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!
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 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…
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
Yeah man this is awesome!