After almost two months out of the water, we were keen to get back in the waves (I think I’d developed a nervous tic). So we hopped a bus North to Pichilemu, Chile’s unofficial surfing capital, and prayed for surf. Arriving at night, we checked into our hostel, asked about the waves, picked out rental boards, and went to bed fingers crossed.
Next morning our prayers were answered. We looked out across the deck from our hostel to see a solid swell breaking. Per the advice of our hostel crew (a couple of American buddies – Ryan and Clark – from SoCal who were awesome), we went to La Puntilla which breaks closer to town. It’s a rocky point, that then breaks over a wide open, shallow sand bay. “Just watch where others paddle out. You’ll be fine.”
Seemed straightforward enough… until we actually got in the water.
We followed the path of a few others through a keyhole in the rocks on foot, careful not to damage our boards on the rocks above and below the water. I’ve never been shy about staying on my feet as long as I can, saving my arms for the paddle out, but we’d gotten a late start and the tide was filling in faster than expected, so we hopped on our boards and started paddling.
From the shore, the waves didn’t look too intimidating. An occasionally larger set rolling through, but it was generally waist to chest with some standout overhead stuff. Nothing we couldn’t handle… or so we thought.
Within seconds of starting to paddle, we were quickly being swept North across the impact zone, requiring duck dive after duck dive, after duck dive. On our clunky rental boards, that was a taller order than we were prepared for. The paddle out seemed like an eternity (likely only 10 minutes in reality), but we were tiring out quickly. So we made it a short session and reevaluated.
We ended up grabbing different (better) boards from another surf school, and went back out at low tide. Muuuuuuch better. Still not easy – the currents are just so strong in Pichilemu – but at least we felt capable again. We opted to stay for 5 days.
I found my way around the wave and the crowd. Getting up early for what I called “Gringo Dawn Patrol,” I was rewarded with next to no crowd early (early in Chile is 8 or 9AM), and only a few other travelers in the water. We all commiserated about the paddle out. How long it had been since we’d been in the water. How the wave seemed like it was going to break outside, but really required a later takeoff on the inside. It wasn’t until about 1030 or 11 that the local Chilean rippers would get in the water and start paddle-battling for every wave.
Not one for aggro competition like that, I chilled outside for larger sets breaking wide, or just waited out the ego battles and picked off the later waves in each set. Definitely some of the longest lefts I’ve surfed in my life, and I certainly wasn’t getting the best waves of every set or even trying to max them out. Just trying to have fun, not piss anyone off, and not freeze to death.
Oh, did I not mention that the water in Pichilemu is COLD. Our 3/2mm wetsuits weren’t enough, so we rented 4/3’s, and I even bought boots, and still, I was frozen after 90 minutes.
The swell dropped a little but we surfed as much as we could. Our hostel was a really chill spot and we were happy to cook breakfast, lunch, dinner most meals, but we also partook in a couple group meals. Ryan – who worked at the hostel and is a chef by trade – put on a couple great meals for the whole hostel, baked in a traditional Chilean brick oven. Really nice to hang with some likeminded travelers, enjoying a good meal, and a cold beer after hours in the water.
What else? We took a day trip to Punta de Lobos which Annie wrote about here, but other than that, we just chilled, surfed, enjoyed the beach, walked around town a bit, ate some empanadas and enjoyed some sunsets.
At a glance —
- The adventures are all in the surf.
- Eat at El Quincho del Ross. Awesome, fresh made, wood oven baked empanadas.
- Don’t try to paddle out at high tide at La Puntilla.
- Be sure to BYO 4/3 wetsuit + boots. BYO wax. BYO board too if you can! Surf gear is in very limited supply, and the rental stuff just isn’t up to snuff.