Last week, a XXL the likes of which we haven't seen in years dwarfed the 4,000 mile coastline of Chile. Big wave surfers mobilised in South America, preparing for a few days of stunning conditions and at least two big wave events. And then, there were those who were looking elsewhere. Chile's Rafael Tapia decided to roll the dice. The Nazare veteran chased this storm up and down a 300-mile stretch in search of new waves. Here's how it went down.
Words by Rafa Tapia
We knew it was going to be massive for a couple of days. When those big storms come deep out of the South Pacific, it's go time.
Discovering waves in Chile has been something I've been dong for years already. In fact, word on the street was that the biggest wave in South America was discovered way back in August 2010, as part of an exploratory mission during a massive storm with Alemao de Maresias and previous Guinness World Record holder for biggest wave ever surfed, Rodrigo Koxa. In that year, Koxa was a XXL finalist for biggest wave of the year. That's some foreshadowing to what he eventually did in 2017 at Nazare, when broke the record.
Anyway, it was early during this swell window that the big wave event, El Buey Santos del mar, was called on in north Chile. We looked at the charts and this was, for sure, a great swell for it. One of those homegrown, friendly big wave comps, where whoever wants to really charge is more than welcome. But what we noticed is that the bulk of the swell was actually going to hit central and south Chile a day earlier.
Big swells in Chile are not rare, but huge swells like this one don't come too often, only every couple of years. It was time to gather a team and put a crazy plan in place.
Lucas Chumbo was already in Chile doing a trip to promote the country in the Brazilian market, Lucas is always a safe bet and surfs incredibly well, as we all know, he was a solid addition to whatever the chase was going to be in Chile.
Couple days before the swell they decided to run a invitation only event in Punta de Lobos, Chumbo was called in so he was not going to be able to be part of this mission. With a little chance of making an invitation only event, I decided to call a good friend that has been sitting quietly in Nazare for a few years now, Uruayan Surfear Pepe Gomez, and old friend Luca Cohen. Last minute addition was local surfers Pato Blaschke and Martin Rojas, who brought a friend who had never shot from the water. And that was our only hope to get some footage.
Safe to say; it was one of the most stressful swells I'd ever experienced in Chile, everything was changing, especially the local winds. We made plans, then back up plans, then back up to the back up plans and each one of these changed every hour or so for five days straight. Headache? Yeah, and then some.
The main idea was to find another gem of a gigantic wave given the forecast, but some hiccups with equipment where hard, we tried to enlist anyone who could shoot. What if we found the next Chilean Holy Grail? But that was so hard with every shooter we knew focussed on the Lobos event. It was impossible to tie anyone down.
We went anyway, travelling north of Lobos, trying to find different places that could handle or amplify this huge swell. It was such a crazy morning, with a lot energy and unruly ocean, huge coastal erosions but hard to find that special place.
We surfed a more protected reef point that was remarkable, couldn't say we found a new wave but instead of finding the huge massive one, we were rewarded with perfection, big barrels and occasional blue water (sometimes, after the huge ones, some weird currents would go through the line up).
We considered day one a win, we all shared some waves, I got rewarded with a very good barrel and it was incredible that our photographer managed to get a great a shot too! He was even more stoked than us.
The three amigos, myself, Pepe Tapia and Luca waved goodbye to the local crew and rushed to the airport to catch a plane to Arica, north of Chile for some guaranteed size and hopefully perfection in the Santos del Mar contest.
Arica, in the north of Chile, is one of those places you come back and always wonder why you are not there more, great people, waves, warmer than the rest of the country.
We had two days of swell there, everyone that came over had a smile, waves ranged from super heavy and bumpy to heavy and sheet glass the entire time. We reunited with Chumbo for some early morning tow tubes.
Fells like everyone that wanted to surf in the contest was allowed and had an epic time, some heavy carnage with lots of broken boards a competitor or two with some injuries. I actually copped a super heavy wipeout but there were some crazy tubes, especially from the winner Cristobal de Col.
Rafa's wipeout, tweaked his back but will be up and running soon.
Look, the camaraderie is insane in Chile. No one can deny that. And the potential for new discoveries is definitely out there. We're all down for more exploration when we are here during these southern hemisphere winters. We'll all go our separate ways but eventually make our way back to the northern hemi base at Nazare for the winter and all tell our stories. This will be the one I talk about. The Endless Summer? Not for us. We're ready for that Endless Winter.