Lobitos, Peru is like no other town. It’s a small desert town (1000 people!), so dry that from above the packed dirt and sand crags must look like an uninhabitable planet. The town is mellow, slow-paced, walkable, friendly (everyone says “buenas” to one another), and safe. You can walk around at night in the darkness of the lightless streets and say Hi to a mom walking calmly along with her stroller. Homes are cement squares (or pieced together reclaimed wood), topped with a flap of corrugated metal, paint is bleached and chipped by the sun and coated in dust, spiders and lizards come in and go as they please through the wide open cracks.
At a glance, the town looks almost abandoned, except for the occasional stray dog and chugging oil rig, but when you stay (which we did for two weeks) you start to notice all the small details….the bodegas tucked into a home with barely a sign showcasing what they offer (usually you have to peek your head and yell for the shopkeeper), the woman that sells chulacas (homemade tube ice pops of flavors like coco, strawberry, and a dense sap) out of her window, the surf shops that are never, but always open (the shop owner can always be called). Its subtle, but there is certainly life in Lobitos and volunteering with the Waves for Development program helped us realize that and get the chance to connect with the community, more so than just visiting for the surf.
Surfers, up for an adventure and with time to spare, come from around the world to the remote little town of Lobitos, which unbeknownst to the larger surfing community, has incredible waves. It’s possible to stay in a foreign-owned surf bungalow right on the beach near the surf breaks (La Puntilla and La Piscinas) and probably for pretty cheap. Or, you can stay in the Waves for Development house and get your surfing fix and also help out in your downtime. Waves was started by our buddy, Dave Aabo, who traveled to Lobitos and saw an opportunity to connect the foreign surfers with the kids in the community. Waves runs free daily sessions for the kids when they are not in school – they can choose from surfing, English, arts and crafts with recycled materials, and swimming classes.
We got to bunk up with three other like-minded Americans in the Waves house and help out with all of the classes. As we’re on a world tour, we only popped in for two weeks (the minimum recommended stay) and the other volunteers were there for two months or more each. To get plugged into the program, we’d recommend staying for at least a month, but two weeks was still enough time for us to help out, get familiar with the kids and the surf breaks (check out our Lobitos surf guide). The Waves program is well-respected throughout the town and includes the majority of the kids, and even some of the parents are involved in the adult English classes. The program is managed on the ground by two local women, who have been involved for 7+ years each, and longterm teachers (foreign and local) are employed to run each of the programs. This creates a solid and consistent foundation as eager volunteers come through in waves.
My personal favorite was helping out with the swimming classes. When the ocean wasn’t too rough, we’d walk 30 minutes with the kids to La Piscina, the rock pool that fills with ocean water when waves comes crashing over. It is a really beautiful, but rugged spot to learn how to swim. The kids don’t seem to mind and were happy as clams paddling around and getting washed across the pool every time a wave crashed over. Surfing classes were run by Johnnie, who owns a surf school in the area. It was mostly the boys that would come out for these, but sometimes some girls would show up and squeal as the bellyboarded into the shore. Again, the kids were fearless and so stoked on every little wave they caught. They are raised by a strong ocean, most sons and daughters of fishermen, so it’s so important that they learn how to swim (for safety) and surf (for pleasure).
Since our Spanish is pretty weak, we opted out of a few language classes to help paint things at the house instead, as we felt that was a better use of our time. Volunteers can really get involved in anything or create their own projects depending on their skills.
An average day with Waves looks something like this:
- get up and surf at 6am
- eat a quick breakfast
- head out for surf lessons with the kids at 10am-12pm
- eat lunch together, cooked by the house managers
- read, hammock, or surf again
- walk ten minutes to the other side of town to English class 3-5pm
- back to chilling or fixing something at the house
- dinner together at the house (or go out to a restaurant in the area)
- early to bed
Gear to bring:
- casual clothing that can get sweaty – it’s hot!
- 2 pairs of sandals (ours were stolen off the beach)
- surfboard – the Waves house has a small selection up for grabs, but you might want your own
- extra leash, a set of fins, wax – there are 2 surf shops with a few boards for rent (and some for sale), but offerings are really minimal and there were are not extras kicking around the house
- sunscreen and bug spray
- books for down time
- spring suit – in January we were comfortable in a 3/2 in the morning and a thicker rash guard midday in the sun
- pepto, Tums, and Cipro, in case you get sick
- bring small bills, coins are best – we had a daily bread and jello seller come by every day and your average purchase will be 50 centavos (about 17 cents)
- stop at the market on the way to Lobitos for snacks – if you’re surfing every day you’ll get hungry in between meals, and there’s no real markets in Lobitos
- only drink bottled water – the town doesn’t pipe in water, so the houses pay someone to come fill their tanks, often with non-chlorinated water
- don’t leave your sandals on the beach, there is a sandal bandit!
- be proactive – if you’re only there for two weeks, make sure to use your skills to help Waves and go to all the classes (even if the waves look good)
- learn Spanish in advance – other volunteers will speak English, but it’s harder to connect with the kids if you don’t know much Spanish
- get a surf lesson with Johnnie and start at La Puntilla if you’re a beginner
- don’t bring too many clothes – laundry can be arranged for a few dollars when you need