This is about our surfing in Lobitos. To read up on our experience with WAVES for Development, read Annie’s post here.
We arrived in Lobitos late on a Friday afternoon. Eager to surf, and feeding off of the stoke of the other volunteers, we were in the water within a couple hours.
First stop was “La Punta,” (the point), aptly named. La Punta is a left-hand point break over rocks that give way to sand. When the swell is strong, the wave breaks outside across the rocks. Seems like it could give a nice long ride, but the swell wasn’t strong enough while I was there. After breaking once, the wave then ‘reforms’ as the water moves inside, and there’s another smaller wave formed that is essentially a beach break.
For a small, remote desert town full of fishermen and oil rigs, the surf was more crowded than I expected, but certainly not as bad as NYC on a good day, and it had the benefit of more consistent waves.
The crowd was a mix of locals and gringos of the usual mix (i.e. Australians), some ripping, others just bobbing like buoys. This was generally our experience during sunset sessions, especially on weekends, but the mornings were a different story…
As we’ve seen elsewhere in South America, no one wakes up early! Said another way, the early bird gets the [waves]! Waking up before light, we’d get down to the beach and in the water before anyone else, scoring waves by ourselves, and eventually with other gringos willing to rise early.
Of course, the other way to get waves to yourselves is to travel further than anyone else. Which brings us to our next break…
Short for Punta Panama, I’d been hearing about this spot from the other volunteers for days. Chemy seemed scared to go back. Zuheir (a.k.a. Zuey) had his board snapped in half… in the whitewash. “Heaaavvvyy” is what everyone kept saying. But, it was a right (I much prefer surfing rights because I’m on my forehand), and uncrowded, and, well, it would be an adventure.
So when the swell came up, forecasting 7-8 feet, it was on.
Departing our house at ~5AM, Brian – another volunteer – and I walked the two miles to Punta Panama, mostly in the dark, mostly in silence, save for the sound of crashing, no, exploding waves, on shore.
We arrived at ~6AM and stashed our gear (thus we didn’t bring cameras so I have zero photos of Panama. Use your imagination). Suiting up on the beach, it was hard to get a sense of the power of the wave – it breaks really far off shore – but then you do the math and realize it’s almost certainly bigger than it looks.
Brian also prefers ‘rights’ and had been surfing Panama for a couple weeks already. He gave me some advice. “You can’t sit too far outside.” Which is to say, “don’t get caught inside” [the breaking waves]. Noted.
We paddled out. Far out. Seemingly too deep to catch waves. It seemed like every swell was passing us by and breaking further in… But then, sure enough, a set rolled through and I scrambled as fast as I could to get over it before it broke my board… or me.
I wasn’t exactly on the right board for the conditions, but it was the best board I could find in the volunteer quiver. After paddling for, and not catching a few waves, I was concerned I had too little length/buoyancy in my board and was going to struggle. But with no one else out there, I could take chances. So I did.
A set came, I waited out the first pulse, got myself in position for the next, put my head down and paddled hard. I popped up and flew down the face, bottom turning, I looked up the face of the wave to see its size. Putting a number on a wave is always hard, and usually dumb, but from where I stood, it was at least over my head (at 6ft + tall). Plenty big. Plenty heavy. A few smooth carves, and then I kicked out with a giant smile on my face.
I caught a few more big waves that morning. Brian caught a bunch. We both did get caught inside eventually, taking more than a few waves on the head, and thus some long hold-downs, but we got out of the water safely (save for some nasty cuts on my feet from misjudging the rocks on my way out).
I got to surf Panama once more while I was there and, while a bit smaller, it was equally as fun – more waves, longer rides, and only Brian and I in the water the whole time (Annie was, understandably, not in love with the deep water, rocky, heavy break).
Nearly the entire time we were in Lobitos, Zuey talked about Generales. We hadn’t seen it break very well, so we’d stayed away from it, but on our next to last morning in Lobitos, Zuey, Brian, and I had a feeling that the forecast was in our favor. We headed out early and were rewarded with no crowd, offshore winds, and fun little lefts rolling through everywhere.
[Video of Generales coming soon]…
We surfed freely. With no one else out, we were clear to take ridiculous drops… sometimes we made them. Sometimes we didn’t. Didn’t matter though. It was all smiles between the three of us. The only thing that could’ve topped the fun of that session was the next day, our last in Lobitos, when Annie and Chemy joined us in the same spot.
Annie had been surfing pretty well the past few days — she’d been picking off fun little waves at La Punta — but this final day, she surfed so elegantly it put a huge smile on my face. I didn’t wear my wetsuit, and I got cold after more than an hour. I caught a fun, long little left and called it a day, opting to sit on the beach in the sun, warming up, and watching my friends.
In my head, I was awarding everyone on their surfing — “Most elegant.” “Most creative.” “Most heavy metal.” — Little did I know, our crew had started a friendly competition in the water, and Annie won wave of the day!
It was a perfect session to end our time in Lobitos.
- Do… bring your own board. We were lucky to have access to the WAVES volunteer quiver, but even that was slim pickings. Also bring your own accessories. Leash, fins, wax, etc. There aren’t really any surf shops in Lobitos.
- Do… bring a wetsuit of some sort. I just wore trunks and a rash guard a lot, but couldn’t last more than an hour. The water’s warm. Just not warm enough. My old 3/2 was great. A shorty/spring suit would’ve been better.
- Don’t… fret if you get dropped in on, or paddled around, or any of that bull. From what I can see, it’s fairly common in South America, and honestly, can you blame a local for going after their waves aggressively? There are plenty of waves. Find yours.
P.S. If it’s flat… find yourself an oil rig for your daily rush…