I have been to South America now twice. My first trip I did there was about 3 years ago and I traveled from Colombia to Chile, starting in September and ending in December. The most recent trip I did was from Brazil to Colombia Starting in July in Brazil and ending in December in Colombia. So in a way, I have seen the continents seasons and what it has to offer. And with that offering come some of the best setups for surf I have ever seen. Along with some incredibly, underrated surfers that no one has heard about.
Now Brazil is a country that is written off by many surfers abroad, as a dumpy closeout beach break. However, I raise two questions. How big is the country of Brazil? And where is almost all of the surf action you here about watching the CT’s and see in the surf magazines on a regular basis? Brazil is the country out of all of them in South America that probably boasts the most potential for world-class surf and surfers. Brazil is a bit smaller than the continental U.S. and we only here about the surf in Rio or on Florianopolis and perhaps occasionally Fernando de Noronha. Lets just say, that I was thrilled I visited this country and found what I found.
I was like many who not only wrote off Brazilian surf, but also Brazilian surfers. But after visiting the country, it was obvious that there was something special to withhold and that a future world title would come from someone of this country. And I was right. My first week in Brazil, not knowing a single surfer there, I walked down to the beach in Rio and watched Wiggolly Dantas absolutely destroy a waste to shoulder high wave. And little did I know that he would be on the 2015 tour five months later.
Brayner Alves is another name to look out for. Coached by the infamous Fabio Gouveia, he bounces back and forth from Fernando de Noronha and Florianopolis. With both holding epic greatness of phenomenal waves, you better believe you will here this kids name again. And I could say that about a lot of surfers from Brazil, along with other countries in South America.
Uruguay for example, is a country more famous for their recent exploits of marijuana legalization than of its surf and surfers. But little that many surfers know is that, Uruguay has some amazing beach breaks. So amazing in fact that shapers like Jon Pyzel go down there and unwind after a shaping season from their WCT surfers. However, it may be chilly, but in the peak of winter is when there surf fires, and that is when the beach breaks and its surfers sprint to search during their small window of waves.
Guys like Sebastian Olarte, Tanja Fernandez, and Segunda Vargaz, are among the top surfers from Uruguay who recently made a stint in Peru at the ISA titles to show the world what they had to offer. Showing little in a competitive realm, but having the heart and drive to become what they believe in. Uruguay in my opinion is a country that will surprise many to astonish and shock if you were to see a clip of its surfers during a good swell. All they need is a little publication, and I feel like they could be in the same contention for the QS as there neighboring countries.
Argentina is an uprising country that many recent world stage surfers are coming out of. Most of us know about Alejo Muniz, and know him as a Brazilian surfer. But little do most know is that he is actually Argentinean, and his brother Santiago Muniz represents his family name as an Argentine surfer. Guys like Leandro and Francisco Usuna as well, are on the QS, battling it out to try and represent there country. Keep an eye on Argentina, there are fantastic surfers there and not to mention its coastline, there could be discoveries there that could change the way we look at surf exploration.
Now to mention surf exploration and South America in the same sentence would almost perfectly segway this country into the combination. Chile is without question the country of South America that has allured the term exploration and surfers to the continent. It is a country of extreme depth and variety that if you were to look up geography in the dictionary, and I was the author of said dictionary, I would literally write, “see Chile.” To have a country that is nearly the length of the west coast of the continental U.S. begs for exploration and variety.
Now we all know about Ramon Navarro and some may have heard of Cristian Merello, but there are so many talented surfers spanning the length of the country. Camilo Hernandez in the north of Iquique, where the slabs give way to spitting tubes and large waves. To Fabian Farias in the south where the left points bend there way around headlands and peninsulas. As well as the Lombardi cousins to mention a few more. And similarly like Argentina, there is an immense spanse of land down in Patagonia that is waiting to be discovered.
Kepa Acero went down there on a rumor from the Lombari’s and scored to unfathomable proportions. Little to the dismay of the Lombardi’s however, that is only the tip of the iceberg that is still to be found. Now there is a country that has been found and searched from head to toe. A country that is most likely the most infamous of the continent, and that is Peru.
Peru has to have the most popularity with regards to traveling surfers. From the longest ocean wave in the world at Chicama, to the spitting and twirling tubes of Cabo Blanco, Panic Point, and Lobitos. Not to mention a big wave that has been featured on the big wave world tour, Pico Alto, put Makua Rothman to the test and blessed him victorious in its last competition.
Now to mention Pico Alto would to also mention the recent exploits of one of Peru’s big wave surfers. At the moment, probably the most popular surfer out of Peru, Gabriel Villarian has been put on the stage with the big wave surfers of the continent as well as around the world. Also with popularity, Cristobal de Col as well as his late father Jose “Titi” De Col, were among the most influential and had the spot light for international uprising.
But I was given the great pleasure to meet one of Peru’s brightest futures. He is an 18 year old kid who can spin out if anything, and with his older brother Roberto and father and legend of Punta Hermosa (home of Pico Alto) Paco, pushing him and fueling his fire, Joaquin Del Castillo, in my eyes, will be Peru’s future for the QS and possibly the ‘CT.
He helped Team Peru to victory at the recent ISA Games, and just recently, along with cousin and SUP Professional Sebastian Del Castillo, rose to the top at a contest in El Salvador. In all honesty, Joaquin is Peru’s future. But if there were one surfer on that continent that I would choose to be the most successful, excluding Brazilian surfers, he would be the one to take it to the next level and be the inspiration for others to come.
Now inspiration is the perfect word to describe the surf along with the surfers that inhabit the next two countries that I had the pleasure of visiting. Ecuador and Colombia are two countries that many will never travel to for surf or not even think that the countries have surf. Ecuador’s future however is looking up, with its beach breaks and sub tropical waters, making it a fun place to go to surf dumpy closeouts. However, the country also holds point breaks and does have contests annually.
I unfortunately did not photograph many surfers or waves in Ecuador for its geography is stunning and its outdoor activities a plenty. But the surfers like Aurelio Prieto and Jonathan Zambrano Chila, rip the waves around Montanita, and the point regions of the south. I had the opportunity to photograph Jonathan, and to my surprise through my viewfinder of my camera, he landed and stomped things that I thought were only possible from Brazilian surfers. Clearly the beach break setups of the world are going to host the biggest stages for the future of surfing. Now with Ecuador being a bit of a surprise country for me, the most astonishing out of all the countries I traveled and photographed in was Colombia.
Colombia unfortunately still has the stigma of its dark past when Pablo Escobar and his bandits were taking over the country. But it has been a long time coming and the government has done some significant work in making Colombia a bright and successful country to visit as a tourist. My last trip there made the country look like it could be the next destination to go to. And I am sure Lonely Planet will jump all over it and make it a destination to see in 2015.
But besides its past and its recent exploits of trying to manage tourism, the Caribbean along with the Pacific Coasts of the country hold surf, and surfers that little to no one knows about. Colombia is the only country in South America that shares a coastline with the Pacific and the Caribbean, making it to me, the country out of all to beg for exploration.
There are two surfers in Colombia that I ran into and photographed. Howard El Chespi, born and raised in Cartagena, Colombia on the Caribbean, is a young and driven surfer that has to take a one-hour bus to get to the closest beach that has surf. And when he gets there, he gets to see tourists sun bathing on the beach and he gets to surf a dumpy closeout that one would think would be a terrible place to learn and push the envelope for growth. But he makes every section an air section, and lands crazy aerials on a regular basis.
The other is Simon Salazar. Probably Colombia’s greatest potential. He travels around Colombia, and South America with his sponsors and rips fun waves along the Caribbean as well as the Pacific. He has a surprisingly smooth style for the waves he surfs regularly and has an appreciative attitude for what he does trying to make it a living.
And to be honest, that is the reality of the surfers of South America. I never got the opportunity to travel to Venezuela, but the surfers like Rafael Pereira and Derek Gomez are among the same level as the other countries to represent where they’re from. But that is all they get to represent. Some have sponsors that actually support them beyond stickers and clothing. But all still have normal jobs and have to make a living to feed them and house themselves and families. Let alone get them their surfboards and wetsuits.
And the funniest thing to me is that there are surfers in the United States that I feel aren’t even as talented as some of the surfers I hung out with and photographed in South America, that actually make a living in the States out of surfing. While the surfers in South America have to work full time and still try and find time to surf and practice there skills.
So that is the unfortunate thing about surfing and the future of surfing in South America. All they need is the opportunity to showcase what they have on an international scale, and I personally can vouch and say that they could not only surprise but also embarrass the top seeds if given the opportunity. We all saw Carlos Munoz rise to the occasion at Lowers and beat Gabriel Medina. And I feel like there would be no difference, if one of the surfers from South America were to be put into the same shoes in a heat with a top seed.
All they want is a chance to be seen at a top level. All they want is to be published and to see what surfers around the world think of them. All they want is to be able to not have to work other jobs for a living while trying to surf at the same time. All they need is a chance. And if given that chance, the opportunities from what I saw, would be endlessly surprising.