Rapa Nui

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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Categories: Rapa Nui | 2 Comments

Rapa Nui Part 1: Wedding and Culture

Brandon’s note, October 27, 2015. OK, OK, so it’s been over 3 months since my last Radical Sabbatical post and nearly 6 months since the events of this post transpired. I’m sorry! Turns out being in San Francisco for the summer kept me much more busy than I’d anticipated and I just didn’t make the time to sit down and finish up the numerous half written blog posts I have on my computer. At any rate, currently I’m in Singapore and after spending over 4 weeks surfing in Indonesia, a week in Myanmar and another week sailing in Thailand, I’m not imminently planning any more surf trips so I should habe more time on my hands to catch up on the blog. I’ll try to get at least one post out per week until I’m caught up!

 

Moai looming at Rano Raraku, which is the location where all the moai were carved from the soft lava rock found near this volcanic crater

Moai looming at Rano Raraku, which is the location where all the moai were carved from the soft lava rock found near this volcanic crater

 

I had travelled for 9 months once before in my life, when I was 23, and with another opportunity to be wanderlust I sought a different experience for the time I’d spend traveling now, at age 31. A decade ago I hoped to rapidly see many different places and I was thus frenetically moving from one place to another. This made me less able to absorb culture and get to know local people.   Part of my desire for my “early 30s” sabbatical was to travel and exist in places for longer periods of time, make deeper connections with people, and really feel out the vibe of the places I would visit.

Between Brant and I is Rene, a Rapa Nui surfer and restaurant owner who befriended us, took us surfing, and taught us much about Rapa Nui.

Between Brant and I is Rene, a Rapa Nui surfer and restaurant owner who befriended us, took us surfing, and taught us much about Rapa Nui.

Hanging with locals on a Sunday afternoon on the northeast part of Rapa Nui.

Hanging with locals on a Sunday afternoon on the northeast part of Rapa Nui.

 

Along this vein I was very fortunate to spend three weeks in Rapa Nui, where I attended a Chilean wedding, learned much about Rapa Nui culture, made new friends and sampled some of the fine surf on this small island.

Standing alone someplace east of Hanga Roa where Brant and I drove our dirt bikes on a sightseeing adventure

Standing alone someplace east of Hanga Roa where Brant and I drove our dirt bikes on a sightseeing adventure

 

In case you’re not familiar with Rapa Nui, I’ll start with a short geography and history lesson for you. Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, or Isla de Pascua in Spanish, is an extremely isolated island in the South Pacific with a unique and fascinating history. The island is some 2,500 miles west of the Chilean coast and nearly 2,000 miles from the Marquesas, which are the nearest South Pacific islands with any kind of significant population. Rapa Nui is only about 15 miles long at its widest point and one can easily drive around the entire island in about an hour. Polynesians who arrived in voyaging canoes after sailing from Mangareva or the Marquesas Islands first settled Rapa Nui around 1000 A.D. The original Rapa Nui inhabitants flourished on the semi-tropical island and spent enormous energy carving and moving to their ahu platforms the monolithic moai statues that Rapa Nui is famous for. To this day there are over a thousand moai statues scattered across the island! The Rapa Nui society flourished and the population rapidly increased, but eventually competition for limited island resources resulted in a bloody period of history. By around 1600 A.D. the island’s forests had mostly been cut down. Fewer trees meant fewer canoes, and less canoes meant less fishing, and less fishing meant less food for the people and more intertribal fighting for the limited wood and timber resources. Thus the population started to decrease. The Golden Age of moai carving in Rapa Nui ended around this time and was eventually replaced with what’s known as the Birdman Cult (more on this lo come). But as is a common theme for Polynesian societies, it was the arrival of Europeans that was truly catastrophic for the islanders. Imported diseases and forced slavery brought the population down to as low as about 100 individuals by the mid 1800’s. Then in 1888, at the height of the western Imperialism, the Chilean government took possession of the island and Chile still currently governs Rapa Nui today.   The official and most commonly spoken language is Spanish, but the Rapa Nui people also speak the Polynesian language and many times on the island I heard conversations in the native language. The history geek in me certainly came out while I was exploring and learning about Rapa Nui. I think what made it all so much cooler was that the small size of the island meant it was so easy to see the places where all of the history I learned about actually occurred.

The most famous collection of standing Moai on Rapa Nui is at Tongariki

The most famous collection of standing Moai on Rapa Nui is at Tongariki

The Polnyesians have their own language and I'm not sure what that second letter actually is.

The Polnyesians have their own language and I’m not sure what that second letter actually is.

Me trying to pose as a moai in front of the actual Moai at Tongariki

Me trying to pose as a moai in front of the actual Moai at Tongariki

 

The motivation for Brant’s trip to Chile and Rapa Nui was to attend the wedding of his friend Pato del Sol. Pato is a Chilean who spent a year studying at UCSD while both Brant and I were undergrads there. Brant lived with Pato in the International House dorms and the two became good friends.   I met Pato a couple of times through Brant and also took an ungergraduate computer security class with Pato, who majored in computer science as I did. After Pato finished his year studying abroad at UCSD he went back to Chile, finished up school and a few years later founded, with his brother Felipe, an AdTech company called Admetricks in.   It turns out that intelligence and entrepreneurialism run deep amongst Pato’s family and friends. At Pato’s wedding I met his father who immediately liked me and introduced me to his friends after learning that I had gone to Stanford and studied Management Science & Engineering, which he’d earned his Ph.D. in some 30 years before! I also got to know Pato’s fiancée, Dani, who is founder and CEO of a startup called BabyTuto that is the Chilean version of diapers.com and is currently very rapidly growing sales.   A cousin of Pato’s, Samuel del Sol, is working at a Chilean solar startup called Solarity, which was especially relevant to me at this point as I had been talking to a solar financing startup in SF that was looking for a product manager with my skill set.   I felt really fortunate to have met all these interesting Chileans, all thanks to Brant’s invitation for me to be his surf buddy and wedding +1 on this trip to Chile.

The wedding venue was near the Tahai ahu close in town.

The wedding venue was near the Tahai ahu close in town. I was Brant’s +1

Pato reading his vows to Dani with Pato's brother Felipe officiating

Pato reading his vows to Dani with Pato’s brother Felipe officiating

Samuel del Sol

Samuel del Sol

This very nice wedding definitely gave me some ideas for my own!

This very nice wedding definitely gave me some ideas for my own!

The bride getting painted at the reception in preparation for participating in some local dancing

The bride getting painted at the reception in preparation for participating in some local dancing

Local dancers performing at the reception. It was a damn good party!

Local dancers performing at the reception. It was a damn good party!

 

For the first week we were in Rapa Nui Brant and I didn’t even surf once. This was rather disappointing but there was also so much amazing touring and wedding crashing to do that it didn’t really matter. We did constantly check the surf and found consistently beautiful light offshore conditions on the south side of the island, but the swell was too small for the breaks on that side of the island to work. At any rate, I’ll describe more about the surf we did end up finding in my 2nd Rapa Nui blog post.

Horses roam free around the island, which has very few fences or boundaries. When the owner wants to ride his horse, he just goes out and finds him in the grasslands.

Horses roam free around the island, which has very few fences or boundaries. When the owner wants to ride his horse, he just goes out and finds him in the grasslands.

Teaser for Part II. Note that this wave looks enticing, but was entirely too shallow and dangerous for Brant and I to consider paddling out.

Teaser for Part II. Note that this wave looks enticing, but was entirely too shallow and dangerous for Brant and I to consider paddling out.

 

So instead, for the first week, and to a lesser extent throughout our entire 3-week stay on Rapa Nui, Brant and I delved into the cultural side of the island, visiting the amazing archeological sites, hanging out with the Chileans who were there for Pato & Dani’s wedding, and making friends with Rapa Nui locals who showed us around and gave us a real perspective of the island and its history.

Exploring the "Moai Factory" at Rano Raraku

Exploring the “Moai Factory” at Rano Raraku

Atop the Rano Kau crater in the Orongo religious site, with all 3 Motu Islands (Motu Nui, Motu Iti and Motu Kau Kau) visible in the background.

Atop the Rano Kau crater in the Orongo religious site, with all 3 Motu Islands (Motu Nui, Motu Iti and Motu Kau Kau) visible in the background.

Delay timer shot somewhere on the south coast of Rapa Nui on one of our many surf check circumnavigations of the island.

Delay timer shot somewhere on the south coast of Rapa Nui on one of our many surf check circumnavigations of the island.

 

We needed to be mobile so we rented motorbikes. They cost about $30/day and were super fun for curising around the islan, especially on some of the dirt tracks we found. We rented these endure dirt bikes for about 5 days, and then when it was time to surf we switched to a small jeep, which was also about $30/day to rent.

One of our first motorcycle forays to the south coast.

One of our first motorcycle forays to the south coast.

Dirt track fun

Dirt track fun

All the cool kids on Rapa Nui ride dirt bikes!

All the cool kids on Rapa Nui ride dirt bikes!

For traveling with surfboards we had to rent this jeep. It worked great for getting us everyone on the island.

For traveling with surfboards we had to rent this Suzuki jeep. It worked great for getting us everyone on the island.

 

For those interested in one day visiting Rapa Nui, a quick note on what it costs. In general, Rapa Nui is regarded as an expensive place to visit by visitors, most of whom are Chilean. Nonetheless, Rapa Nui being the “Chilean Hawaii” does certainly not make it more expensive than any normal first world vacation destination; the fact is Rapa Nui really isn’t that expensive. Round trip plane tickets from Santiago run about $400-600, which is pricey, but less so considering it takes a 5-hour flight into the middle of the South Pacific to get to Rapa Nui. The daily LAN airlines flight is from Santiago, but there are also flights to/from Papeete, Tahiti, a couple of times per week. The least expensive accommodation is live in a tent at one of the campsites, which will cost you about $5/day. Camping Mihinoa is the best campsite at a great location right in front of the water near the harbor. We stayed there, but instead of tents we paid about $30/day to rent a nice room with 2 beds, a private bathroom and a kitchen that we shared with just one other room.  It was definitely a good call: the campers looked pretty miserable during the frequent tropical rainstorms! A low-end meal will set you back $8-10 in town. Nicer meals will cost $20-50. We cooked much of our own food and bought groceries in town for higher-than-Chile prices, but nothing ridiculous. Pretty much everything on Rapa Nui is imported from Chile, so grocery selection is limited. Brant and I ate lots of eggs, fruits, pasta, and rice meals since our cooking is uncreative and favors high calorie meals necessary for fueling surf sessions. Attractions around the island arein general not very expensive. You could rent a surfboard for about $10 for an hour. Scuba diving at our favorite dive shop, Mike Rapu, cost about $35/dive or $60 for 2 dives; it’s a no brainer, do 2 dives!

This is the setup at Camping Mihinoa. Not bad! I believe Brant is on the phone negiotating benefits for a new job back home in San Diego!

This is the setup at Camping Mihinoa. Not bad! I believe Brant is on the phone negiotating benefits for a new job back home in San Diego!  You can surf right in front of the place.

Another view of Camping Mihinoa. We stayed in the leftmost building.

Another view of Camping Mihinoa. We stayed in the leftmost building.

Scuba diving the sunken moai (no it is not a real moai, this one is from the set of a Kevin Costner movie called Rapa-Nui and was sunk as an attraction for divers)

Scuba diving the sunken moai (no it is not a real moai, this one is from the set of a Kevin Costner movie called Rapa-Nui and was sunk as an attraction for divers)

Scuba diving the Motu islands. This is a deep dive with excellent visibility as the water clarity in Rapa Nui is amazing.

Scuba diving the Motu islands. This is a deep dive with excellent visibility as the water clarity in Rapa Nui is amazing.

The arrival of the daily LAN flight to Rapa Nui is kind of a big deal on the island, as all the hotel vendors and whatnot descend on the airport to greet arriving tourists.

The arrival of the daily LAN flight to Rapa Nui is kind of a big deal on the island, as all the hotel vendors and whatnot descend on the airport to greet arriving tourists.

 

The main and only town, Hanga Roa, is right next to the airport. Everyplace outside of town is the Rapa Nui National Park. The National Park was free to visit while we were there, but this is not normally the case. Apparently only weeks prior to our arrival, the Rapa Nui people had appropriated the management of the National Park due to political disagreements with the Chilean government over where revenues from the park were going. The feeling of the locals was that the revenues were not finding their way back into the local Rapa Nui economy but were just fattening the coffers of Santiago based bureaucracies.   Further the Rapa Nui locals, who consider themselves ethnically Polynesian, not Chilean, are upset with the lax immigration being enforced in Rapa Nui as many young Chilean men would come to Rapa Nui to live a beat-like lifestyle in the warm climate.   Thus the locals were manning the entrances to the National Park and explicitly not letting the Chilean mainlanders who were living in Rapa Nui access the 80% of the island that is National Park – but as a result everyone else, like Brant and myself, could access everywhere for free!

This is all National Park land. I liked the lone palm tree in this photo.

This is all National Park land. I liked the lone palm tree in this photo.

This photo from near the top of Ranu Kau shows most of the town, Honga Roa. Everything past the town is National Park and for the most part uninhabited.

This photo from near the top of Ranu Kau shows most of the town, Hanga Roa. Everything past the town is National Park and for the most part uninhabited.

One of the most fascinating and gnarly bits of Rapa Nui history Brant and I learned from our local friend Tai, who was also our dive instructor. With Brant, Tai and Tai’s friend Yili we drove up to the ancient village of Orongo, which is on the southernmost tip of Rapa Nui nestled on the ridge of a huge volcanic crater. This village was the focal point for the infamous Birdman Cult ceremony. As I mentioned in my history at the beginning of this post, by the 1700s Rapa Nui had depleted most of its forests and become overpopulated, which resulted in brutal warfare between the 10 or so tribes that inhabited the various sections of the island. The Birdman Cult developed during this period to bring a kind organization and peace to the island, whereby each year one of the tribal chiefs would become the “Birdman” and serve as a kind of prophet/chief for the entire island. You should read the Wikipedia page if you are interested to know more details than what I am about to describe. The story Brant and I got from Tai while we were at Orongo high on the volcanic crater overlooking the Motu Islands was slightly different and more intriguing.  Also there is a movie (I haven’t seen it yet) called Rapa Nui produced by Kevin Costner that also is about the Birdman Competition.

Brant with Tai and Yili overlooking the Motus high atop the crater at Orongo

Brant with Tai and Yili overlooking the Motus high atop the crater at Orongo

 

According to Tai, the Birdman Competition worked as follows. Each of the tribal chiefs would pick their best warrior to represent him in the competition. The competition would have each of warriors descend the ridiculously steep and dangerous cliffs from Orongo straight down to the ocean. Then the warriors would all swim across to the Motu Nui island where they would try to collect a tern egg. The goal was to swim back to Rapa Nui and ascend the cliffs up to Orongo with the egg still intact and the first warrior to do this would be the winner. The winning warrior’s chief would then become the Birdman and serve as the lead religious figure until the next competition the following year. Sounds straightforward enough, right? Well here are some gnarly details Tai explained to us. First, is that warriors are permitted to kill their fellow warrior competitors. So if you see another guy with an egg, kill him and take it! Second, if you are not the winning warrior, then you have to jump to your death from Orongo down into the volcanic crater. While at Orongo, Brant and I both stood on the rock where many men had jumped several hundred feet to their deaths! Third, the Birdman (aka the winning chief) is given several virgins by each the other losing chiefs. The Rapa Nui people believed that virgins held great mana and so they were part of the prize. The Birdman, however, could not be touched by anyone, including the virgins (how sad for him!), while he was the sacred Birdman and he would spend most all of his time in a cave with the virgins. When he and the virgins emerged from the cave after several months, but before the next Birdman Competition, their skin would be very white from lack of sun, which enhanced the Birdman’s godlike status.

Orongo village consists of these huts where the priests lived. The entrances required one to shimmy on their belly to get in.

Orongo village consists of these huts where the priests lived. The entrances required one to shimmy on their belly to get in.

This is the Ranu Kau crater. I'm standing on the ledge that the losing warriors would have to jump to their deaths from.

This is the Ranu Kau crater. I’m standing on the ledge that the losing warriors would have to jump to their deaths from.

 

Whoa! Listening to Tai explain all of this while we were exploring Orongo, where it all went down really blew my mind; I’d never felt so connected to the cultural significance of a place before in all my travels. At any rate, given the gruesome nature of the Birdman Cult, it is not surprising that do-gooder, Christian missionaries who arrived in the mid 1800s put a stop to all of this.    Obviously the arrival of the missionaries was a bad outcome for the Rapa Nui people, but I think we can all agree that western imperialism stamped out culture pretty much wherever it spread during the colonial era. It is also worth mentioning that at one point Red Bull wanted to hold it’s own tamed-down version of the Birdman Competition on Rapa Nui, but the locals rightly put a stop to that happening.

 

I highly recommend a visit Rapa Nui. You won’t be disappointed with this amazing island.  If you do go, one particularly awesome time to visit is during the annual Tapati celebration, which occurs during the first 2 weeks of February.   Imagine lots of cultural dancing involving scantily-clad Polynesian beauties & hunks, many epic parties, music galore and the undisputed highlight is sure to be when the burliest locals slide down a huge grassy hill atop sleds made of banana tree trunks lashed together, as seen in this video. Also here’s a Huffington Post article that describes a little more about the Tapati festival.

 

Anyway, this post got way too long as is. I need to start working on the next one so I’m going to end it here and let the photos do most of the talking.

The tropical clouds make for frequent brilliant sunsets in Rapa Nui. This place really is a photographers dream.

The tropical clouds make for frequent brilliant sunsets in Rapa Nui. This place really is a photographers dream.

Brant watching waves break at Mataveri. Wait for Rapa Nui Part 2 to see what the waves had in store for us.

Brant watching waves break at Mataveri. Wait for Rapa Nui Part 2 to see what the waves had in store for us.

There are only 3 beaches on Rapa Nui and this one at Anakena is by far the largest.

There are only 3 beaches on Rapa Nui and this one at Anakena is by far the largest.  This is where the Polynesians who discovered Rapa Nui originally landed their voyaging canoe.

The Moai at Anakena

The Moai at Anakena

This is the smallest beach on the island, where we had a BBQ with some locals one Sunday afternoon

This is the smallest beach on the island, where we had a BBQ with some locals one Sunday afternoon.  The beach is only actually exposed during the low tide.

This dog kept appearing out of nowhere when we were checking surf on the south side of the island. He was missing an eye but didn't seem at all unhappy about it!

This dog kept appearing out of nowhere when we were checking surf on the south side of the island. He was missing an eye but didn’t seem at all unhappy about it!  We later learned his name and met his owner, but he just roams the island freely for the most part.

This is the setup at the 'reverse Mataveri' on the south shore.

This is the setup at the ‘reverse Mataveri’ on the south shore.  That wave breaking is WAY WAY bigger than it looks.

Brant getting sea urchins dug out of his foot by Tai. The urchins here are everywhere and gnarly. The reefs are super sharp. Rapa Nui is generally an experts only kind of place.

Brant getting sea urchins dug out of his foot by Tai. The urchins here are everywhere and gnarly. The reefs are super sharp. Rapa Nui is generally an experts only kind of place.

Catch a fish, grill it, eat it.

Catch a fish, grill it, eat it.

Amazing sunset photo #2

Amazing sunset photo #2

Sunset in front of the Honga Roa surf breaks with sailboats in the background. Awesome.

Sunset in front of the Hanga Roa surf breaks with sailboats in the background. Awesome.

rapa nui part 1-33

Brant high atop Ranu Kau

It's almost like he's checking the surf...

It’s almost like he’s checking the surf…

One afternoon Rene invited us to come help him collect wood for a bonfire at his restaurant in the forest near Ranu Kau. Brant and I happily agreed.

One afternoon Rene invited us to come help him collect wood for a bonfire at his restaurant in the forest near Ranu Kau. Brant and I happily agreed.

Gathering wood on the island is without a doubt a "locals only" affair. There aren't many trees and so cutting them to collect firewood is only reserved for those with status. Rene has status.

Gathering wood on the island is without a doubt a “locals only” affair. There aren’t many trees and so cutting them to collect firewood is only reserved for those with status. Rene has status.

We explored a few caves in Rapa Nui. There are many.

We explored a few caves in Rapa Nui. There are many of them that were carved by lava flows.

Watching a local cut meat out of the back of his pickup on the main drag in Honga Roa

Watching a local cut meat out of the back of his pickup on the main drag in Hanga Roa

 

Looking from Tahai towards the rest of Honga Roa

Looking from Ahu Tahai towards the rest of Hanga Roa

This cute puppy lived behind Brant and I at Camping Mihinoa and we'd give him a pet and receive gracious tail wags and licks everytime,

This cute puppy lived behind Brant and I at Camping Mihinoa and we’d give him a pet and receive gracious tail wags and licks everytime,

Exploring the crater lake at Ranu Raraku

Exploring the crater lake at Ranu Raraku

I think this was day 1. I was exhausted from the flight and just flumped down in the grass, glad to be in a tropical environment (Chile was cold)

I think this was day 1. I was exhausted from the flight and just flumped down in the grass, glad to be in a tropical environment (Chile was cold)

When it was time to go, Brant and I were pretty bummed!

When it was time to go, Brant and I were pretty bummed!

 

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