Monday, April 18, 2011

The Waikiki Surf Club, Lima, Peru.

Club Waikiki photographed from Kina Malpartida’s gym. The waves way off in the background are Barranquito.

The Waikiki Surf Club in Miraflores, Lima, Peru is almost certainly not what you would expect from a Surf Club. In 2010 it seems ludicrously opulent but go back to the days of creation circa 1942 and then things get really distorted.

Within the last 12 months women have been allowed to become members, no one more prominent in the world of sport than the WBA super featherweight world champion Kina Malpartida. Indeed she has her own facilities within the club overlooking the gentle waves of Waikiki and an over crowded, noisy, dirty road.



Peru doesn’t have many World Champs so they are pretty proud of the few they have. She beat Sofia Mulanovich to the National Surf title and she’s highly competitive in many more. Her brother Alvaro is a Peruvian National Champ surfer too.
Club Waikiki is above the road both in terms of elevation and social class. At $15 000 joining fee, providing you are proposed and approved, as well as the monthly maintenance fee it is definitely in the exclusive realm. The chauffeur driven cars, nanny tendered children and melee of kowtowing staff attest to this. The club has about 450 members and the land was bequeathed by the Peruvian Government, which underlines the close connection that exists between wealth and politics in Peru, undoubtedly one of South Americas most corrupt countries which is no easy title to win. That being said, the club’s open plan and situation a stone’s throw from Limenos life makes it at least approachable. Many of its members are local business people who visit before, during or after work, some to surf, some to exercise, some to socialize and others to drop their kids off in a “safe and protected” environment. 
The members gym complete with locker room and excellent facilities overlooks the gentle breakers of the Costa Verde.
The facilities include several swimming pools, squash courts, tennis courts, gym, locker room, surfboard storage (more like warehouse), sauna, treatment rooms, several bars, a couple of restaurants, BBQ facilities, function room, wetsuit room and admin centre. It’s a place that has changed a lot and although it’s not exactly sterile these days, it has certainly got a family feel to it. I dare say Carlos Drogny would not have been so keen.

Carlos Drogny is the man who incorrectly but popularly is acknowledged with being the man who brought surfing to Peru and creating the Waikiki Surf Club. The Caballitos de Totora of the Chimu tribe in Huanchaco whilst certainly fore filling the premise of wave riding, cannot be attributed with being a member of the Malibu surfing fraternity, rather a hereditary glimpse of what was to come. Yet Barranco had been surfed since just after the turn of the 20th century by Alfonso and Alfredo Pezet, Celso Gamarra, Alfonso Cillóniz and friends. They originally had ridden planks in a prone position but certainly by the 1920’s had began riding bigger boards and standing. They even had an article published about them in a sports magazine called “Aire Libre”.



Yet it was Carlos who was responsible for it catching on, and disseminating it through Club Waikiki. He had been studying in the States and was heir to a sugarcane fortune. Being of a feckless nature which was common amongst the Peruvian elite he decided to spend some quality time in Hawaii playing polo. The connection was made and he ended up returning to Peru with a board from no other than Duke Kahanamoku himself. 14ft boards weighing in excess of 130 Kilogram catch peoples eyes, friends were introduced, guys started sawing things up or going to Hawaii for their own and suddenly a small group of friends led by Senor Drogny wanted somewhere near the beach to stash their boards. Club Waikiki was born.


The first Surfboard in Peru was for a while used as a board to screw a clock on, but these days its propped up against a hedge.
 So far a normal surf clubs creation looks underway, but the thing that distinguished the club was the money behind it. Peru’s wealth was almost feudal in its acquisition and distribution and these were the people who had time, money and the will to surf and enjoy beach life. They built both a club and reputation that is unparalleled in surfing history. As champion American surfer and visitor to the club Mike Doyle explains:

“The Peruvians had a beautiful clubhouse they called the Club Waikiki, at Miraflores Beach, just outside Lima. It was more like a polo club than any surf club I’d ever seen. It had two swimming pools, a restaurant, bar, squash court, locker rooms, lots of pretty girls lying around, masseuses, and white-jacketed waiters running all over the place. Everyone who surfed in Peru at that time was wealthy. There weren’t any peasant surfers – no surf rats, no beach bums. Surfing was a gentleman’s sport in Peru, and almost all the surfers were very, very rich. They would work for a while in the morning, tending to their business affairs, then come down to the club for the rest of the day. They would surf for a couple of hours at the little beach break in front of the club, shower, then have lunch and cocktails on the terrace.”

“At the Club Waikiki,” Doyle continued, “guests weren’t allowed to carry their own surfboards down to the water – the servants did it for you. One of the Australian surfers, Nat Young, didn’t like that. When they tried to take his board from him, he snatched it back and said, ‘Goddamnit, leave me alone! I’ll carry my own board!’ Which is how most of us felt, too. But Nat only insulted the servant, and probably our hosts as well, and in the end the Indian carried his board anyway.”

“The servants waxed your board for you, too,” Doyle went on. “If you lost your board, they would run over and shag it for you before it hit the rocks. You could surf right up to the beach, step off and walk away – the servants would run out, grab your board, and carry it up to your locker. If you happened to ding your board, at night a little Indian came out of a hole in back of the club and patched it for you. The whole scene seemed unnatural, and it made me uncomfortable. But the Peruvians were such great hosts, and they took the whole thing so seriously, we had no choice but to go along with it.”

“Most of the young Peruvian surfers were bored rich kids, like spoiled princes,” Doyle continued. “They loved playing the role of Latin lovers, and they were outrageous partiers. But the older guys who sponsored the contest were active surfers, too. They’d paddle out, catch a wave and stand up, just to show they still had the old animal prowess. They they’d come in , have cocktails and lunch, and play a few rounds of palenta, which is a paddle-and-net game, kind of like badminton.

“We stayed in a hotel in town, and a bus would pick us up and take us to the club every day, or to one of the many social events the Peruvians had planned for us.”

“One afternoon they got us all drunk at the club,” recalled Doyle, “then took us to a bullring. They gave us all capes and said, ‘Here, it’s time to fight the bulls.’ I didn’t want to fight any bulls. Most of us didn’t. We tried to get out of it, tried to politely decline, but the Peruvians wouldn’t have it. It was a big macho deal to fight a bull, and everyone had to do it. The bulls had their horns trimmed so we wouldn’t get gored, but it was still dangerous. Several guys got flipped around, and we could have been badly hurt. I really hated that, but I did it.”

Women were ever present at the club, just not wives and the parties have become the tales of legends. So much so that few Peruvians were happy to go on record about it. It was put to me that “there were the girls who would come to the club and there were the girls who wouldn’t come to the club, but never the wives.” In 1954 Kontiki, a wave in the Punta Hermosa area some 45 minutes south of Lima was spotted from an airplane. The club immdediately trekked down there and bought up the land creating an out of town get away. Strangely Kontiki is rarely surfed these days but the surrounding area is home to Peru’s richest wave area. The discovery of Kontiki not only led to bigger waves being surfed but what few shackles members felt in Lima were removed with abandon in the desert. Mike Doyle explains what a night in Kontiki after the annual surfing championships held through the 1960’s was like with Peruvian racing car driver Pitty Blocque:

Pitty explained that this was an ‘official whorehouse.’ As near as I could tell, that meant the place had been set up by the ruling class, for the ruling class. That way there would be no blackmail, no bad rumours leaking out, no embarrassment to the men or their families. They controlled everything.

“Inside, it was like a huge barroom. All the Peruvians from the Club Waikiki were there – they’d just moved the whole party out to their whorehouse in the country.

“Most of the Hawaiians were there ahead of us and already in great form. They knew the routine, and they were primed for it.”

“I was amazed to see that every girl in the place was absolutely gorgeous,” Doyle continued. “There were mulatto girls, Asian girls, Peruvian girls, American girls. They were all exotically beautiful.

“Pitty pointed toward the girls, then asked me, ‘Which one do you want?’

“I felt a little uneasy. I was twenty-three at the time and not exactly naïve when it came to sex, but I’d never seen anything like this before.

“’Don’t worry about the cost,’ Pitty said. ‘I’ll take care of it.’

“I pointed to a Japanese girl and said, ‘She’s nice.’

“Pitty smiled and rubbed his hands together. ‘Okay, come on.’

“He led me over to the girl, nodded, and she immediately took me to a back room. We had a couple of drinks and talked for a while. She waited until I was relaxed and comfortable before she initiated the sex. She was a real professional.

“When I rejoined the others, Pitty asked me, ‘Did you enjoy yourself?’ When I nodded, Pitty pointed toward the girls again and said, ‘Do you see another one you like?’”

“I must have looked shocked,” Doyle went on, “because Pitty laughed out loud. I’d been thinking this was a one-course meal – I didn’t know it was a smorgasbord. But looking around, I began to notice that some of the older Peruvians disappeared with a different girl every few minutes. And when Pitty went into the back rooms, he took two girls at a time.

“Sometime that night, I came to the realization that the Peruvians couldn’t have cared less about the Peruvian International Surfing Contest. They just loved watching the rest of us go berserk in their country. They had already indulged themselves with every kind of pleasure imaginable, and the only new pleasure for them was watching us indulge ourselves. Officially they were our hosts, but actually we were there to entertain them.”

The Waikiki Club had other advantages, its members were welcomed on the Islands and many developed a close affinity with the place here a Peruvian and Hawaiian crew represent the Waikiki Outrigger Club, Hawaii.

Club Waikiki was a place of legend and today it is very much a different experience all together. It has no doubt seen some power battles. This is especially evident as Drogny’s bronze bust has been thrown in the sea of the pier at least three times and replaced. Yet it is this very club that is responsible for putting surfing on the map in Peru. It was members who led to the discovery and pioneering breaks such as Punta Rocas and La Isla in the Punta Hermosa area and this led in turn to trips further south to Cerra Azul by 1962 which must have been ideal for the equipment of the day. Chicama wasn’t added to the list until 1966 and the breaks further north not until the 1970’s. By the 1970’s however the club’s stranglehold on the nations surfing progress had diminished but not before giving it a very colourful heritage.



The Club was responsible for the first Peruvian surfing competition in 1955 won by Alfrendo Granda indeed it was the first outside the US. By 1962 the Club had been instrumental in shaping the Peruvian Surfing Federation. This led to further surfing competitions such as the World Championships in 1962 held at Punta Rocas where the judging criteria was speed of movement and length of ride, it was attended by representatives from USA, Hawaii, Peru, France (where Drogny had also been instrumental in starting surfing) and Australia. The 1965 world Championships was won by Peruvian Felipe Pomar. It was marred by accusations of favouritism by the Peruvian judges, however fellow finalist and world champ Fred Hemmings had no such qualms with the decision and Felipe continues to be active in surfing today.1969 Punta Rocas Pro was the first Pro surfing event outside on the States, with Mike Doyle winning 1000 dollars.

It is strange to think that a club of such other worldly men could spawn a countries surfing heritage, which has had two world champions in the form of Felipe Pomar and Sofia Mulonovich. Whilst this club is not one to which most people will relate or visit, it does explain Peru’s surfing car parks abundant 4wd’s and monied roots.

(Many thanks to the Club Waikiki and Miguel Plaza inparticular who were so generous with their time, I hope I have not broken any confidences) Quotations are taken from http://files.legendarysurfers.com/surf/legends/.

1 comment:

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