First Session Chicama: How the Longest Wave in the World Was Discovered

Matt Rode

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Updated 206d ago

Our First Session series peels back the legend on the first surfers at various famous spots from across the globe. We've already covered Teahupoo, Waimea, Anchor Point, Cloudbreak, Bali, J-Bay, Puerto Escondido, Mundaka, Hossegor, Jaws, Byron Bay, Huntington Beach, Germany and Tofino. Let us know in the comments if there is anywhere else you'd like us to shine a spotlight on.

Having recently started foiling, I have a newfound appreciation for super long, super slopey waves—and there are few waves longer and slopier than Peru’s fabled left-hander Chicama.

Considered by many to be the longest left-hander in the world, Chicama sucks in big, long-period, southern hemi swell, peeling for over two kms through a number of sections, including Malpaso, Keys, the Point, and El Hombre. While it’s not the hollowest or heaviest wave in Peru, Chicama has been known to produce three-to-five minute rides when the swell gets big, and has been a mandatory stop for visiting surfers since its discovery in the mid-1960s.

Forecast | Chicama

Let us tell you! Jon Gubbins is a barrel smoocher. Peru, his home and the wave? Endless!

Chicama’s history is somewhat unique, in that it was not pioneered by the man who discovered it. In fact, as of 2020, Chuck Shipman still hadn’t ridden the wave, despite being the person to put it on the map. The Hawaiian resident was on a flight over northern Peru in 1965 when he saw the left-hander peeling endlessly, and quickly grabbed a map to document its location. The wave was near Puerto Malabrigo, but the larger area was called the Chicama River Valley, and Shipman thought “Chicama” had a nicer ring than “Malabrigo.” The rag-tag crew made their way to the town and found what Shipman had spent the past year looking for—the world’s longest wave

Shipman organised a number of overland missions to find the wave in 1966, but they all came up short, failing to find the dusty road that led to the point. While they surfed Pacasmayo during those trips, they never did find Chicama. In the meantime, Shipman shared his discovery with a number of friends in Peru, who continued his search. Carlos “Flaco” Barreda took five surfing buddies up the coast in a Citreon 2CV and a VW Beetle, and they started driving down ever dirt road they could find north of Lima.

If only we could tell you exactly which months are best....

If only we could tell you exactly which months are best....

Barreda and his crew were worried that Shipman had unknowingly spotted Huanachaco, which was already a known wave, but his otherworldly description of the endless wave kept their hopes alive, and they eventually found their way to the Chicama region. When they arrived in the small town of Paijan, they spoke with some locals who buoyed their spirits as they described a long wave in the nearby town of Puerto Malabrigo. The rag-tag crew made their way to the town and found what Shipman had spent the past year looking for—the world’s longest wave.

Take a peep via our live cam!

Today, Chicama is arguably Peru’s best-known wave. It sees thousands of visitors per year, from high-pro shortboarders and fish-riding hipsters to loggers, SUP riders, and Laird Hamilton on a foil board. The area has a number of hotels, surf camps, yoga retreats, and everything else we’ve come to expect from bonafide surf tourist destinations.

Laird doing Laird-y things in Peru.

As local Peruvian talent Jonathan Gubbins puts it, “The wave is as epic and long as it has always been. It gets really good with southwest swells, especially El Hombre section, which can get really hollow. What has changed is that now there is a big variety of surf resorts that make your stay very pleasant—some of them world class—whereas before visiting surfers simply stayed at a few fishermen’s houses. It’s a great place for getting surfed out, for sure." 

That being said, Chicama has also seen its share of struggles over the past few years. In 2017, Peru suffered historic flooding, and the Chicama River Valley was no exception. While the area around the wave saw some damage, it was the village on the outskirts of the area that suffered the most, with farmlands and homes destroyed and locals left with nothing. Fortunately, local surf camps and Waves 4 Water stepped in to help with the recovery in the area, and Chicama was soon back in business, churning out the mile-long leg-burners that Shipman saw from the air nearly 60-years-ago.