Latin America’s extensive Atlantic and Pacific coasts offer waves for all tastes and skill levels, and international surfers know it. The region is fast becoming a worldwide power in the sport, with an abundance of champions, perfect surf spots and an industry that grows by the day.
A surfer might describe the charms of the sport in these terms: simplicity mixed with difficulty; honest efforts result in improvement while mistakes are paid for dearly; an invitation to adventure, to meet people and explore new places. Could this be why surfing has emerged on practically every coast on the planet, especially wild and pristine locales like in Latin America, where waves and heavenly settings abound? With Peru and Brazil at the forefront, the region has become a world player in this competitive sport, while Chile is being lauded as a new big wave capital.
“Latin America has everything needed to become a world surfing power,” says Uruguay’s Pablo Zanocchi, media manager for the International Surfing Association (ISA). “Brazil is already there, and, gradually, the industry in the other countries has come to realize that investing in our athletes, events and institutions yields considerable returns. Little by little, we’re going to see more professionals from each country taking on the world’s top surfers.”
Argentina’s Fernando Aguerre, who created the Reef sandal brand with his brother Santiago, has served as ISA President since 1994. He shares Zanocchi’s sentiments: “Latin America is the best continent for surfing in the world, with plenty of waves and lots of young people who are already surfing or want to start.” This sport is one of the few that influences hundreds of millions of young people “through the scope and magnitude of the lifestyle promoted by surf brands, which make 15 billion dollars a year in the U.S., Europe and Latin America,” Aguerre explains.
The sheer amount of money involved hasn’t tainted the essence of the sport. On the water, you’ll find impresarios and simple laborers, students and professionals, amateurs and pro surfers. The only hierarchy is imposed by individual skills and personal knowledge of the waves. Some surfers lodge in the finest hotels, others camp in tents. In Brazil, the under-14 national champion lives in an indigenous community, and many of the country’s pro surfers come from the humblest of backgrounds. In Costa Rica, surf tourism attracts about 400,000 visitors a year, while in Chile, the son of a Pichilemu fisherman is considered among the world’s elite big wave surfers and has become a respected businessman and community leader.
Latin America has hundreds of world-class breaks and an enormous potential to produce champions. Where will these winners come from? Pablo Zanocchi is betting on Peru, Chile and a few Central American countries, as opposed to Brazil, the current Latin American power. “The reason is simple. The world circuit competes on perfect waves, like the ones you find in Chile and Peru, but not in Brazil. It’s like a ping-pong player who competes against friends at home, and then goes to play against Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon. The difference between one stage – the ping-pong table – and the other – Wimbledon – is much less notable for Chileans and Peruvians, because they’re always playing at Wimbledon, just not against Nadal.”
It seems to be just a matter of time until Latin Americans are dominating the international surfing scene. In the meantime, here is a guide to the sport in different countries throughout Latin America.
A Bit of History
The origins of surfing are both ancient and diverse. European explorers in Tahiti and Hawaii observed its practice as early as the 18th century. In Rapa Nui (Easter Island), it was known as “Haka Nini” (with a board) and “Haka Honu” (without a board). A form of surfing was also developed about 4,000 years ago by the Moche and Chimú cultures in Huanchaco, Trujillo, in northern Peru, using “caballitos de tortora” (reed rafts) as boards. Similar practices were also developed in isolation in places like São Tomé in Africa. The first ambassador and promoter of surfing was the Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku, winner of the Gold Medal in Swimming at the 1912 and 1920 Olympic Games. He brought surfing to the coasts of California, Australia and New Zealand in the early 1900s and is considered the father of modern surfing. Subsequently, the sport spread to all coasts of the world.
First Wave: Some 4,000 years ago, fishermen from the Moche and Chimú cultures living in the area of Huanchaco, Trujillo, mastered the art of riding waves on “caballitos de tortora” (reed fishing rafts). The earliest photographs of surfers at Chorrillos in Lima date back to 1914. In 1942, Carlos Dogni Larco brought his first board from Hawaii and turned his friends on to the sport, founding Club Waikiki (the second oldest surfing club in the world). He is considered the father of Peruvian surfing.
Legendary Surfers:The 1960s produced stars like Felipe Pomar (World Champion, 1965), Joaquín Miró Quesada, Héctor Velarde, Carlos Velarde, Miguel Plaza and Guillermo Wiese. The 1970s gave rise to Sergio “Gordo” Barreda, Carlos Barreda and Oscar “Chino” Malpartida (finalists in the prestigious Duke Kahanamoku Surfing Classic, held at Hawaii’s Pipeline, off Bonsai Beach, until the mid-1980s). Standouts from the 1980s and 90s include Magoo de la Rosa (a seven-time national champion), Makki Block, Omar Renteros and Luiggi Nikaido.
Current Stars:Sofía Mulanovich (World Champion, 2004), Gabriel Villarán, Javier Swayne and Gabriel Aramburú (the latter three have won Pan-American and Latin American championships).
Up-and-comers: Martín Jeri, Cristóbal de Col, Miguel Tudela, Carlos Mario Zapata.
Great Breaks:Near Trujillo, Chicama and Pacasmayo have two of the longest breaks in the world – approximately two miles. Pico Alto in Punta Hermosa, south of Lima, offers some of the biggest and best waves around. South of Máncora, Cabo Blanco boasts perfect tubes.
International Events: Championships held by the Latin American Surf Association (ALAS), as well as Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) events, like the World Qualifying Series (WQS) and the World Championship Tour (WCT). This year, Peru hosted the 2010 Billabong ISA World Surfing Games (in the “Absolute” category), featuring the participation of 40 countries and 4,000 surfers. In 2011, the country will provide the stage for the Quiksilver ISA World Juniors Surfing Championships.
Contributions from Karin Sierralta, Executive Director of Peru’s Federación Nacional de Tabla – Surf (FENTA) and Vice President of the International Surfing Association (ISA).
First Wave: Early attempts to ride waves in Brazil date back to the 1930s, but it was Arduíno Colasanti, Irencir Beltrão and their diver friends from Arpoador in Rio de Janeiro who established the sport from 1963 onward. In São Paulo, the first surfers were Juan Haffers and Francisco Brasileiro, who is known as “Chicão Brasileiro.” Peter Troy, from Australia, had a great impact on the sport.
Legendary Surfers:Mário Bração, Geraldo, Persegue, Almir, Betinho, Fernanda Guerra, María Helena, Barriga, Ciro, Domeneque, Pepe López (a finalist at the Pipeline Masters, in Hawaii), Picuruta Salazar, Ricardo Bocao, Teco Padaratz, Fabio Gouveia, Peterson Rosa, Renán Rocha.
Current Stars:Adriano de Souza (São Paulo), Jadson André (Río Grande do Norte), Silvana Lima (Ceará), Diana Cristina ( Paraíba), Gabriel Medina (Maresias), Filipe Toledo (Ubatuba).
Up-and-comers: Hailing from Baia de Traição in Paraíba, Elivelton Santos is the new under-14 Brazilian champion. He lives in an indigenous community.
Great Breaks:Arpoador (Río de Janeiro), Praia da Joaquina (Forianópolis), Maresias (São Paulo), Praia da Guarda (Isla Santa Catarina).
New Discoveries: Isla Fernando de Noronha.
International Events: Brazil boasts the only “Prime” World Qualifying Series event in South America, held on Isla Fernando de Noronha. The country also hosts a number of national and international championships.
Contributions from Chico Padilha, Confederação Brasileira de Surf.
First Wave: In the early 1970s, local divers Lucho Tello and Icha Tapia began to surf in Ritoque, Quintero. They were later joined by Calá Vicuña and Alvaro Abarca (the first promoter of surfing in Chile and organizer of the first national championships in Pichilemu).
Legendary Surfers:Santiago Melus, Giovanni Visconti, Renato “Pelecho” Aguirre, Raúl Aliste, Mauro Machiavello, Javier Romero, Pablo Atucha, Elvis Muñoz.
Current Stars:Ramón Navarro, Cristián Merello, Jessica Anderson, Diego Medina, León Vicuña, Guille Satt, Manuel Selman.
Up-and-comers: Danilo Cerda, Cristóbal Rojas.
Great Breaks:El Gringo & El Buey (Arica); El Colegio, La Urraca, La Punta, Intendencia, Punta 2 (Iquique); La Cúpula (Antofagasta); Portofino (Chañaral); Totoralillo (Coquimbo); Ritoque (Quintero); Puertecillo, Punta de Lobos (Pichilemu).
New Discoveries:La Gotera in Pelluhue, Grandes Ligas in Huasco, Pichicuy in La Ligua, Santos del Mar in Chanco and Tres Tiritones in Antofagasta all offer challenging waves that have only begun to be tested and are recommended for experts only.
First Wave: In the 1960s, surfers traveled south from the U.S. in search of the perfect wave, but Ignacio Félix Cota, from Ensenada, Baja California, was one of the first to introduce the sport of surfing in Mexico. Nacho Félix made history by winning a world championship in San Diego, California, in 1965. Other pioneers of this wet and wild ride were Arturo Monroy, Rodrigo Huerta, Juan García, Luis Skeen and Alfonso Polidura.
Legendary Surfers:Evencio García Bibiano, José Manuel Cano, Ángel Salinas, Carlos Nogales, Patricio González, Leonel Pérez, Rogelio Ramírez, Raúl Noyola.
Current Stars:Dylan Southworth, Angelo Lozano, David Rutherford, Diego Cadena, Adán Hernández, Oscar Moncada, José Manuel Trujillo, Cristián Corzo, Heriberto Ramírez, Abel Estopin, Kalle Carranza.
First Wave: In the 1960s, Peruvian surfer Piti Block visited the coasts of Ecuador in search of new waves. He met up with Luis Estrada, Victoriano Posada, Dorothy Jurado and Christian Bjarner, who learned the sport and kept it alive. Interest in surfing waned during the 1970s, but a new boom began in the 1980s, lasting through the 90s and up until today, when a new wave of athletes is flooding international competitions.
Current Stars:Carlos Gonçálvez, Sebastián Santos, Israel Barona, Adrián Dapelo. Most of the country’s surfers get their start in Salinas and Guayaquil.
Great Breaks:Playas (Provincia del Guayas); Montañita, Playa Bruja, La FAE, Punta Carnero, Salinas (Provincia de Santa Elena); Manta, Canoa, San Mateo, Puerto Cayo & San José (Provincia de Manabí); Casa Blanca (Provincia de Esmeraldas). The turquoise waters of the Galapagos also offer dozens of surfing spots.
International Events: Every year, the Asociación Latinoamericana de Surf (ALAS) holds a six-star championship at Playa Montañita. The top surfers in Latin America flock to this classic spot to earn points and vie for recognition as Latin American champions.
First Wave: It all began in the 1960s with Vispo Rossi, Ariel González and Jaime Mier at Montevideo’s Playa Pocitos in the heart of Río de la Plata. Morton Rodberg, an agronomy engineer from Hawaii who was working in Uruguay, gave Chiquito Prada his first board. It’s likely that Rodberg was the first person to surf on Uruguayan waves.
Current Stars:Luis María Iturria & Julián Pérez (Punta del Este), Marco & Claus Giorgi (La Paloma), George Acosta (Punta del Diablo), Lilo Ferreira (Montevideo).
Up-and-comers: Francisco Morossini, Nicolás Malet and others who practice a progressive, aggressive surfing style.
Great Breaks:Punta del Este in Maldonado and La Paloma, Punta del Diablo and La Pedrera in Rocha. Uruguay has many beaches with fine, white sand and others with a rocky sea bottom that stretch from the cold waves of the Atlantic beaches to the warmer and tamer surf of the Río Uruguay.
First Wave: In 1969, a 13-year-old from the United States named Chan Moore came to visit Cartagena and was fascinated with the long, taut waves. In fact, he was so enamored of this sweet spot that two years later, he moved back to this Colombian city and began to spread the hang-ten gospel. He was joined by Colombians Memo Carreño, Francis Aldana, Aníbal Armador, Alberto García and Manuel Guerrero. In the 1980s, the local surfing boom was led by Jaime Guinnovar, Sergio Navarro, Alex Borelli and Felipe Castaño.
Current Stars:Anderson & Jefferson Tascón, Simón Salazar, Eduardo Arjona, Howard Gómez.
Up-and-comers: Andrés Porras, Angie Origua, Camilo Madriñán, Daniel Olmos, Eric Porto, Juan Carlos de Luque.
Great Breaks:The most famous surf spots can be found at Pico de Loro, Pela Pela and Terco, all on the Colombian Pacific in Nuquí, in the department of Chocó. There’s also Puntasur on the island of San Andrés; Isla Arena and Las Velas in Cartagena de Indias; and Casa Grande, Los Naranjos and Mendihuaca in the department of Magdalena. The best place for beginners is El Cantil in Nuquí.
Events: The Circuito Nacional de Surf Colombiano and the Moana Surf Triple Corona, held April 18-24, 2011.
Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP): This organization oversees professional surfing and organizes the World Championship Tour (WCT), a circuit with 48 competitors and ten annual dates. These events are held at different spots around the world, including Pipeline (Hawaii), Teahupoo (Tahiti) and Jeffereys Bay (South Africa). The ASP also holds a roving event called “The Search,” which promotes the adventure and travel-related aspects of surfing. In order to join the circuit, you have to classify in the World Qualifying Series (WQS), with hundreds of dates around the world.
International Surfing Association (ISA):This organization is responsible for amateur surfing, holding world championships by country, with annual event separated into different categories including Juniors, Opens and Masters. The World Surfing Games is the surfing equivalent of the Olympics.
As the governing body of world surfing, the International Surfing Association (ISA) is determined to make surfing a part of the Olympic Games. One requirement for its inclusion is the development of artificial waves, an advance that could revolutionize and further strengthen the sport by democratizing it and making it available to millions of people who live far from the coast.