“You will ride the longest wave of your life in Perú.”
The Pan American highway contorts to hug the contours of the Pacific coast like a giant black serpent, before darting suddenly inland behind a hundred sandy miles of desert, leaving you waiting in anticipation from the seat of your Collectivo – wedged between the old ladies bag of live chickens and the Farmers bucket of freshly slaughtered meat – for the next glimpse of what can only be called a forsaken surfer’s paradise. During the cramped drive from the Ecuadorian border in the company of a decent swell, each bend in the road reveals the Moon-like coast as one long string of endless left hand point breaks reeling off unridden.
Somewhere along the empty stretches of Peru’s Northern desert coast, surfing folk-lore rumors the longest waves in the world are winding past these arid Alien shores, blessed by a constant state of offshore perfection, almost completely unnoticed by the handful of local fishermen that ply the waters. Like some neo surfing Indiana Jones, I’m on a hunt for buried treasure.
The further south you travel the colder the water becomes, and the more desolate the landscape appears. It seems as though nothing could survive here, yet in this inhospitable terrain farmers try to scratch a life for their families out of the dust and sand. The hot winds of the seemingly infinite stretches of parched, lifeless desert – where it hasn’t rained in places since the last ice age – meet the cold waters of the Humboldt Current creating an eerie perma-fog; a mist that blankets the coast from dawn till dust like the haze of an all day hangover. Happily for me, these same phenomena also create a perpetually offshore convection current, grooming the waves to a state of glossy blown glass, and forming perfect almond shaped barrels to hide myself inside from the harsh desert wind.
A white knuckle 45 min taxi ride through the mist from Peru’s second largest city Trujillo, conveniently located on the edge of the World’s driest coastal desert, X marks the Surfing World’s special jewel, Puerto Chicama, a dusty isolated little Port town, and the namesake of the epic wave that rolls with clock-like precision past its shores. Looking like a real life ghost town, there’s absolutely nothing to do here apart from surf, with modern conveniences being very few and far between, but honestly surfing is the only reason you would want to visit Puerto Chicama anyway. On it’s leg melting 4km journey from start to finish, the continuous face of a Chicama wave peels tirelessly for an eternity along the cliffs on the razors edge between the Pacific and the barren windswept landscape.
In a shabby dorm room handily teetering on the cliff-face over looking the point, I existed on beans and rice, but gorged myself on the longest waves of my life. In a small head-high swell, I’d sit on the cliff resting my burning leg muscles and watch people ride a wave for minutes before they’d disappear out of sight, throwing a hundred different turns along the way. If this was what happened on a small day, I could only imagine this place during one of the frequent bigger swells – this is definitely the place to fine-tune your surfing. Yet unbelievably a crowd at Puerto Chicama consists of, at the most, around 10 travelers and local surfers spread over the 4kms, and you can go all day without seeing another person in the water. I had found Surfing’s holy grail.
While the surf proved to be fantastic, you can’t spend every waking hour in the Ocean, and it’s the locals that make this country really special. Within a few minutes of meeting someone they make you feel as though you are a part of their lives, and have been for years. The language barrier far from slowing either party down, its hard not to get caught up by their enthusiasm sharing a wave and a laugh, or generosity when they will go out of their way to help you anyway they can. When it came time to finally leave Chicama, begrudgingly to re-enter our regular lives, we did so with handmade parting gifts from several of our new friends.
I’ve surfed the longest wave of my life over a dozen times at any number of places in Perú, it’s reputation for the worlds longest, most isolated waves is definitely founded in reality, but I’ve discovered so much more than I set out to find. I’ve been constantly overwhelmed by the most open, genuine people I’ve ever met. As the myriad of individual jelly-leg inducing waves I rode blurs into one, the feeling from those faces I met, all who are resiliently smiling despite their bloody hard existences, burns crisp and clear. And it probably will long after I’ve trimmed my last wave.
By: Gerard Parke