KEPA Acero recalls his extraordinary adventure in Antartica and why this surf-less surf trip proved to be his most incredible journey yet. Travelling under the Roaring Forties, Furious Fifties and Shrieking Sixties to The Great White Desert, he may not have found a wave, but instead renewed his relationship with the primacy of nature and the brutality of the lowest latitudes.
The adventure started when captain Unai Basurko called me and asked if I wanted to be a part of the crew on his Antartica expedition. We would be on board the Pakea Bizkaia sailboat, setting off in January 2013. I didn't think twice. You only have this chance once in a lifetime, so I said, of course I wanted to go. I started an investigation on Google Earth and pointed out a couple of spots.
I didn't think twice. You only have this chance once in a lifetime
Chris Malloy, who had been there before, also helped me in my hunt for a wave.
"Kepa, hope you are well. Its Chris Malloy here. i'm so excited about your Antarctica trip.I have been dreaming of going back for years now. I have some information on some good breaks if you are interested….Deception Island, there is a right at the mouth of the anchorage. Be VERY careful if you are surfing it as the tide drops it will suck you out to sea. Also the fur seals can be agressive there. ALWAYS surf so your friends can see you. If you lose each other things can go bad very quickly and with the cold you dont have much time to find the boat…GOOD LUCK AMIGO!!"
I had never been in a sailboat before, and I was going to spend a month on one. To be honest, I didn´t know if I was going to get any waves, and that´s part of the beauty in the game, as for sure it was going to be one of the best experiences of my life.
Going from Usuaia, the furthest south Patagonia, to Antarctica, is such a mission. It's a legendary sailers channel called "The Drake Passage". That area generates a low pressure every two days, with huge waves in deep waters, so it´s not easy to find a window to cross it. Finally, captain Unai Basurko made the decision to pass through and it took us three long days and nights on a boiling sea to reach our destination.
Casting off from the earth, there behind us we leave the land, and with it we cast off from society and the usual concerns. The unique problems we would be up against were the wind, staying safe from the sea conditions and the cold, and of course that the sailboat kept afloat. We were truly back-to-basics and those are the only concerns you have when you are out there, on your way to Antarctica.
The first time we saw Antarctica was the most special moment in the whole journey. That first panoramic view of a huge universe of ice, enormous snow walls and montains, icebergs everywhere and whales and penguins dancing all around… It really feels like you are such a small thing there, in the middle of that immensity, watching a completely new white universe of silence. It's one of the best feeling I have ever had.
It really feels like you are such a small thing there, in the middle of that immensity, watching a completely new white universe of silence. It's one of the best feeling I have ever had.
The surf exploration wasn´t easy. We crossed some of the spots that Chris was talking to me about, and some of the ones I found on the google earth. I soon came to realise that it was very hard to get close to the breaks. The most difficult part was that there are no nautical charts for those regions. Normally sailboats use the channels to sail, they never use the coastline with breaking waves, so the water depth is still undiscovered in these areas. It felt very dangerous, the last thing you want is to hit the bottom of your boat in the Antarctic.
I spent a few days checking my equipment. I knew that the water was going to be very cold, but to be honest, I never thought that I was going to get -29 F… I had great wetsuits, but still it was not enough, so I had to wear 2 wetsuit at the same time, one on top of the other one. I had to wear double gloves and boots as well. It felt all right for an hour, but then my hands got too cold. It quickly felt like a dangerous situation. You really feel like an astronaut with all that neoprene on you, but in the end, that is what you are in the Antarctica, and it works.
One of the beautiful, but also the scariest things, was the fauna. We could see the killer wales all around, but what was far worse were the leopard seals. This huge animal can be 10 feet long and weigh more than 1000 lbs. Living in the penguin colonies, it is protective and territorial. The chances of been attacked are much greater than that of a shark. Even so, they are still a beautiful animal.
After 15 days of exploring I was starting to get desperate after not surfing any waves. We were already on the Shrieking Sixties southern latitude and there was not a surfable wave in sight and I was starting to get desperate. Suddenly, while we were sailing around an iceberg, I saw this little wedge hitting the tail of the 'berg and forming a little righthander. I thought it was surfable so I didn't think about it twice. Always aware of the leopard seals, I put on both wetsuits, and paddled out for my first and maybe most unique surf of the whole trip.
We spent a few more days aboard the Pakea Bizkaia sailboat trying to find some proper waves, but it was so hard. Most of the places were pretty dangerous because of glaciers carving all the time. The swell was too small even if I could see some potential breaks around the coast. I did have some time to snowboard a bit, sharing it with the penguins too of course.
I realised it's not all about the waves. It's the adventure and having a close relationship with nature.
After spending a month aboard the Pakea Bizkaia, we decided to get back to Patagonia. Crossing the Drake Passage once again, we headed back to civilisation. I didn't get to surf any waves, but it was such a unforgettable surf trip. The wild continent, the experience with the sailors, the fauna… Once again I realised that a trip like this is not only about the waves. It's the adventure and having a close relationship with nature. That´s what surfing is all about, and I will never forget this, on this one trip with not one surfable wave.