A long coastline, consistent swells, ever-changing sandbars, these are some of the things that combine to make Chile a powerhouse in surfing. In part two of a three-part series, CT explains how it all comes together.
Chile’s geography is uniquely suited to surfing.
As vividly depicted by Brilliant Maps, the country extends 4,270km. That’s more than three times the length of California.
Stand Chile on Morocco and it reaches all the way to the icy top of Norway. Lay it across the United States and it arcs from San Francisco to Manhattan. Or pin it to Manhattan and let it swing south like a paper donkey tail and it sweeps past Bogotá, Colombia.
When people ask me about the size of Chile… pic.twitter.com/t9w5KF6gs8— Boris van der Spek (@BorisvanderSpek) January 17, 2019
For all that length, the country at its widest is only 350km and averages just 177km east to west. That means just about everyone in the country is only a short drive to the coast (traffic willing). Or, as Stab Magazine put it in their “20 Places to Surf before 2020,” “Geographically, Chile is essentially one big coast.”
But there are other factors that make Chile unique. As Magicseaweed.com explains, “South Pacific lows pushed along by the Humboldt Current generate the most consistent swells on the planet, resulting in a surf excess rather than the usual problem of flat days. Just off the coastline of Chile is a deep-water trench, which plunges to depths of 8000m, and allows SW swells to hit the coast with speed and power. Together with the dominant S winds, perfect set-ups abound in the north-facing bays for reeling offshore lefts to create a goofy-footers heaven with a distinct lack of goofy footers.”
Geography + culture shift = boom
That means anyone with the means can hit the surf; and, so it seems, especially people with the means. As Javiera Quiroga reported in Bloomberg, bankers are currently driving a surfing boom in Chile.
“It’s only a three-hour drive from [Santiago] to some of the best surfing along the Pacific coast,” Quiroga noted, and “[t]his new generation of Chilean bankers doesn’t care for such sedate, leisurely pastimes as golf. They want something more high-adrenaline: mountain biking, motocross, and, increasingly, surfing.”
“Literally thousands of potential spots”
As the Stab Magazine article notes, however, if one is willing to travel, or if one already lives along the seemingly endless coast of Chile, there are “[l]iterally thousands of potential spots …. Varied, too; Every kinda setup you might hope to come across, often breaking with a similar power and genetic makeup to what you might find in California.”
California photographer Chris Burkard, quoted in the article said, “I was surprised to see how similar it was. …. It was like surfing places around home, except with perfect waves—Chile was somewhere that, to this day, I don’t think I’ve seen more point break ruler-edge surf.”
Burkhard, hit upon another aspect to many of the breaks along Chile’s coast: sandbars. Chile lends itself to the “classic roadtrip where you hop in the car, point it where you wanna go, and drive there. And you’ll definitely stumble across waves that way. [There are] so many sandbars everywhere. The wave you saw 10 minutes down the road might be the best wave. That’s what makes it such a unique spot.”
Read Part I of the series here:
Sometimes a spot is a spot until it’s not
But, of course, as many surfers know, what the sandbar “giveth,” it can so easily “taketh” away. Ashtyn Douglas vividly captured this in his article, “Object Impermanence,” for Surfer: on a cold, fall morning in southern Chile, local surfer Ramón Navarro happened upon a previously unremarkable spot during a long-period south swell.
“A biting offshore wind was grooming a reeling left-hand point into a gassed-up Mundaka lookalike,” and, “[t]o the best of his knowledge,’ this wave had never been surfed before, most likely because it had never looked like this before.”
After a week of “oversized, draining tubes,” Navarro and others “decided to name the wave ‘Solos’ and they swore to keep its location confidential.” It turned out there was no need. A few months later the wave was gone. “It was all sectioned out and the bar had been eaten up.”
Which is to say that part three of our three-part series, CT’s “Top 10” list is, at best, an educated guess, trapped in time. The true, best of the best might come and go before anyone knows it. But that’s part of the fun.
Robert Travis grew up in San Francisco, California, and moved to Santiago, Chile, in July 2018. In addition to editing and writing for Chile Today, he practices law from afar with Travis & Travis. He’s thrilled to be living in the same hemisphere as “the world’s longest left,” Playa Chicama.