Sunday, March 14, 2010

Surf Town for sale? Surfing Lobitos.

Currently I'm trying to write a surf guide toPeru, and though I have blogged about  Lobitos before, I thought I'd stick it on my blog, and see if I could get any feedback, after all there is nothing worse than going down the wrong road for longer than you need to

Huntington Beach, Jeffrey's Bay, Torquay, Pichelemeu, Kuta, Hossegor.....There are surf towns in every continent and then some. These places are different, town's focussed on the sea, the waves and its moods. The focus is sharper than elsewhere, surfers are drawn in and reluctant to leave.

The town, the houses, the crowds and the reputation of the place all grow. It's not long before people start searching for the original pioneers and local crew, pictures of the place before the developers moved in and the grainy black and white shots of the "Day of days."

So how about a place where this progress is in its infancy? A town where the waves have been established relatively recently on the world stage through the Peru Movie star classic? In 2009 it was won by the most fitting of surfers Sofia Mulanovich.

The town has a fascinating story but first the waves.

El Hueyco. El Hueyco works on south swells and big ones at that. It needs a low tide coming over the reef to stop you from being impailed on the cliff and is not for kooks or me. It is an amazing site.

Lobitos - Is the top of the point in the town and is very consistent responding to all swells and size. It starts over reef before churning out tubes over sand bimbling down the line. Its always good but sometimes a little busy.

Los Generales - It's a little bit more fickle than its surrounding breaks with no real set formula but instead its more susceptible to sand movements. When it cracks out its tune, it is sweet, fast and tubular. It can be a barrel fest on its day. Sand bottomed and of course it's a left.

The Pier - Is a left hand barrel and nothing else. Its super shallow sand bottom can snap boards and backs. Helmets can be worn here, you can take some amazing photos too, as anyone can shoot the wave from 10 yards away. You can also get smashed up, 'nouf respect.

La Piscinas - Just at the south end of town on a beach that has a military no entry sign which is completely and utterly ignored by everyone is a tidal pool and a very consistent left hand point called Piscinas which gets pretty busy too. Open faces, speed sections, tubes, its a good wave that doesn't really hold crowds too well as the take off spot is quite small. Maxes out at double overhead.

Panamas - is a fair trudge south from there and if its breaking you will see it clearly as breaks in the middle of sea and therefore gets blown out easily. It only works on north swells but its unique feature in the barren world of Peru is that it is a right! Get there early before the wind hammers it, is my advice.

With wheels or a long walk with plenty of water and suncream there are other waves but that's for you to find.

Lobitos has the largest swell window in Peru, it gets swell from the south which is the most consistent source on our planet but when Hawaii's north shore fires, you have 5 days before Lobitos will sing fortissimo with swells regularly surpassing 20 second periods.

From beginners to advanced, from surfing 'ho to soul searcher, something here will float your boat.......

Lobitos may now be etched into Limenos surfers minds and a few travellers have been filled in on the jewels. They often hangout for a long stint as this is definately a budget destination.

There can be little denying the fact that Lobitos is a dive, its my kind of dive but none the less its a dive. Yet it stands on the precipise of a major overhaul.

Lobitos was a British owned and ran oil refinery. In a desert, the impact of grass and trees are not to be taken lightly but Lobitos was relatively verdant. Beautiful queenslander houses and all the services of a thriving colonial power were available.

(Photos courtesy of Jose Antonio)

Enter Juan Velasco Alvarado. He became the left wing military dictator of Peru in 1968 and famously said "Campesino, el dueño nunca mas va a comer de tu pobreza". which reads something like "Peasant, the landlord will not eat again from your poverty.". He promptly then nationalised everything, ran it into the ground and destroyed landlords and peasants....who'd have thought it!

(from Wikipeadia)

His effect on Lobitos was no less catastrophic. The oil and gas refinery was nationalised and run by the army, who unsurprisingly didn't know much about it. The gas was diverted to Talara (today's Peru's biggest refinery) and the army simply ran the town into the ground. The desert blew in and no one swept it back.

Eventually the army decided that enough was enough and left on mass. However they finished off with the amazing idea of removing the most valuable resources from Lobitos, namely hard wood and metal. Most of the roofs and uprights were taken with the obvious result that most of the structures simply collapsed. The town was abandoned. It is often hard for westerners to understand such actions but this is further compounded that there are still a handful of soldiers in Lobitos today, guarding rubble from....well no one really, because there isn't anything to guard.

Some of the bungalows (the least effected) have been occupied over the years. Local residents like Jose Antonio who runs my favourite guesthouse in town have been there for in excess of 5 years and unlike the vegetation have put down roots and are determind to stay and why not?!? They have put in hard work repaired houses, brought economic activity to the area as they provide accomodation and food for travellers. More so than that, in a dry and barren wilderness with no mains water or electricity he's brought sole, laughter  and a little worryingly a bodyboard to the place.

These days the ruins and rennovations are filled with an ecclectic mix of surfers, dropouts, locals, escapees, a few basta addicts (the residue from the cocaine making process) and 3 religious sects/cults depending on your perspectives. Some have dared to invest in generators and fans (it gets really hot here especially around Febuary).

There is a second village of Lobitos back from the beach which is lacking sophistication but has the world's smallest pharmacy with only about 10 things on offer, but I have to say they have always cured everything I've thrown at them, much to my relief.

The army may be selling the land at the north end, which is both exciting and scary. Local residents like Jose Antonio want nothing more than to own their property and have the security that comes with it, but the crowds are gathering and the infastructure is groaning. The prices will rise, the developers will push the prices up, back room deals in corruption riddled Peru will not look after the rats and residents of today. It will become a surf town, but what will it look like? Many are worried, those with most to lose and some no doubtare rubbing their hands.

For myself I will miss the day when nightfall brought bed time, dawn brought light off shores and 20 soles would get you a bed for the night in one of the proudest, cleanest, laughter filled surf shacks I've ever stayed.

Buena suerte.



  1. Ed - great information on Lobitos; thank you. Saludos to the Sanguesa brothers!

    If you haven't heard already, check out WAVES for Development, a surf-related nonprofit, active in Lobitos for the last couple of years.

    We believe surf travel should benefit the people and communities where it happens. Talk to Naomi for details...

  2. I sent Naomi an email and offered WAVES a feature article for the book. The details are in an email. I think it would be a nice way to get more publicity for a worthwhile cause and may bring in volunteers and/or contributions. Good luck to you.
    I've seen your work first hand and think in a relatively remote part of the world its a great wayto develop.