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It wasn't a matter of what you would do if you got caught inside during the paddle out—when the keyhole closed out, taking it on the head was not an option. That's a solid 20-foot face and it's basically sucking the reef dry.© 2013 Diego Figueroa
We paddled out at the peak of the swell, with sets hitting every minute or two. Somehow we were able to time it perfectly and snuck through the keyhole between sets. A monster ended up closing out the channel about 30 seconds after we cleared it.© 2013 Diego Figueroa
Big wave surfing is for the birds! Carlito and Bento waiting for a bomb on the big day. The duo ended up paddling 2.5 miles down the coast to come in safely through the harbour—where they stashed their boards so as not to be caught and ticketed by the Armada de Chile.© 2013 Diego Figueroa
In moments like these, a 9'2 feels like a pretty tiny board. Next time I'll take something in the much larger range...© 2013 Diego Figueroa
Leon Vicuna handling a big drop with impeccable style.© 2013 Diego Figueroa
A lot of huge, perfect waves went unridden the big day, which is a testament to how difficult the conditions actually were.© 2013 Diego Figueroa
The big day was really difficult to paddle, as it was breaking all over the place and the sets were pretty massive. We sat for an hour and a half before I caught this wave, and it ended up being my only wave of the day. The channel was closing out and this was the first wave of the set, so I took around 10 on the head and got pushed all the way in to shore. Then I had to hide from the military.© 2013 Diego Figueroa
This is another shot of the keyhole channel we had to paddle out through on the big day. The photo makes the wave look beautiful, but it was one of the scarier experiences of my life.© 2013 Diego Figueroa
When the swell dropped a bit on the second day we were able to use the normal keyhole to paddle out. That’s Ismael Herreros (with the gun) and Marcos Iribarne (with the bodyboard) about to paddle out. Ismael is an underground charger from Pichilemu who has made it into the Punta Lobos contest via the trials a few times, and Marcos is a hell charger in his own right. Both are two of the happiest and nicest people you'll ever meet.© 2013 Diego Figueroa
The second day was a bit smaller, instead of the three of us, there were about a dozen guys out. But this photo is very deceptive. It must been taken between sets, because there were solid 20-30 foot faces coming through all day.© 2013 Diego Figueroa
Leon Vicuna is one of Chile's best surfers, the complete package — high performance, barrels, big waves. This was his first wave on the second day, and he caught it just as I was paddling out. Very inspiring.© 2013 Diego Figueroa
Santiago Di Pace missed the first day and the chance to charge with his brother, as he flew into town late that evening. He more than made up for it the second day.© 2013 Diego Figueroa
Carlito Di Pace dominated this swell. He was one of only three people to paddle out the big day, and was on fire during the second day’s session, scoring five solid waves before this unfortunate mishap resulted in two broken boards.© 2013 Diego Figueroa
This is my first wave on the second smaller day. This day was much more manageable than the first day—more of a user-friendly session.© 2013 Diego Figueroa
The coastline in this area is very unforgiving, with miles of volcanic reef being constantly hammered by South Pacific juice.© 2013 Diego Figueroa
Potentially the best big wave barrel in the world—if you can get in early, and from deep enough. If you estimate the wingspan of that bird soaring in front of the wave at around three feet, then this is somewhere between a 40 to 50 foot face — and it's breaking top-to-bottom.© 2013 Diego Figueroa
According to the Armada de Chile (the Chilean Navy), "Thursday marked the biggest swell to hit northern Chile in over 30 years."
Normally we would like to quantify that statement but we don't have a full 30 years of data. However we can say that further south (from Matt's location) it hit around the 20ft at 19 second mark which is an exceptionally large swell.
For obvious reasons, Chileans don’t celebrate the 4th of July. It’s the US’s day of independence, after all, not theirs — which means no fireworks, no barbecues, and no parades. Yet something tells me that from now on the date will have some significance here — at least amongst the country’s big wave community.
It was Chile’s version of a Code Red swell, and came accompanied by threats of hefty tickets for nadador extrema (extreme swimming) — hefty being in the range of “five grams of gold.”
According to the Armada de Chile, Thursday marked the biggest swell to hit northern Chile in over 30 years. With roads and houses being washed away and harbours closing out, the military higher-ups made the decision to close the coast to watercraft—and that included surfers. It was Chile’s version of a Code Red swell, and came accompanied by threats of hefty tickets for nadador extrema (extreme swimming) — hefty being in the range of “five grams of gold.” This antiquated threat — along with occasional sets pushing 50 feet on the face and a death-wish paddle out through a lava reef keyhole that was sucking dry — gave our small group of would-be chargers a moment of pause, but after a bit of deliberation three of us decided that we should make an early morning run for it. We were all foreigners — from Argentina, Brazil, and the US — and figured that if it came down to a court appearance, we might be able to beat the fine (no taxation without representation, or something like that). So, in the spirit of Independence Day, we grabbed our guns and threw ourselves into the water, like so many bags of Boston tea.
Although I have prioritized large surf over the past few years, I definitely didn’t have the experience of my two fellow rebels. Carlos is one of Argentina’s best big wave riders, and is a household name in South American heavy water circles, having competed in the Pico Alto contest and being a regular on the alternate list for the Punta Lobos event. And Bento, our Brazilian brother-in-arms, has spent the past five years chasing swells around the planet, spending large portions of the year in Chile and self-funding missions to Puerto Escondido, Todos Santos, Mavericks, and any number of other hell waves. But even with their experience, they had to admit that this particular Chilean swell was historic. Bento even went so far as to claim that it was one of the heaviest sessions of his life—and he’s surfed 20-foot Mavs.
We surfed this swell old school style, without jet ski safety assist or inflatable vests or any other fancy life-preserving do-hickeys.
We surfed this swell old school style, without jet ski safety assist or inflatable vests or any other fancy life-preserving do-hickeys, and with the channel consistently closing out and the normal lineup thrown out of whack by the swell’s size and interval, we spent a lot of time sitting and not a lot of time surfing. But a handful of waves were surfed. They weren’t the biggest to come through during the day, but they were solid enough to make the potential tickets more than worthwhile. And when we finally made it to shore a few hours later—a shore teeming with hundreds of military personnel (it seems we’d get our parade after all, albeit a day late)—we did what any responsible guerrillas would do and hid in the bushes to fight another day. After all, that’s how the US won its independence 237 years ago.
Words, Matt Rott
Photography, Diego Figueroa