climb up about 6 feet of wet lava rock onto a ledge while leaving your board floating in the water, and then once you’ve ascended the ledge you must haul your board up by it’s leash.   But your not done yet — after this you must scramble across more lava rock to finally climb up yet another rock ledge, this time climbing with your board under one arm hand.  Only once you’ve made this secon climb are you truly safe from getting blasted by any set waves that might catch you offguard and wash over the entire zone.   If one of these waves hit while your doing this crab scamper across lava rock, it would be a very painful ordeal since the porous rock is super sharp and at the end you’d probably end up cut and washed back into the sea where you started.

Mataveri is a fickle wave and needs a rather big swell to work. The more west the swell the better it will be. It prefers easterly winds and can also handle southerly winds as long as there is no west. The ideal Mataveri swell is big, but not too big unless you’re a madman (see below), comes from a westly angle and is accompanied by light E, ENE offshore winds.

This is what Mataveri looked like for the first 2 weeks we were checking it.

This is what Mataveri looked like for the first 2 weeks we were checking it.

Mataveri starting to activate

Mataveri starting to activate, barely

This is a mega ISO shot of Mataveri after we surfed it one evening. Those lines are bigger than they look.

This is a mega ISO shot of Mataveri after an evening session.  That session saw us get the best waves we got at Mataveri.  Those lines are bigger than they look.

Mataveri, nobody out

Mataveri, nobody out

The morning of the big day. Again, much bigger and gnarlier than it looks.

The morning of the big day. Again, much bigger and gnarlier than it looks.  Those waves are solid 21+ second energy.

I snapped this shot after Brant and I's last Mataveri session, the day after the big day.

I snapped this shot after Brant and I’s last Mataveri session, the day after the big day.

Zone 2 for surf is the south side of the island. Rene calls the south side the “wild” side. It picks up significantly more swell energy than the west side and the coastline consists almost entirely of jagged, urchin-covered lava rocks meeting the sea, making merely entering or exiting the water tricky. We constantly checked the south side but never surfed it. The most obvious wave we found was Papa Tangaroa, a Pipeline-esque A-frame with a hallow right running into a super shallow closeout death section after about 50 yards and a left that is kamikaze only (ask Pete Mel, who Rene told us went left while filming Step Into Liquid and wound up getting completely hammered before being rescued by Laird). We saw Papa Tangaroa multiple times with perfect offshore winds, but even at 8′ foot faces it seemed too dangerous to surf, breaking in very shallow water. One afternoon we snorkeled the wave while a few boogie boarders were on it, and we saw from beneath how the 6-8’ waves streaked across the lava rock, urchin covered reef in 2 feet of water, which made us feel prudent in our decision not to surf what superficially looked like a very good wave. Brant ended up getting a bunch of urchin spines in his feet while getting out of the water from that snorkel session.

Papa Tangaroa. Heavy.

Papa Tangaroa. Heavy.  Sahllow. Beautiful offshore winds.  Off to the left you can just make out the top half of a boogie boarder, which provides some scale.

Papa Tangaroa. It's not really an A-frame, but a few people have gone left... and paid the price.

Papa Tangaroa on an even smaller (and therefore more shallow) day. It’s not really an A-frame, but a few people have gone left… and paid the price.

I'm not even sure where this particular wave is on the South Coast. It definitely wasn't (remotely easily) surfable on this day.

I’m not even sure where this particular wave is on the South Coast. It definitely wasn’t (remotely easily) surfable on this day.

Hanga Nui A-frame

Hanga Nui A-frame

On the big day one could begin to make out a reverse Mataveri called Rua Marengo (at least according to WannaSurf). This wave has probably only been surfed a handful of times.

On the big day one could begin to make out a reverse Mataveri called Rua Marengo (at least according to WannaSurf). This wave has probably only been surfed a handful of times.  It is WAY WAY bigger than it looks.

 

We saw many spots where it seemed like other waves were, but we never identified any other wave we wanted to surf. The south side needs westerly winds to be offshore, which we had for the first week of our stay, but the swell seemed to small to make the waves safe to surf; they all seemed too shallow and dangerous or just not that good.  A large swell would mean all the waves would be too big to paddle and you’d need a jet ski.  The south coast seems very tricky: needs moderate swell, west winds and big but not too big of swell. Of course, if you’re a tow surfer you want big swell, and when big swell with good conditions hits the south side, Rene and his buddies are on it with the jet skis. Rene’s favorite wave in Rapa Nui is a lefthander slab on the south coast called Pakaia that throws a huge barrels and then tapers off into deep water.

 

Winds are tricky to forecast in Rapa Nui, but fortunately it’s a small island and thus the wind should, in theory, be good somewhere. The trade winds in Rapa Nui are generally easterly. This is why it is so amazing that the Polynesians discovered the island in the first place: sailing east into the wind from where they came is significantly more arduous than would be sailing west downwind. However, the trade winds are anything but permanent and our experience was that the winds in Rapa Nui actually shift a lot. Brant and I experienced a week of westerly winds that shut down the west coast followed by two weeks of variable SW to SE winds that enabled us to surf the Hanga Roa breaks and Mataveri. In general I think the pattern of easterly trades is strongest in the southern winter, but overall the trade wind pattern seems rather variable in Rapa Nui. Further, winds are often affected by local phenomenon like passing squalls. Rene described that oftentimes he’d surf on one side of the island in the morning and then the winds would shift and he’d go surf the other side in the afternoon. He said that pattern of shifting winds can sometimes go on for weeks. From a seasonal perspective, I feel that one actually stands a chance of getting good surf pretty much anytime of the year in Rapa Nui. It is in an ideal location, as the South Pacific is very active year round, bigger north swells also work, and winds are probably offshore somewhere on the island on any given day. Further, the island is so small you can check all the spots on the island in about an hour!

 

Zone 3 is on the north side and we never saw any waves on this side since there was no north swell activity while we were there. Rene’s son, who is 14 and rips, told us that there are one or two spots that can get good, including the only beachbreaks on offer on the island. Maybe one could hope to get a piece of the action on the north side if visiting Rapa Nui during the Tapati festival in early February…

Anakena beach, which apparently can get waves on north swells

Anakena beach, which apparently can get waves on north swells

The smallest beach on Rapa Nui, which does get waves on a big north swell.

The smallest beach on Rapa Nui, which does get waves on a big north swell.

 

Originally Brant and I did not intend to stay in Rapa Nui for 3 weeks but Rene convinced us we needed to stick around after we got skunked without any waves the first week we were on the island. We had both purchased round trip tickets for a stay lasting just over 1 week. We decided to extend our trip only two days before we were supposed to leave. Our reason was simple: we got skunked the first week, and then, once it was time to go, the forecast showed a very large swell incoming along with more favorable winds. Rene explained it best, effectively saying, “You’re here now, it’s going to be good, and you don’t know when you’re ever going to come back… you should stay!” Now that’s some good logic for surfers to hear! Another bonus was that we didn’t have to pay anything to change our return tickets to a different date, which seems to be a perk of the Rapa Nui LAN Airlines travel office. So Brant and I both rearranged our lives a little, including both of us delaying job related activities, and we geared up for some good surf.

 

For the next 2 weeks we focused on surfing, with a little bit of sightseeing and nightlife thrown in as well. We surfed the Hanga Roa town waves twice a day pretty much everyday. But for a few days the elusive Mataveri came alive and we got a few sessions there. We never surfed the south side since the winds had switched to S, SE and so the south side was onshore.   It was good times, as the photos demonstarte.

 

The big swell ended up being an absolute monster. The day before it hit Rapa Nui the World Surf League announced that the Punta Lobos Ceremonial big wave contest would be on. That’s when we really knew it would be big.   The big day at saw 21+ second sets march in like freight trains from the top of outer Mataveri barreling all the way until running wide into the bay. It was very much bigger than it looked, as the below photos show. I was seriously considering paddling out and even suited up, before I saw Uti tow into a monster set wave that really revealed how big it was. Also, the locals implored me not to paddle out: it was too dangerous, with the rock climb exit being seemingly impossible to negotiate safely and the alternative a 2+ mile paddle around to the harbor.  On the big day Brant and I ended up just surfing the waves in town, which were double overhead themselves.

There were actually 2 swells. The second swell was extra large because the first storm created an unsettled sea state for the second storm to blow over.

There were actually 2 swells. The second swell was extra large because the first storm created an unsettled sea state for the second storm to blow over.

This is a map of the swell train period. These were some monster swells. That second swell was 21+ seconds, which led to the Ceromonial running at Punta Lobos and created the biggest Puerto Escondido in decades.

Here’s the period of the swells. Monstrous! That second swell peaked at 23+ seconds, which led to the Ceromonial running at Punta Lobos and created the biggest Puerto Escondido in decades. Rapa Nui is at about 27 degrees South and 110 degrees West — right in the impact zone of that long period juice.

Surfline forecast for Rapa Nui. The winds weren't perfect... better would've been more easterly.

Surfline forecast for Rapa Nui. 19′ @ 18s is pretty ridiculous.  You can see that the winds were predominantely southerly; better would have been more easterly.

Brant took this photo of me considering paddling out on the big day, when Uti and Rene were towing. I'm not sure what I was thinking, those waves were not meant for me.

Brant took this photo of me considering paddling out on the big day, when Uti and Rene were towing. I’m not sure what I was thinking, those waves were not meant for me.

 

Rene and Uti did tow surf at Mataveri on the big day, but only caught 3 waves.   Two jet skis were out there, with one towing and the other running safety on the inside.  After Uti towed into only 3 waves, the safety jet ski piloted by Rene’s friend suddenly bailed and without the safety ski, Rene decided to leave as well. Rene later told me that he was bummed his buddy had bailed on the tow session, Rene hadn’t received any warning and he didn’t understand why his friend just upped and left. There were waves out there that would’ve been unreal to tow surf, huge 25’+ freight trains with monster barrels. It was epic mindsurfing: I imagined getting a barrel all the from the top to the inside.  Whoa.

A big set coming in at Mataveri during the peak of the swell. The rock island out there is about 3/4 a mile away. There are only 4 waves in this photo... very long period energy. The waves are like 20+ feet on the faces and breaking top to bottom. An amazing sight.

A big set coming in at Mataveri during the peak of the swell. The rock island out there is about 3/4 a mile away. There are only 4 waves in this photo… very long period energy. The waves are like 20+ feet on the faces and breaking top to bottom. An amazing sight.

Here's some perspective for you on the size out there. Uti Araki, towed in by Rene.

Here’s some perspective for you on the size out there. Uti Araki, towed in by Rene.

rapa nui part 2-17

This beast thing, completely unsurfable, was breaking like this around the corner from Mataveri

I’m not sure when surfing first came to Rapa Nui, but I can tell you pretty definitively when tow in surfing first came to Rapa Nui. That happened around 2002 when the crew filing Step Into Liquid descended up Rapa Nui, led by the legendary Laird Hamilton. Rene told us they arrived in a chartered jumbo jet and brought their own jet skis to the island. Given the Rapa Nui’s location smack dab in the middle of the South Pacific storm track, it is no surprise that huge, powerful and perfect waves grace the lava rock reefs of the small island. These waves are what led Dave Kalama, Pete Mel, Ken ‘Skindog’ Collins, and Laird Hamilton to make Rapa Nui a destination for their film. While on the island they pioneered tow surfing the powerful waves of Rapa Nui’s south shore. You can check out the Rapa Nui segment of Step Into Liquid here. Rene and his buddies had been surfing most all of the waves around Rapa Nui before Laird’s arrival, but once Rene saw that those waves could be tamed when they were too big to paddle, he knew he had to get jet ski for himself. At that point there were no jet skis on Rapa Nui.  For a local a jet ski is a huge expense, but Rene was inspired to determination. He talked to Laird about buying one of the skis that Laird had brought to Rapa Nui for the film, but Laird couldn’t sell any because the film production company owned the jet skis. Instead Laird offered to give one of the jet skis he had in Hawaii to Rene for free if Rene paid for the shipping, but Rene realized that it would be cheaper for him to just buy one himself in Chile and have it shipped from Valparaiso rather than pay the high shipping cost from Hawaii to Rapa Nui. I’m not sure how long it actually took Rene to procure his first ski, but when I saw Rene in action towing Uti into waves at Mataveri that day, it was clear he’d had years of experience. At one point he invited Brant and I to his home, where he proudly showed us his current ski, tow-in surfboards and other equipment. As far as I could ascertain, at this time there are only about 3 or 4 locals actively tow-in surfing in Rapa Nui and only 2 jet skis, one owned by Rene and the other by his friend.

Brant and I hanging out in Hanga Roa post surf session.

Brant and I hanging out in Hanga Roa for a post surf session feed.

Another glimpse of Queen Mataveri

Another glimpse of Queen Mataveri

Taking in the last sunset at Mataveri. I think we left the next day.

Brant taking in the last sunset at Mataveri. I think we left the next day.

 

OK, this post is long enough now. If you surf, I’ve given you some good information about surfing on this beautiful island. I recommend you go; you will not be disappointed. Respect the locals.   Enjoy the culture. Don’t share this post to unworthy people.

 

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