Chile is a remote and very much foreign land to many Europeans, however the destination has some of the best wave-riding conditions in the world. Nothing says this more than the likes of Robby Swift, Klass Voget and Victor Fernandez all owning places there. So to bring a fresh perspective and a little bit of reality along the way, UK Female Wave Champion, Sarah Bibby and partner in crime, Stef Hilder report on a three week trip to wave heaven…
So here we are, ten hours into our journey back from Matanzas, waiting in Sao Paolo before another long eleven hour flight home to London. Having just spent three weeks in rural Chile surfing, windsurfing and generally being fools, we thought a quick recap of the trip might be entertaining to read.
1. Big day @ Mantanzas 2. Churrios 3. Mantanzas Beach 4. Mantanzas
Our first experience in Chile involved bartering with Chilean customs over nuts, protein powder and windsurf kit. Turns out nuts are dangerous, so had to be consumed on the spot, protein powder despite being technically banned as it is a dairy derivative is fine in kilo measurements and windsurf kit is approached with more security uproar than a rucksack of vegetables. After some very confused Spanish and examinations of all our four kit bags we were deemed ‘non hazardous’ to Chileans and allowed in!
Cue the first dilemma. Both being post graduates and sensible types we decided that a £900 hire car was best paid over the internet before arrival in Chile to an unknown company. Despite assurance that a guy would meet us, there was no sign of anyone holding a ‘Bibby’ plaque. Two helpful taxi drivers spent an hour trying not to laugh at us while explaining the issue of fraudulent companies and then proceeded to find a ‘friend who can hire you a truck’. Just as we were about to leave our friend turned up with our new Nissan pickup leaving us grinning from ear to ear with relief.
Right...time to drive 3 hours to Matanzas without a map, take a ten minute drive round suburban Santiago by accident and arrive in Matanzas to overhead and a half barrels, glassy lines to the horizon and time for a sunset surf!
Second problem, the truck Sarah had hired turned out to be a 4x2 not the 4x4 we thought we had ordered and as almost every spot involves driving on the sand we became reliant on Swifty and his tricked out Mitsubishi L200. Going surfing with Robby predominantly involves big barrelling waves and a series of ambiguous rock launch tips. ‘Paddle out a bit, climb on the rock with some seaweed on it, time the set, jump in, paddle left, avoid the sucking dry rocks...’. We decided to watch the four locals that Robby recommended we launch with, two made it out with a lot of panic paddling, one gave up almost immediately and the other got dragged over and through the rocks! Later in the trip however, we sorted out which rocks were which and from then on Matanzas became our favourite surf spot.
1. Derigging Chilean Style 2. Sarah Backside Aerial 3. Sarah Top Turn Topocalma 4. Stef Aerial Topocalma
Windsurfing in Chile is always in the afternoon. In the first week we got a few days sailing at Chorillos, a fun side on jumping spot very similar to Pozo but lighter winds, better waves and only 3 of you out! Every spot in Chile has a lot of current downwind due to the swell, offshore currents and wind directions. At Chorillos it makes it pretty hard to find ramps but at the riding spots (like Matanzas) it generally just makes getting out on big days a little trickier.
Only a week in and with a lot of help from Swifty we had arranged to drop our hire car back to Santiago and collect his pickup from the airport car park. Due to miscommunication early in the morning we spent an hour looking for the truck before finally meeting up at departures. Stef then had the genius idea of leaving our only working debit card in the machine for safe keeping. So three unnecessary parking fees later we tailed each other with no map and no communication through Santiago to drop off the hire car. Our Google map landmark notes failed when the one way street we needed was closed for road works. Somehow rush hour traffic, Sarah following despite some late lane changing and pot luck navigation worked!
Next issue...hot tubs. It turns out that with a fire heated hot tub, leaving it to warm up without the lid on and without stirring creates the most relaxing hot tub ever. After burning hot surface water you hit ice cold water at the bottom, kind of like standing in ice cream while being poached on top. Stef tested it three times before finally declaring it safe after succumbing to heat stroke and hypothermia at the same time.
On top of incorrect hot tub management skills Stef also developed some novel guest entertainment at a bbq hosted at our pimp house (Klaas and Victors). After preparing the steak and generally chatting as if he knew how to cook Lomo Liso, he casually tried to walk out through a closed sliding door, face planting and smearing the steak all down the window, pinning it between the window and the chopping board, somehow stopping it before it hit the floor. Pride dented but steak intact it did still taste great though...but by then the Pisco Sours had kicked in.
1. Punta De Lobos Wave Surf Qualifier 2. Sarah Surfing 3. Stef @ Chorillos 4. Topocalma
Fortunately Stef’s driving skills proved up to Chilean standards, with the best track being down to Puertecillo. Known as ‘el cuchillo’ or ‘the knife’ it winds down a ridge edge with 300m drops either side of the single track. It is so steep you have to go down in first gear in 4Low, with the windows down, doors unlocked and as our friend Peer calmly stated (when stopped at the road ends sign before descending) ‘Now is the time we take out seatbelts off in case we have to jump out if the car goes over the cliff’. Clean trousers please.
On one trip to Puertecillo for a morning surf, we were stopped by a local truck on the track from Matanzas. An elderly couple rapidly yabbered some Chilean at us and proceeded to get in our truck for a lift to their house before the knife track down. They then proceeded to insist we came and ate with them at their house despite communication consisting of broken Spanish and their daughter firmly believing shouting would help us understand! It was a truly great experience of Chilean hospitality, despite having very little they fed us enough bread, coffee and the local dish of fried sweet corn to make Sarah question whether she would be able to finish it out of politeness without being ill!
Interestingly, they asked if all people in England were blonde haired and blue eyed, upon hearing of the existence of ‘naranja’ (orange) haired people they all proceeded to laugh hysterically and even needed reassurance we weren’t mistaken by pointing at an orange cup! Upon arrival at the beach we found a cat in the truck, believing it was one of theirs we returned it after surfing. However, we weren’t fully sure it didn’t belong at Puertecillo. It turns out Sarah is an accidental cat thief in the making!
All this adventure and mayhem was worth it all when we finally scored Topocalma. It has to be one of our favourite spots on the planet: blue water, incredible scenery, peeling barrelling lefts and only 4 of us out! The spot can be tricky to sail as it is gusty and offshore and on big days there is a rippy closeout section in the downwind area. Due to there being no wind out back you have to be happy working your way upwind in the break. After one day of head high during which, Stef managed to leave the gopro on time lapse rather than film, resulting in 6gb of stills. We finally got logo high, occasionally mast high, 4.7m weather with amazing riding! 5 hours worth every penny spent.
1. Stef Late Hit Topocalma 2. Waveride at Topocalma 3. Sarah wave at Topocalma 4. Sarah Wipeout
So to wrap up, an amazing three weeks in Chile, with as much surfing as windsurfing, lots of new friends and experiences to remember. Fourteen hours travelling to go and we are already planning how to use our TAM miles to return soon!
We thought we would leave you with our top ten Chile do’s and don’ts!
- 1. For best security pay up front for a hire car
- 2. Don’t worry about checking the time (Chilean government decided Summer time will now last longer despite all electronic equipment changing leaving very confusing flight time information)
- 3. Maybe buy a map
- 4. Don’t necessarily take Swifty’s rock advice as gospel...he surfs Jaws
- 5. Do leave your only working bank card in a cash machine and then run out of money
- 6. Do shout louder if misunderstood...and remember the faster you talk the easier it is for others to understand
- 7. Do pack your surfboards away first to ensure the wind dies on the last day
- 8. To ensure full earthquake experience buildings are better than the beach...apparently
- 9. When entertaining guests smearing the steak around the windows isn’t considered correct etiquette
- 10. Gopro time-lapses:
i.Stars are not bright enough, a thousand photos of black doesn’t make a good video
ii.If you want top quality footage of you windsurfing maybe check you have it on video first